Blog Post

Teach For America and Maritz Make Strides in Education

September 01, 2017

For 11 of our 12 years of partnering with Teach For America, our people at Maritz have been giving selflessly to the annual Teach For America school supply drive. Year after year, we watch as employees graciously provide much-needed supplies to Teach For America corps members and their schools throughout the St. Louis, Detroit and Chicago regions.  

And this year was a huge success! Together, our people contributed more than $8,000 in supplies to four participating Teach For America partner schools including Patrick Henry Downtown Academy, Vashon High School, Carnahan High School of the Future and Normandy 7th and 8th Grade Center. From Kleenexes and hand sanitizer to calculators and construction paper, our school supply drive reception was flowing with full hearts and full tables, all in support of teachers who give so selflessly to their students. During the event, we also announced our corporate gift of $100,000 to Teach For America-St. Louis, $10,000 to Teach For America-Detroit, and $5,000 to Teach For America-Chicago, in support of the non-profit's mission to eliminate education inequality.

“The annual Teach For America school supply drive is as rewarding for our people as it is a tremendous boost for teachers to get their school year started off right,” said Debbie Schirmer, Maritz’ director of community affairs. “It’s a true testament to our continued mission to support educational programs throughout our community.”

“Educators give of themselves every day, so an event like the school supply drive gives us what we need, hits us in the heart, fills us with love and makes a difference," said Renee Racette, principal of Carnahan High School of the Future. 

With our 2017-2018 school supply drive complete, we caught up with two Teach For America-St. Louis administrators – Laura Olwig and Maya Becton – to get their first-hand accounts of the impact Maritz, the partnership and our supply drive has on the education of young children in the St. Louis area.

An interview with Laura Olwig, interim director, development

As interim development director for Teach For America­-St. Louis, Laura Olwig has been working with Maritz for the past two years. Prior to joining the staff, she was a corps member teaching middle school Spanish for three years at Whitewater Elementary School in Charlotte, NC.

In her development role, she’s participated in and supported the Maritz school supply drive, Maritz employee community engagement fair and built relationships with the Maritz team to work collaboratively towards Teach For America’s mission of educational equity.

Q: Maritz’ partnership with Teach For America extends beyond St. Louis, and currently includes Chicago and Detroit. What impact does our partnership across multiple cities have on Teach For America?  

A: Social inequity impacts cities and rural areas across the country, creating unequal access to educational experiences that allow students to pursue a breadth of post-secondary opportunities. Maritz’ support of Teach For America-St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit helps ensure that we are able to address this challenge broadly, developing leaders who innovate and drive change from the classroom and all of the sectors that impact education.

Q: How does Maritz’ hands-on support of Teach For America further your mission to “find, develop and support diverse and talented leaders to grow and strengthen the movement for educational equity and excellence?”

A: Maritz is a true champion of Teach For America through the many unique ways they support our work.

Through the Maritz School Supply Drive, the Maritz team helps to ensure that our educators and their students have the resources necessary to start a successful school year. Having access to the materials and resources critical for classroom success, corps members are better able to focus on driving student learning and leadership.

The Maritz Employee Community Engagement Fair is a great way to share our mission and community of change-makers and coalition-builders making an impact in St. Louis with a broad network.

Maritz’ genuine care for the Teach For America community also has led to special relationships between corps members and alumni and Maritz staff, resulting in programs that support student learning and investment like Patrick Henry Honors at Patrick Henry Downtown Academy, led by Colby Heckendorn (STL ’10). The Patrick Henry Honors program recognizes students monthly for exhibiting positive character traits and supports the school and developing strong student attendance, school culture and academic results.

Finally, Maritz provides hands-on support through board membership. We are so grateful for the strategic support Dennis Hummel, Maritz vice chairman, provides our team in serving as a Teach For America-St. Louis board member.

Q: What is one of the most impactful parts of the Maritz and Teach For America partnership?

A: Maritz’ financial contributions to Teach For America have a significant impact on our ability to pursue our goals and make progress toward our vision. The commitment and dedication to Teach For America through financial gifts ensure that our team brings talented leaders to our region, train, coach and develop them to become transformational classroom leaders. This support also helps them beyond their time in the corps to pursue careers as veteran educators, school administrators and leaders in every sector and field that shapes the broader systems in which schools operate. Our partnership with Maritz is essential to our progress.

Q: What has been your favorite experience with Teach For America? With Maritz?

A: My favorite experience with Teach For America is the time I spent as a corps member and alumni educator. No other role has been quite as rewarding as building relationships with my students and their families, and supporting them as they grew to become passionate world language learners and leaders in our school community.  

Today, one of my favorite days each year is the Maritz School Supply Drive! It is so amazing to see the generosity of the Maritz staff and the excitement of our corps members, alumni and their school communities when we present a room full of supplies for them to take back to their buildings. We are so grateful for Maritz’ commitment to our teachers and their students and to celebrate the beginning of the school year with such a special event.  

