SRU students, faculty sending supplies to school in U.S. Virgin Islands

US Virgin Islands

Slippery Rock University graduate Connor MacKelvey, ’15, (center) taught fifth graders at All-Saints Cathedral School in the U.S. Virgin Islands. MacKelvey has partnered with various SRU students and faculty to help his former school recover from the ravages of Hurricane Irma.

Oct. 16, 2017

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Two weeks before Hurricane Irma ravaged the Caribbean islands, a Slippery Rock University alumnus left his teaching job at a private episcopal school in the U.S. Virgin Islands to teach in western Pennsylvania. His heart, however, remained in the eye of the storm.

Connor MacKelvey, a 2015 graduate with a degree in early childhood/special education, was contacted last month by one of his former SRU mentors, Richael Barger-Anderson, professor of special education. Barger-Anderson helped connect MacKelvey to his first job out of college, teaching fifth graders at All-Saints Cathedral School in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, and she was concerned if he weathered the storm.

"When I told her I was back in the states she asked if there was anything they could do to help out with the island and the school," said MacKelvey, who showed Barger-Anderson photos of the devastation and damage to the school. "I recommended a campaign to collect school supplies once everything starts to settle down and she loved the idea."

Word spread quickly as SRU faculty and students rallied support. Barger-Anderson emailed faculty in the University's Special Education Department for help, including Eric Bieniek, assistant professor of special education and adviser for SRU's chapter of Autism Speaks U, who shared the campaign with his organization.

Within a few days, seven College of Education-related student organizations began collecting a designated school supply that will be combined into backpacks for each of the 206 students at All-Saints.

"It was amazing," Barger-Anderson said. "I thought a few people would say, 'Sure, we'll donate,' and we'd have a monetary collection, but this has gone above and beyond anything I had expected."

Combined with donations from Industry Weapon Inc. and S2 Scout Professional Staffing Services, Autism Speaks U collected money to purchase 220 personal bottles that filter drinking water. The chapter also partnered with several special education faculty members to contribute money to buy drawstring backpacks for the All-Saints' students.

Another half dozen student clubs or organizations collected supplies, including:
-Best Buddies, markers.
-Council for Exceptional Children, highlighters.
-Early Childhood Club, crayons.
-Kappa Delta Pi, pencils.
-National Science Teachers Association, general school supplies.
-Student Pennsylvania State Education Association, notebooks.

Renee Bateman   
LARNER

"We figured this would be a great way to get involved and put our own spin on it as future teachers," said Sydney Larner, a senior early childhood/special education major from South Park who is Autism Speaks U-SRU's vice president for community relations. "I am very thankful that I am at a University that is filled with people who are sympathetic to situations like this and they are willing to give everything they are able to just to be able to provide for others."

Students returned to All-Saints three weeks after Hurricane Irma hit St. Thomas Sept. 6. And while they did so, without telephone or Internet service, the school did have running water and generators to provide electricity. Some of the students evacuated to the United States but everyone was safe despite several students' families losing their homes, vehicles and personal property.

"It was just overwhelming to see what was taking place down there with life or death situations and just having the means to survive and get by," MacKelvey said. "They just want to get a sense of normalcy back there, just so the students can go back to school and get their education."

MacKelvey, who taught at All-Saints for a year, kept in close contact with most of his former students and considers them family. Even though he departed St. Thomas for a more financially sustainable job teaching fourth grade math and science in the Iroquois School District in Erie, MacKelvey refers to his year at All-Saints as his dream job.

"I just loved being a part of that culture and part of the people," MacKelvey said. "I wish I could be there, but at the same time I'm blessed that I'm where I am right now."

Despite his departure, MacKelvey's support for the students at All-Saints continues, thanks to a little help from his friends at SRU.

SRU student clubs and organizations will continue to collect supplies through Oct. 21 before the backpacks are stuffed and shipped to the U.S. Virgin Islands. For additional information, contact SRU's Special Education Department at 724.738.2085.

Donations to support All-Saints are being accepted at: http://www.allsaintsvi.org/giving.html.

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854 | justin.zackal@sru.edu