Georgia Teacher's Back to School Generosity is Rewarded

08/14/2013  | 
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Robert Horne is a special education teacher at the public high school in Gainesville, Ga.

Robert Horne, a special education teacher from Gainesville, GA simply planned to do what he’s done at the start of every school year for decades: put the needs of his students first. This year, though, the stakes are much higher.

A few months back Mr. Horne stopped at the store to pick up some “inventory” for one of his most valuable life skills lessons. To help his special needs students put math to real world application, he has his class run a store. They purchase items such as Little Hug, set up an inventory and then resell them.  “My students sell 3 beverages every day:  soda, water, and Little Hugs,” said Mr. Horne.  “They keep track of sales, and I collect the data. They choose Little Hugs over all the other choices 5 to 1.” 

Mr. Horne knew the refreshing Little Hugs would be fast sellers with the temperatures sweltering in Georgia. But he didn’t know, when he went to pick up a few cartons, was that a special promotion was on and that certain cartons contained instant cash prizes. So he was quite surprised when he opened a carton and found a $3000 prize inside.

His immediate reaction was to think about the best way to spend the prize money to improve his classroom. He decided to go big, and buy iPads for his classroom. At least that was the plan, until an unexpected health issue came along.  Mr. Horne learned that he had cancer.  That news probably would change the priorities of most people, but Mr. Horne was undeterred. Those iPads still needed to get into the hands of his kids. "We use an app that  has a hands on tool for the students to learn letters and basic words by listening to a very clear human voice and to repeat as many times as needed. We are just beginning to understand new ways to use it as a learning tool" said Mr. Horne.

School principal Ms. LaCrisia Larkin (left), receives the iPad donation from Tim Barr, Vice President of Marketing for Little Hug.

When Little Hug heard that Mr. Horne planned to use his prize money to buy a few iPads for the classroom, they jumped right in.  “We’re committed to moms!” said Tim Barr, Vice President of Marketing for Little Hug. “That means supporting people who work hard to make schools better for their kids…and it means making fruit drinks that don’t have all the sugar and calories but are still fun to drink.”

Ms. LaCrisia Larkin (left), school principal, receives the iPad donation from Tim Barr (right) Vice President of Marketing for Little Hug

To continue the generous spirit shown by Mr. Horne, Little Hug donated 20 iPads to Gainesville High School, and a year’s supply of Little Hug juice drinks. With school budgets being tighter and more closely scrutinized than ever, the corporate gift really made a huge impression. MyFoxAtlanta  sent a news team to Gainesville High School to cover the official presentation of the iPads to Gainesville High Principal LaCrisia Larkin and ran a small story about it on the six o’clock news. That’s when things got really interesting. The story was an instant hit. My Fox Atlanta posted the story on its Facebook page, as it does with all of its on air content. Within 36 hours, the story received over 400,000 “likes” on Facebook.  (A typical story they post may get two or three hundred “likes”.)

Mr. Horne received an incredible outpouring of get well wishes and kudos for his actions. As Principal Larkin said, “It certainly says a lot for Mr. Horne, his dedication to his students, and his commitment to making sure that they have the same opportunities as other students.”  Little Hug was also overwhelmed with kind responses on its Facebook page, before they had even posted anything about the donation. “We were planning to do this anyway” said Tim Barr. “We know that teachers are out there going above and beyond every day. We just wanted to show our appreciation. And it looks likes hundreds of thousands of people wanted to do the same thing.”

Of course, to a lot of teachers, the idea of a colleague spending his own money to gives his kids better learning opportunities isn’t news. As Mr. Horne said, “To be honest with you I am embarrassed over the whole thing because I honestly believe that every teacher at Gainesville High School would have done the same thing.”  

In case you are wondering, Mr. Horne’s doctors say that his cancer has been detected very early, and are very hopeful about his treatment. The way he sees it, the faster the recovery the faster he can get back in the classroom.  At SEEN, we know that teachers aren’t looking for a parade every time they do something special to enrich classroom learning. But a spontaneous standing ovation from people all around the country sure doesn’t hurt once in a while.

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