Angela Swartz/Daily Journal
John Gill Elementary’s outreach specialist Pam Thornburg leads members of the Happy Club in song outside of their second-grade classroom.
If you stopped by John Gill Elementary School in 1970, you’d find an upbeat teacher named Pam Thornburg.
Today, you’d still find Thornburg at the Redwood City school, but in a different capacity as the school’s outreach specialist. For the past 12 years, she has coordinated various programs for students and families, including student success team meetings, the food pantry, the Jewish Coalition for Literacy’s reading intervention program, the Happy Club and the angel brigade.
“We offer a lot of services to the students,” she said. “For teachers, it’s a challenge to choose which to assign to different services with a limited amount of resources.”
For the winter holidays this year, the entire staff volunteered to each buy one student warm clothing as part of Thornburg’s angel brigade program, which she used to run just with friends for 20 years prior. This year, she plans to provide students with Christmas stockings as well.
“It was really heartwarming,” she said. “You feel good about yourself since these children are really in need of something warm to wear.”
Helping struggling families at the school is paramount for the fourth generation San Franciscan who now lives in Burlingame. Students at the school face a lot of challenges, she said.
“Deportation, homelessness, sometimes even incarceration, divorce, alcoholism, death — we’ve pretty much seen it all,” she said. “With all these volunteer programs, we can plug children into these programs so they can get the help that they need.”
Thornburg’s latest venture is the Happy Club, which gets together on Thursdays at recess time. The group of about 25 students first started meeting in September 2013 and sings songs such as “The time to be happy is now” and “Love is something if you give it away.” They also share kind things they did for others in the past week.
“It’s so important for kids to be kind as young children,” she said. “I love my job. Every day I look forward to coming to school and seeing the joy in the faces of children when they get a new jacket or receive something from one of these services.”
Thornburg’s love of the school has kept her there for so many years.
“There’s a sense of family here,” she said. “I think that’s important. The children are really sweet and don’t act entitled. They’re appreciative of anything we do for them; I think that’s important.”
She notes how on a flier asking for counseling John Gill students, it’s called the school with a heart.
“It is a school with a heart,” she said. “To me, that says it all.”
Services she helps coordinate such as the food pantry provide students with foods such as rice, beans, oatmeal, macaroni and cheese, tuna, spaghetti sauce, corn, soup, green beans, cereal and fruit. Sue Alvarez from Woodside Portola Valley Rotary Club donates the food. She also helps coordinate internship programs through Notre Dame de Namur University, StarVista and police departments to connect people studying to become counselors and students in need.
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