An idea by a Jacksonville Middle School teacher to try and add levity to a tough school year, snowballed into a nice donation for some area charities thanks to Superintendent Ptacek’s weather alerts.
Lauren Range is head of the Science Department at JMS and says the most recent school year was a much harder grind at times as the year started off with continued Covid mitigations as the pandemic bore on.
Range says teachers and students alike were feeling the stress with many saying they felt mentally exhausted by the start of winter break. It was during the break that Range says a colleague mentioned when snow days would start, and consequently when Superintendent Steve Ptacek would begin sending out his now-infamous winter weather updates.
“We were kind of just laughing about that and I was like, oh gosh, yes the weather alerts, they are going to start up. Because we hadn’t had any yet, where in previous years we had had snow days before Christmas, and we didn’t this year. And, I don’t know but it just came to me one day, and wondered if we could take bets on when the first snow day was going to be.
That would be funny if we could just make a pool among the teachers. That would be funny and maybe bring some levity that I could bring into the building where we could place some bets on when that first snow day was going to be and then the teacher that guess right could take home the money.” Range says the more she thought about it, the more she wondered why the idea couldn’t be bigger and have the money raised go toward a local charity.
By the time school returned from winter break, Range presented the idea to JMS Principal Celeste Lashmett to take the month of February and let teachers pay five bucks to guess which day would be a snow day with the winner donating the proceeds to their local charity of choice. Range says Lashmett was on board from the word go.
“She said I think it sounds great, but I have to pass it by Ptacek and thought it sounded like a good idea. So it kind of then snowballed from there and we had different rules where if he sent out a warning because he sometimes sends out a pre-email before the snow day happens. He will say something like there’s the potential for hazardous weather, so if that email fell on the day someone chose then they owed more money to the pot.”
After receiving Ptacek’s blessing which included him buying a day on the calendar himself. A large calendar was created and hung in the teacher’s area of the main office, and even included someone known as “Little Steve”, which was a picture of Ptacek’s face superimposed onto the body of “Jack Frost” from the old Frosty the Snowman’ Christmas Special.
The month of February started off as calm weather-wise as the rest of the winter had been. Ptacek says it was then that he was asked to help at least get a little money going into the pot.
“Mrs. Lashmett asked me if I could think about doing a false announcement, just to try and raise some money for charity and make people laugh. So I sent out a warning about those who might be traveling to Figi Island, there was an active volcano warning. And I just sent that to the JMS staff, I didn’t send it out to the entire community.
Of course, I received some emails from a couple of individuals who were on the calendar saying thank you very much, now they have to pay. It was a couple of days later that weather changed and kind of shockingly changed. We got no real heads up it was coming and then the entire month happened.”
After the initial lull, winter came into the area with full force causing District 117 to close school on five separate days due to snow. Range says early on, CNB Bank had wanted to donate towards the pot, and by the time the month was over, more than $900.00 had been raised. The winnings were split between Paws, the Jacksonville Food Bank, the Mia Ware Foundation, and the Fitness World After School Program.
Range says at the end of the day, the idea did what it was intended to do, which was to help raise morale among the teachers, and in turn, the students they taught, during what was an incredibly tough school year.
Ptacek says both the morale and money raised made the teasing about his weather forecasting all the more worthwhile. Range was asked to present the competition to the school board later in the year in recognition of her thinking outside the box to help boost morale.
“And Lauren did a great job. Lauren Range is, anyone who knows her knows she’s very positive, fantastic to work with, and a very good staff leader for that building. And she did a wonderful job at the board meeting. So it was just a good team-building opportunity.”
Range will tell you that Ptacek still blames her for the crazy February weather, while he said he blames the JMS staff that participated. Either way, Ptacek says he enjoyed the fun the competition brought but says his main priority with the announcements is always to give working parents a heads up and keep staff, students, and the public safe.
Ptacek says he wonders if the competition will come back or even grow during the next school year. He says one thing is for sure though, he has finally settled on the idea that when he does one day retire, and the day the first snow falls and he has no one to notify, that’s when it will hit him that he’s actually retired.