When Annette Fernandez realized that her third grade classroom wasn’t close to a bathroom or equipped for hand washing to slow the spread of COVID-19, she wanted to do something about it. She approached her school’s principal to ask whether there was any money available for hand-washing stations. There wasn’t.
So, with her principal’s blessing, she started a GoFundMe campaign to raise the money. In just two hours, she exceeded the $1,500 that she needed to provide her classroom with a sink.
“This is the first time that I have ever done a GoFundMe so I am completely shocked!” Fernandez told TODAY Parents. “I’m at $3,059 so I purchased another (hand washing) station for another classroom.”
Fernandez works in a portable classroom that is detached from the main school building at Turie T. Small Elementary School in Daytona Beach, Florida. The 12 portable classrooms at the school don’t have bathrooms, and at least 10 of the classrooms will be used this year. Any additional money Fernandez raises will go to equipping the other portable classrooms with hand-washing stations.
She said she started the fundraiser after worrying that so much of her school day would be dominated by navigating hand washing.
“I just thought about the amount of wasted instructional time I was going to need … just trying to get them to wash their hands outside of the classroom,” Fernandez explained.
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While this is Fernandez’s 23rd year teaching, this is her third year in this district in the heart of Daytona Beach. About 97% of the students at her school qualify for free or reduced lunch.
“Our kids deserve better. It doesn’t matter where they live. It doesn’t matter if they’re poor or they’re rich. They all deserve the same,” she said. “My principal is very supportive of having me doing this.”
Fernandez has 18 students and fears they won’t be able to properly social distance. That’s why hand washing seemed so essential. The money she raises also will supply soap, paper towels, hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes. Many of the children’s families don’t have any extra cash to donate cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer to the school.
“Hand washing is such a basic necessity … and it’s the number one thing to prevent the spread of COVID,” Fernandez said. “The most important thing is that these kids get what they need.”
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Fernandez has taught these same students since first grade. She said she has confidence they’ll be pros at mask wearing and hand washing.
“They will be right on board as soon as we go through all the procedures and class rules,” she said. “It’s just an amazing group … they’ve become like a small family.”
After spending so much time with them, Fernandez said she feels close to her students and wants to do anything she can to help them.
“When they’re not with their parents, they’re my kids and I have to defend them like they are mine. I have to advocate for them like they’re my children,” Fernandez said. “I just want the best for them.”
For more on the reopening of the American education system, watch “Pandemic: Back to School” anchored by Craig Melvin every Monday through Labor Day at 11 a.m. ET on MSNBC. Viewers can submit their own questions via Twitter with #MSNBCAnswers or sent to [email protected]