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OfficeMax honors Dee Cook during ‘A Day Made Better’ ceremony

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MASSENA - A secret that Jefferson Elementary School Principal Duane L. Richards had bottled up since the end of the last school year was finally unveiled Tuesday morning.

And it was good news for teacher Dee Cook.

She was selected to receive $3,000 worth of supplies donated by OfficeMax and the store’s customers as part of OfficeMax’s “A Day Made Better” program.

Ms. Cook was one of 1,000 teachers across the nation who were surprised by the Tuesday visit from OfficeMax employees who were bearing gifts that included a new chair, certificate of appreciation and dish garden.

But there was more - much more.

Bundled inside a box brought into the school’s gymnasium by OfficeMax employees were a Kindle Fire, digital camera and plenty of classroom supplies. Some Jefferson students were invited to help Mrs. Cook open that box as she sat in her new chair presented to her by Massena OfficeMax Store Manager Randy G. Ball.

“When I count to three, you’re going to start pulling stuff out of the box,” he told them.

Separate boxes stacked up against a wall contained supplies that had been donated by the store’s customers, according to Mr. Ball.

Ms. Cook’s family was on hand for Tuesday’s celebration, set up by Mr. Richards as a “secret assembly” for the entire school.

“Your teachers don’t even know why you’re here. This is a secret I had to keep since the end of the school year last year,” he said.

He introduced Mr. Ball to explain why they were assembled and that’s when Mrs. Cook first knew that she had been selected based on her nomination by Mr. Richards for the honor.

Mr. Ball said the program was introduced to help teachers who he said were investing a lot of their own money into purchasing classroom supplies. An OfficeMax survey conducted in June 2009 supports data that was first reported in a National Education Association survey in 2005. That survey showed that teachers spend on average of $1,000 to $1,200 of their own money each year to offset school budget shortfalls and ensure their students have the necessary classroom resources for learning.

OfficeMax, Mr. Ball said, wanted to see what they could do to minimize the impact on teachers’ personal budgets. The program, in partnership with AdoptAClassroom.org, aims to help end the need for teacher-funded classrooms.

He said they had reached out to Mr. Richards to find a nominee for the program who was passionate about students, fellow educators and their family and community. Mr. Richards said it wasn’t an easy task.

“It was very difficult. My response was I’d like to nominate all of my teachers,” he said.

But he singled out Mrs. Cook for a variety of reasons, not just as a teacher, but also as the school’s unofficial technology coordinator and her role as a leader for fellow teachers.

In his nominating letter, Mr. Richards noted that Mrs. Cook “is an outstanding educator that works tirelessly to meet each of her student’s needs. She is constantly searching for a variety of ways in which she can explain, demonstrate or present knowledge to her students. She dedicates much of her free time toward preparing her room and herself for the arrival of her students. Along with her dedication to her students, Dee also serves as a mentor to new teachers and technology expert for the entire building. She gives selflessly of her time to obtain new knowledge to be shared with her colleagues.”

“She serves as a great role leader. She helps colleagues understand math and ELA,” Mr. Richards told those at the assembly, noting that he has often called Mrs. Cook both during the day and after-school hours for assistance and she has never said no.

“Mrs. Cook does not ever stop,” he said. “Jefferson Elementary is a better place because of you.”

Putting Tuesday’s secret award ceremony in place almost hit a last-minute snag though, according to the principal. He said Mrs. Cook’s daughter, Laura, was interested in attending college and had an interview scheduled for the same time-frame at SUNY Potsdam - an interview her mother planned to attend with her.

Mr. Richards said he contacted SUNY Potsdam and, explaining the situation, asked them to rearrange that interview.

“A strange guy from Jefferson called up SUNY Potsdam and asked, could you rearrange the interview,” he said.

He was able to rearrange the interview and, with her family at her side Tuesday morning, Mrs. Cook said she was thankful to be recognized.

“Thank you very much for this honor,” she said.

Mr. Richards said he was also appreciative of the partnership between the school and OfficeMax.

“Thank you very much for giving us this opportunity to recognize one of our teachers,” he said.

Since 2007, A Day Made Better and other OfficeMax Goodworks programs have contributed more than $20 million in grants and supplies to support more than 30,000 teachers and their classrooms, according to the company’s website. Additionally, through the annual event, OfficeMax has helped its nonprofit partner AdoptAClassroom.org secure funding for more than 79,000 classrooms nationwide.

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