Former Newton School teacher surprised by students, awarded $30K on Good Morning America

  • Newton Elementary School Principal Melodie Goodwin is interviewed by a camera crew for Good Morning America about teacher Jami Witherell. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Newton Elementary School Principal Melodie Goodwin is interviewed by a camera crew for Good Morning America about teacher Jami Witherell. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Newton Elementary School teacher Taylor Lively is interviewed by a camera crew for Good Morning America about teacher Jami Witherell. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Jami Witherell, center, stands with West Springfield Mayor William Reichelt, West Springfield Public Schools Superintendent Mike Richard and Good Morning America host TJ Holmes, along with a few of the students who attended the celebration. Thirty-five former students and staff from Newton School in Greenfield also attended. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Some of Jami Witherell’s students, when she was at Newton School, prepare for Glow Day, where they wore glow sticks and glow-in-the-dark clothing, and did everything in the dark. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/17/2019 9:43:05 PM

GREENFIELD — A former Newton School teacher was surprised by Good Morning America recently, receiving $30,000 for her contributions to local schools — $15,000 for the one she works at now in West Springfield and $15,000 for Newton School.

Jami Witherell, who taught second grade the last year she was at Newton and third and fourth grades for the first five years, is in the top 1 percent of teachers who raise money on DonorsChoose.org, an online organization where people donate to educators who post projects and classroom items they need funded, and the morning show wanted to honor her for her work.

“While she was at Newton, she used DonorsChoose.org to fund projects in the classroom,” Newton School Principal Melodie Goodwin said. “She is such an inspiration.”

Thirty-five Newton School students and staff boarded a bus on Friday and headed to West Springfield, where Witherell was called from class to accept the money and be surprised by Good Morning America.

Additionally, just days before, Good Morning America spent an entire day filming at Newton School. Goodwin said it was “an exciting day filled with cameras, lights, memories and conversation about an amazing teacher and all she brought to our school.”

Goodwin and a couple of Witherell’s former students said days with her were filled with kindness, sparkle, glitter, love and adventure, like when she held Glow Day in her classroom. Students wore glow sticks and glow-in-the-dark clothing, and did everything in the dark.

Another time, Goodwin said, Witherell invited a yoga teacher from England to teach all students, faculty and staff. The trip from England to Greenfield was paid for by DonorsChoose.org.

“She was really kind,” said Zoey Burton-King, an 8-year-old third-grader at Newton School. “I felt super excited to go and surprise her. She’s amazing and fun.”

Zoey said she and the other third-graders who traveled to West Springfield to see their former teacher couldn’t wait to get off the bus and give her a big hug.

Dylan Vernon, 8, said Witherell was a “great teacher” and that he had a lot of fun in her class. He said Witherell once left a message on his computer — “You are a rock star!”

“She always did stuff like that,” he said.

Goodwin said Witherell was hired when the school needed more teachers, because it had welcomed about 50 homeless children who were living in Greenfield hotels around 2013 to 2014.

“She immediately took to them and did everything in her power to help them,” Goodwin said.

A large gray and white stuffed elephant sat conspicuously on a chair in the principal’s office for several years. Goodwin said Witherell brought it in one morning saying it was the “elephant in the room,” representing all of the homeless children who were living in hotels with their families at that time. She said it seemed to be an issue no one wanted to talk about at the time.

Later, Witherell asked if she could give the elephant to a student who had finally found a home in one of the housing projects in Greenfield. On Friday, Goodwin and Witherell’s former students brought her a bag filled with different colored elephants.

“It was amazing,” Witherell said. “I was so surprised to see them get off the bus. I was overwhelmed, humble, felt loved.”

Witherell said she has always referred to Newton School as the “Disney World” of elementary schools.

“Everyone there puts children and their needs first,” she said. “It’s a really joyful place to work. It’s such a positive memory.”

Witherell left Newton School last year when her mother became ill. She said she needed to be close by to help her through the illness. So, she moved to Holyoke and got a job in West Springfield.

She said when her former students got off the bus and headed toward her, she felt the other half of her heart return.

“I had to process what was happening,” she said. “Then, I saw the beautiful faces of those children and I felt complete again.”

Witherell said she chose DonorsChoose.org because it has helped so many teachers and students with supplies for all sorts of projects.

“It gives teachers a feeling of limitlessness and that extends to students,” she said. “You feel like you don’t have constraints, and students get what they need. It’s truly powerful.”

Witherell said the $15,000 to Newton School will go to whatever Goodwin and teachers deem important.


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