ELYRIA — Never underestimate the power of a letter.
Pat Hamker wrote one, and it resulted in a $5,000 award for Westwood Middle School.
On Wednesday, more than 400 students and staff were surprised with the cash prize by on-air personalities from Fox 8 TV in Cleveland and representatives of Liberty Ford as part of the station’s “Fuel Your School” contest.
The event, in the gymnasium of the school on Adelbert Street, was broadcast live on Fox 8. Fifty members of the Elyria High School Pioneer Marching Band played music as Westwood Middle School cheerleaders cheered, giving the event the feel of a pep rally.
Fox 8 on-air personalities including Kristi Capel, Wayne Dawson, Todd Meany and Stefani Schaefer took photos with students and staff after the event.
“Fuel Your School” started in September, and Westwood is the second school to receive the award. Pat Hamker’s letter was chosen from “hundreds” the station received, according to Fox 8.
Hamker, the mother of Westwood science/STEAM teacher Scott Hamker, said she “stuck her neck out” and wrote how she felt about the efforts of her son and his colleagues at the school.
In her letter, Pat Hamker wrote: “It is quite normal for teachers (at Westwood) to supply items for the classes. Decorations for the rooms are always self-supplied.”
She continued: “The teachers can’t expect success without the children’s tools to be there. On numerous occasions, book bags miraculously appeared in school lockers for those who are in need.”
Winter coats also “magically appear” in colder months, Pat Hamker wrote. “This is not just for one student either.”
A 15-year veteran teacher who has taught at Westwood for the past 10 years, Scott Hamker said his mother told him she was writing the letter before submitting it to Fox 8.
“I got a call at 6:30 this morning: ‘Fox 8 is here. What do you know?’” Pat Hamker said Wednesday.
Usually early to arrive at school, Scott Hamker said he started to get suspicious when he saw a Fox 8 trailer parked there.
“This was quite large,” Scott Hamker said of the event, “and not expected.”
“Doing it live was very impressive,” he added.
Principal Theresa Lengel said some of the money could be earmarked to defray the cost of the annual Washington, D.C., trip, which involves a significant amount of fundraising.
It also could be used to replace worn school supplies or to provide jackets or backpacks to students who need them, she said. Teachers frequently reach into their own pockets to help pay for such things, Lengel said.
Superintendent Ann Schloss called it a proud moment “whenever a community member writes a letter” lauding the hard work of teachers. She said she was equally proud of the students, staff and administrators at Westwood for their hard work.
“It’s not just one person, it’s everyone working together,” she said. “It really does make a difference.”
Lengel and Assistant Principal James Rollence do a “wonderful” job of leading the teachers and educating Westwood’s students, Schloss said.
Seeing the impact just one person can have on a school or community and how hard work pays off, “that’s part of the reason we do what we do,” Rollence said.