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Back to School, Back to Style

Local Teachers Win Shopping Sprees, Classroom Funds

Everyday we’re bombarded with dismal headlines about record jobless rates, seemingly never ending budget deficits, terror threats and crime. Amidst the doom and gloom, there are still people and organizations doing positive things, keeping a glimmer of hope alive (as cliché as that sounds). A shining example: three Bay Area teachers recently won donations for classroom supplies and shopping sprees for wardrobe makeovers made possible by nonprofit Adopt-a-Classroom, apparel clothing Jones New York and Macy’s.

Teachers Karen Vanderveen (first grade English, World Academy, Oakland), Miquila Alejandre (sixth grade Math, Claremont Middle School) and Jenny Richardson (kindergarten, Visitacion Valley Elementary School) were lucky local winners of Jones New York In the Classroom’s (JNYITC) Back to School, Back to Fashion program. But it had much more to do with genuine and passionate dedication, hard work and perseverance than luck.

As you’ve no doubt read, heard about or experienced, many schools are suffering from extreme budget cuts resulting in larger class sizes, eradication of classes and programs, worsening facility conditions and even shortages of school supplies. Former mergers and acquisitions attorney James Rosenberg founded Adopt-a-Classroom (AAC) in 1998 to help communities help teachers and schools -- years before our current recession/Depression/whatever-you-want-to-call-it began.

Mentoring a student in Miami in his non-litigating hours opened Rosenberg’s eyes to “the lack of resources that were in the classroom and how much money the teacher [of his mentee] was spending out of her own pocket to purchase supplies and materials,” he said in an interview with JNYITC. Through Adopt-a-School, organizations and individuals can easily donate funds to schools and even specific classes (registered by teachers) to purchase classroom supplies.

In 2005 JNYITC partnered with Adopt-a-School and the results, Rosenberg reveals, “speak for themselves”: At the start of the partnership, AAC “had approximately 8,000 teachers registered and were raising approximately $650,000 annually. We completed last school year with close to 40,000 teachers registered representing all 50 states… and raised over $1.7 million for classrooms.”

So what did the selected three teachers win? In addition to classroom funds, Grand Prize winner Karen paid the Big Apple an inaugural visit for a head-to-toe makeover and shopping spree, complete with a professional photo shoot with styling by Jones New York (JNY) Style Guy Lloyd Boston. The two runner-ups Miquila and Jenny got the royal treatment at Macy’s Union Square with JNY veteran Nathan Nebrija last Wednesday and $500 each for their classrooms.

Miquila and Jenny had free reign over items from current season JNY Collection, JNY Signature, Anne Klein, Anne Klein NY, Nine West’s new American Vintage Collection and Rachel Rachel Roy -- the last two lines debuted at Macy’s Union Square in August. Each winner was given a budget of $750 with access to spacious, private fitting rooms normally reserved for Macy’s Personal Shopping Service clients, under Nathan’s watchful eye.

Jenny went over her $750 allowance and paid the difference, leaving with ten new wardrobe additions: nine pieces of clothing and a pair of flat suede Nine West boots, while Miquila picked up two coats, two pairs of slacks, a collared shirt and two pairs of heels. One of Nathan’s favorite pieces picked by Jenny was a cowl neck three-quarter-length sleeve knit top with a built in camisole -- the type of piece Nathan calls a “duet” -- like two for the price of one for maximum wear.

Nathan graciously shared some style tips with me after the happy ladies had gone home:

1. When considering an article of clothing, see if you can come up with three different ways to wear it -- three different outfits to create totally different looks.

2. Add a pop of color to your outfit. A lot of women already own a black suit, jacket, pants or skirts, etc. Revive these pieces for fall by adding a new color (a contrast color shirt under a pinstripe suit, a patterned piece to complement the solids, for example).

3. For fall, berry colors are in: “Think raspberries, plums, burgundies -- deeper, luscious shades of color,” says Nathan.

4. The boyfriend blazer: one of the biggest trends of
late. The “boyfriend” modifier is just another way to describe “slightly oversized”. Pair a boyfriend blazer with a nice, slim flat-front pant and a camisole with some detail on the front (beading along the neck, ruffles). Says Nathan: “If the blazer is solid, pick a patterned pant to go with it -- mix it up!”

Jenny and Miquila return to school in new duds and with means to supply fortify their classrooms. Miquila, in her fourth year of teaching at Claremont Middle School, never noticed budget being an issue until this year: art and computer animations classes were cut. School supplies were tightly rationed, with teachers expected to pay for whatever else was needed out of pocket. Some of her $500 donation from the program has gone towards pencils and a broom to start.

Yes, the Back to School, Back to Fashion program is an appealing image booster for Jones New York, and yes, the shopping spree is easiest to categorize as a superficial image thing. But the other results -- reward and recognition for dedicated teachers and desperately needed monetary donations to classrooms in need cannot be discounted. As attested by Bay Area grand prizewinner Karen tearfully from New York: “To be able to dress more professionally and be proud of that, and represent the teaching profession that way thanks to the generosity of these people is to me a real honor…that’s why I’m emotional.”