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Video: Fifth-Grader Donates Entire Savings to Stop Teacher Layoffs

Camino Grove student hands over envelope containing $300 and an emotional letter. Her brother donates $177 and now other students are following suit.

The envelope was more than an inch thick.

Todd Weber, a fifth-grade teacher at in Arcadia, was pretty sure it contained a considerable amount of money. It had been handed to him by one of his students and Weber wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.

He had the student take the unopened envelope to the school office. In the office at the time were Dr. Brook Reynolds, the school's principal, Erin Slessor, the school's PTA president, and a few members of the office staff.

Slessor opened the envelope and inside were $1 bills, $5 bills and $10 bills. They would count the money later and discover the total was $300. But first Slessor read this hand-written letter that was inside the envelope:

Dear Super Indendant (sic) and Board Members,

Hi. My name is Jocelyn Lam. I’ve heard that 65 positions will be laid off and ten of them are from my school! This really breaks my heart. Those teachers had taught me a lot. They guided me to fifth grade. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be here right now writing this letter. They changed my life.

I save all this money I earned from chores and high grades. Now I want to donate all this money to save the teachers. I really hope this $300 will help save the teachers who are about to be laid off. I also hope that this is enough to save more than one teacher. PLEASE put this money to good use. I beg you! SAVE THE TEACHERS!

Sincerely,

Jocelyn Lam

There wasn’t a dry eye in the principal’s office when Slessor finished reading the letter.

Reynolds later called the parents, Mike and Taylor Lam, to make sure they were aware of what their daughter was doing. They were.

The parents are from Vietnam. Mike works in a bakery in San Gabriel. Taylor works as a manicurist in Pasadena.

"Jocelyn love her teachers," Taylor told Patch. "She say she has a little money and wants to give it to help save her teachers' jobs. I tell her it is up to her. She gets the money from us and my mother-in-law, who takes care of her and her brother when my husband and I are at work."

Young Jocelyn’s amazing act of giving came on Friday, two days after a flyer had been sent home to all Camino Grove parents. The flyer pointed out that due to state budget cuts, –65 positions within the Arcadia district, including 22 high school teachers, 17 middle school teachers and 21 elementary school teachers--10 at Camino Grove.

Reynolds and Slessor came up with the idea of the flyer with hopes that it would alert parents about donating to the Arcadia Educational Foundation to save staff positions–and many already have. The total as of Tuesday was more than $10,000. However, Reynolds and Slessor never thought about donations from students. We’re talking about children in grades kindergarten through fifth after all.

Now, because of what one student did, others are following suit. On Monday, Jocelyn’s brother Lawrence Lam, a fourth grader, donated $177, which was all of his savings. A first grader chipped in $1, his allowance for that week.

Lawrence also enclosed a letter with his donation, which concluded with this plea: "PLEASE PUT MONEY TO THE BEST USE!!! SAVE OUR TEACHERS, PLEASE!!!"

Patch visited Camino Grove and many of the students in both Jocelyn’s class and Lawrence’s raised their hands when they were asked if they planned to donate as well.

Jocelyn said the $300 she donated came from chores such as washing dishes and making her bed along with the money she got for good grades. She had been saving for college the past few years, but it was OK that the money was now gone.

She had done a very good deed and that seemed to please her more than any money ever could.

