OSWEGO — When schools around the nation closed their doors in early March as a safeguard against COVID-19, teachers and anyone working in education were left reeling, wondering not only about the length of the closure, but also the ways in which students would continue to learn away from the comfort of the classroom.

So far from their classrooms, supplies, libraries and paper and pencils, it became increasingly clear that this would be the most challenging time for a generation of teachers, teaching assistants, administrators and superintendents. Teachers around the city of Oswego were ready for the fight.

Oswego teachers took remote classes offered by the district to learn more about teaching virtually, departments throughout the school district moved meetings online and learned how to post material and video online to help meet student needs.

“In this unprecedented time, teachers throughout the city of Oswego rose to the challenge right away, making a relatively smooth transition to the virtual classroom,” said Dan Rose, a member of the  Oswego Classroom Teachers Association (OCTA). OCTA members, Rose says, wanted to do more and hatched an idea to help.

OCTA members immediately understood the coinciding struggle of local Oswego businesses, which students, teachers and schools count on for support throughout the year.

Local eateries who sponsored summer youth organizations and sports teams, the bookstore who made donations to schools all over the county, grocery and produce markets who donated food, refrigerated trucks, money, and volunteers whenever the union or schools asked — all suddenly had no customers or income.

The OCTA idea was this: provide teachers throughout the Oswego City School District a chance to give back to their beloved local businesses while also providing support for many of the essential workers around the community who continued to put their lives on the line each and every day. On Sunday of each week during the shutdown (for however long it lasted), the OCTA membership, which includes over 400 active teachers, teaching assistants and retired teachers, would vote to adopt a local business. That business would be in the spotlight for the seven days. Next, members of OCTA would donate money on a voluntary basis via Paypal through the Union’s Facebook page. Funds would be collected Monday through Thursday of each week, with live totals communicated to the membership. At the end of the week, the OCTA would take the total dollars raised and buy gift cards with the entire amount (from the highlighted business).

Meanwhile, OCTA leaders would contact essential businesses around the city of Oswego (police, firemen, health care workers, food bank volunteers) and let them know that all of their employees would be receiving a gift card from OCTA in appreciation of their hard work and dedication during the pandemic. The process was somewhat complex, and took a lot of forethought and planning by Oswego teachers (especially during the time of the pandemic), officials said.

“We made a huge impact on our community and our ability to rise to such great heights during this time of chaos, insecurity, division, and uncertainty speaks to our commitment to public service and specifically to our love of our school and community,” said OCTA President Carrie Patane.

But in the end, OCTA said it was a win for local business, a win for essential employees and a big win for the teachers of the Oswego City School District who were able to continue to provide support for their students and community.

When all the numbers were tallied, teachers in the Oswego City School District raised more than $13,000 over the 13 week period. All of the money went back to local businesses and essential workers throughout the community. OCTA was also able to use the monies donated to buy books for their local Bookmobile and purchase ice cream gift cards for all 250 graduating seniors.

The following is a total of donations provided by OCTA:

Week 1: $1150 for River’s End (to purchase Bookmobile Books: $650 fundraised + $500 OCTA donation)

Week 2: $800 for Rudy’s (to OCSD Food Services and Essential Employees)

Week 3: $845 for GJP (to OCSD Food Services and Essential Employees)

Week 4: $1,185 for C’s Farm Market (to Oswego Health EVS)

Week 5: $1,015 for Big M (to YMCA, Little Lukes, & Human Concerns Food Bank)

Week 6: $910 for Fajita Grill (to Post Office)

Week 7: $1,745 for Canales and Ontario Orchards (to Fire Departments)

Week 8: $1,125 for Man in the Moon (to Health Dept)

Week 9: $900 for Vona's (to OPD)

Week 10: $1,700 for Pizza Villa (to St. Lukes: $1575 fundraised +$125 OCTA donation)

Week 11: $1,375 Bev's & 6 Scoops (to OHS graduates, balloon arch for the honor guard, cap and gown distribution)

Week 12: $100 for Boscos (Fruit Basket to E-911 center) and any remaining gift cards (to Menter Ambulance)

Week 13: $837.50 BUC Strong T-shirts from B&T (to NYSUT disaster relief fund)

TOTAL IMPACT: $13,687.50

Patane said she was more than proud of her membership, she was "humbled" by their generosity.

“Besides creating an entirely new online school, this is how we supported our

community during our shut down," Patane said. “Together, we are unstoppable. It is a lesson we need to learn again and again. We always make the biggest difference together.”

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