Outstanding Spring Hill Elementary teacher surprised with $1,000 for school supplies

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Ben Burford, a fourth grade teacher at Spring Hill Elementary School on Spring Garden Avenue, won $1,000 for school supplies as part of the A Day Made Better program. (Photo courtesy Todd Van Horn)

With a twinkle in their eyes and a lightness in their steps, a handful of Office Max representatives snuck in to an unsuspecting Spring Hill Elementary School classroom bearing gifts for a fourth grade teacher on the morning of Oct. 5.

The teacher, Ben Burford, won $1,000 in school supplies, as part of a national school advocacy campaign named A Day Made Better.

This national effort, founded by Office Max and Adopt-A-Classroom, is geared towards supporting teachers in their struggle with classroom spending. Every store chooses one lucky candidate in the surrounding area.

In a single day, this annual event awards around 1,100 teachers with over $1,000 in school supplies, which is estimated to be the amount teachers spend each year on school supplies.

Spring Hill Elementary Principal Todd Van Horn could hardly contain his excitement for the occasion. Despite his excitement for this generous endeavor, Van Horn kept his lips sealed from the rest of the faculty and staff of Spring Hill Elementary while he worked behind the scenes with local Office Max representatives.

“We have a lot of opportunities in life, and this one’s unexpected,” said an enthusiastic Van Horn.

This is the first year Van Horn put in a request for the award, and he was very grateful to have one of his many deserving teachers recognized for the ability to effectively express the value of education to his students.

“Teachers put so much money into providing supplies for their students and it’s nice to be rewarded,” he said as the Office Max representatives covertly arrived through a side entrance with their box of goodies.

Van Horn quietly led the surprise party to a point just outside of Burford’s classroom, and prepared to make an appearance. Nick Bakios, Office Max district manager, was grateful to assist in this corporate effort that gives back to his community, and recognized the profound positive influence this yearly donation brings to a school district.

“It’s always nice to see the kids jump up,” said Bakios, who spoke of the importance of eliminating teacher funded classrooms.

Also in the group was James Patterson, the store manager of the Office Max on McKnight Road, who expressed great enjoyment in being the one who presents the award.

“The main office sets up everything, but we keep it hush-hush and actually get to deliver the gift,” said Patterson, as he motioned towards the doorway.

In the middle of a lesson, Burford and his students watched with curious eyes as the surprise party slipped into the classroom.

The confusion quickly turned into a celebration when Patterson cheerfully presented Burford with the award and explained that Burford won due to his proficiency in providing a sound and enjoyable education to his fourth graders.

Burford, a Scott Township native, saw this day to be the culmination of a team effort, and was quick to give homage to his colleagues for making this achievement possible.

“It starts at the top with good leadership,” said Burford. “Everyone works together.”

With this being his fourth year at Spring Hill, Burford is the youngest faculty member at the school. His students were delighted to see their teacher receive the award.

“I’m glad he got it, because he’s such a good teacher,” said Isaac Tucker, one of Burford’s fourth-grade students. “He’s my favorite.”

Although Burford was the sole recipient of the award, he made it clear that the recognition belongs to everyone involved at Spring Hill Elementary.

“I don’t like to be in the limelight,” Burford said. “Everyone works just as hard [as I do].”

As the first Pittsburgh elementary school to receive such an award since its inception in 2007, the faculty, staff and students of Spring Hill Elementary were all acknowledged for their collaboration and commitment on a day that was indeed made better.

Principal Van Horn appreciates the integral role that each teacher plays in the lives of his students, and he is thankful of the recognition Office Max and Adopt-A-Class gave to one of his deserving teachers.

“I’m blessed with such a great staff,” Van Horn said.

Jacob Flannick graduated from York College of Pennsylvania with a degree in Professional Writing. Currently, Jake waits tables in Cranberry Township while looking to pursue his education in writing at Carnegie Mellon University next fall and eventually hopes to write for magazines.

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