Tiffanie Ma March 10, 2011 at 04:55 PM
Great story Larry! Jocelyn is a brave girl to step up and fight for her teachers. She and others who have contributed and who will further contribute to this cause illustrate a sense of civic care, which often seems shrouded in apathy. I think it is easy for people, in general, to forget that they have a voice and can turn the tide, or at least start this turn. This article further makes me wonder where AEF money has gone to cause this need for lay-offs? What is the root cause to this lack of money?
Damon Lieu March 10, 2011 at 05:49 PM
Tiffanie--the lack of money is directly related to the on-going cuts in state funding to education that threaten every school district in California, not AEF. Without AEF, the cuts would be even deeper. Arcadia Unified School District has to plan its budget for the next 3 years assuming the worst case scenario--that the temporary tax increases the state currently has in place are not extended an additional 5 years as Governor Brown has proposed. AUSD has avoided major cuts in the past few years through a combination of conservative financial management, concessions from the teacher unions, dipping into reserves, one-time federal stimulus money, and money from AEF. However, the district still has a structural deficit. Reserves are dwindling and there is no more federal money. The budget gap is projected to be around $500 per student. With over 85% of the district's budget devoted to salary and benefits of teachers and staff, layoffs cannot be avoided. Any additional money raised by AEF can be used to fill the gap and save teachers' jobs. If the parents of every AUSD student followed Jocelyn's example and contributed to AEF, almost every position could be saved. AEF's recent fundraising campaign raised much money, yet only a fraction of AUSD parents have contributed thus far. Much more can still be done.
Tiffanie Ma March 10, 2011 at 11:39 PM
Thank you for the information Damon.
Meredith March 11, 2011 at 02:44 AM
What a great investment! Jocelyn, Lawrence and fellow students, way to go! Please save the teachers!
Edna Krabappel March 11, 2011 at 05:35 AM
Ignorance is bliss. Ignorance is dangerous. As reflected by a couple of negative posts, one sees clearly that there is an all-out attack on the public sector. Why such ire? Unions are the people’s voice. 400 American citizens have as much wealth as one-half of the population of our country. Empty-headed puppets of this fortunate 400 unwittingly do their dirty work for them. These minions are in constant attack-mode when it comes to public education. They would even stoop as low as posting comments regarding this student’s heartfelt gesture. These people serve to fan the flames of the ‘new' class war between the public and private sectors, pitting the middle class against itself. It's the old "government is out of money" fallacy used to cut off funding to any number of vital services, from education to healthcare to pensions. Interestingly enough, those pushing this fallacy never want to consider actually raising revenue to tackle the ‘out of money' problem. Only cuts will do. Cuts for everyone but the 400 wealthiest Americans. Wake up, America! Times they are a-changing!
L March 12, 2011 at 04:19 AM
Mr. Strong's comment is inappropriate in implying Jocelyn is buying her grades. Don't judge others with your negativity. These kids understand and believe in the importance of a good education. They are doing what they feel is the right thing to do, not to ensure good grades because they already are getting good grades!
Jon Ma March 13, 2011 at 06:36 PM
Great Article Larry, students at the high school are going to follow suit so expect more good news from the high school front!
Ernest Stronh March 18, 2011 at 08:45 AM
This is exactly what Lying Wisconsin Democrats want. Impressionable children recruited to their cause. Does this 5th Grader and her parents know what she is facing because of the incompetence of Wisconsin teachers and the corrosive qualities of "Collective bargaining" with Public Employee Unions?" To begin with, only 29% of Wisconsin 8th Graders are deemed "Proficient" in reading. Looking at this 5th Grader's posting, she is also deficient in spelling right now. She won't have to wait 3 years to fail spelling. When a Public Employee Union bargains, it is bargaining with the very politicians it spends millions to elect. So, how do you think those politicians will vote re wages, vacations, days-off, pay, etc. The answer is "..any way the Union wants." So here is this little girl giving money to teachers. When she gets to be graded, how do you think the teachers will "vote?" I bet she gets an A in every subject. Same situation re the unions. They raise money for the politicians (read teachers) and the politicians reward the teachers with lucrative contracts (read, the 5th Grader now gets excellent grades). The ONLY way for these unions to really bargain is if there were a complete-total prohibition on donating any money, time, equipment to politicians. Nothing to be donated. Then it's an even playing field. If any manufacturer would turn out a product as bad as Wisconsin 8th Graders, that compalny would be out of business in a nano second.
mary nelson March 18, 2011 at 06:13 PM
So Ernest whats up with your spelling "compalny"
Regan March 22, 2011 at 04:59 PM
I love the childish responses from those who truly cant address the facts, Mary. Your correct in every point point you make Ernest, Mary is captivated by the typo and less concerned about the 5th grader not acquiring basic skills necessary to advance or simply support this Country. Do you wonder what was done with the money these kids gave? Did the teachers keep it, or give it back? We have officially recognized and given credit that teachers are in the classification of "human suffering" and should be recognized by imprssionable children, as suffering. This has spun out of control. Districts lack accountability, credibility, and the real foundation of "Its for the kids". This is nothing to do with kids what so ever, this is about greedy, spend happy adults, period.
Sherry Clark March 23, 2011 at 11:33 AM
@ Ernest, Jocelyn misspelled one word, and it is a word often misspelled. You are an unforgiving person, and have no knowledge of fourth or fifth graders. It is a wonderful letter for her grade level.
thomas c March 23, 2011 at 11:46 PM
A question to Mr. Stronh and Regan: Who or what qualifies you to be a judge on this child's intellect? Can I be sure that you didn't "plant" the "fifth grader's" response?? This story is not necessarily about WHAT this child decided to give to her school for the teacher, but the heart or compassion that she displayed in doing so. IMHO, we as adults could learn quite a bit from this young lady. Instead of using this moment to uplift your philosophy about adults, why not take this time to do some soul searching and donate YOUR time, talent and money to make the present economic situation better for those around you??

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