Q: How do you see your work personally changing the lives of the students you work with and how does Maritz play a role in that?

A: Last year, Teach For America corps member led their students to achieve, on average, 1.2 years of growth in a single school year, and alumni across the region supported broader change by leading in a variety of sectors including school and district leadership roles. Maritz’ partnership with Teach For America provides us with the foundational resources to pursue our goals and ensure that our teachers and leaders can effect classroom and systems-level change through professional development, coaching and leveraging a network of support to enhance their efforts.  

Q: What would you like to see out of the Maritz and Teach For America partnership in the future?

A: Our partnership with Maritz is so robust! There are many opportunities for Teach For America and Maritz to work towards bettering the St. Louis community, and in the future, we hope to continue those efforts. We would also love to find ways to build even more relationships between the Maritz team and our corps member and alumni community, maximizing our partnership.   

Q: What is one thing you wished people knew about Teach For America that maybe they aren’t aware of?

A: While Teach For America focuses on developing leaders at all levels, beginning with student in classrooms and our corps members as teachers in our partner schools, our alumni are pursuing educational equity through leadership in a variety of fields. While we do see nearly 60 percent of alumni working directly in education, there are many alumni in our community that continue to work towards Teach For America’s mission through leadership in other sectors. Organizations like College Bound, Ready by 21, InspireSTL and North Campus, and others all have Teach For America alumni as leaders, and we are proud to work alongside these organizations to ensure that students in our region are able to grow and lead in equitable communities.


An interview with Maya Becton, managing director, continuum

As the managing director of continuum at Teach For America St. Louis, Maya Becton has been working with Maritz for the last three years, engaging in classroom observations with Maritz employees and participating in the school supply drive. Prior to coming joining Teach For America, Maya taught Secondary English for eight years and designed English curriculum at the secondary and collegiate level.   

Q: How do you see the school supply drive impacting the teachers AND the students of the Teach For America partner schools in St. Louis?

A: The school supply drive has a significant impact on the teachers and the students of our partner schools, as it allows them to start the school year better prepared. Many of the students in schools with whom we partner face the challenge of poverty. Students who face such an incredible burden should not also have to face class without basic supplies. For students served by the Maritz school supply drive, walking into class prepared can make a huge difference! Students are provided the learning tools they need to succeed in attaining a meaningful education. Additionally, many teachers often use their own money to purchase supplies for their students to ensure that students have the resources they need to be successful in the classroom. The school supply drive eases that burden for many of our teachers and our partner schools. 

Q: Can you describe a time when you’ve experienced the impact of this supply drive?

A: One of the specific places that I have seen the impact of our partnership with Maritz has been through the Patrick Henry Honors Program at Patrick Henry Downtown Academy, which is led by Teach For America St Louis alum, Colby Heckendorn. The support that Maritz has provided through its sponsorship of the program has increased the school’s ability to provide students incentives for success in both academics and behavior. This program has had a significant impact on school culture and student outcomes. 

Q: What would you like to see out of the Maritz and Teach For America partnership in the future?

A: Maritz provides such a generous amount of support for our organization through our partnership.  I would love to see the initiatives that are currently in place continue, and I would like to increase the amount of opportunities that Maritz employees have to engage with our teachers in classrooms and through connection points, in order for Maritz to fully understand the significant impact our people have on our work and how your support enables our teachers to ensure that students are having transformative outcomes. 

Q: Can you describe a student or teacher success story thanks in part to Teach For America, its mission and its partnership with Maritz?

A: Maritz has greatly contributed to our mission as an organization and contributed to the success of individual students and teachers. One of our alums, Grace Hogan (STL ’14), used many of the supplies and resources provided by Maritz through the school supply drive to work to ensure that her classroom was a trauma-informed environment. She used gift cards provided to increase the proactive accommodations in place for her students. Through the generosity of Maritz, she has been able to ensure students’ sensory needs are met by providing tools to accommodate for these needs, such as tactile weighted items (lap pad, blanket, vest, etc.) and fidgets (squeeze balls, Velcro under the desk, etc.). 

Q: What is one thing you wished people knew about Teach For America that maybe they aren’t aware of?

A: I would like people to be aware of the impact that Teach For America St Louis has on our regions. Teach For America is largely known as an organization that supports new teachers. In addition to that work, we also support alumni, many of who remain in education. With our alumni continually committed to expanding opportunity for children from inside and outside of schools, we have a significant collective impact on the St. Louis regions. We currently support 70 first and second-year school teachers and over 500 alumni. Between our current corps members and alumni educators, we serve 20,000 students annually. 

"We are incredibly grateful for our partnership Maritz and all the ways you support Teach For America and the folks within our community,” Laura shared. “Our teachers were blown away by your generosity and are so excited about sharing the supplies with the students and teachers in their buildings." 

We wish everyone at Teach For America and its students the best of luck this school year!