Thursday morning’s gray skies couldn’t cloud the brightness of the smiles of students at Audubon Elementary School in Dubuque.
The joy on their faces was prompted by high-fives and positive words from 16 men from the local organization 100+ Men Who Care who came out to form a tunnel of affirmation for the students entering the building.
After some initial apprehension, many of the students — including 9-year-old Kylie Adams, of Dubuque — ran through the line multiple times, their spirited cheers of delight setting the tone for the day for all of those present.
Kylie said she was surprised to see the men there, commenting that some of her classmates thought they might be new teachers.
“It was really fun,” she said. “(It shows) they’re trying to make us happy and that they want us to have a good day.”
Bethanny Leban, 9, said she felt “fantastic” after high- fiving and chatting with some of the businessmen, local government officials, clergy and emergency service members who turned out.
Audubon instructional coach Annette Wohlers was one of the staff manning the door for the students. She said she could “just tell” the positive impact the men’s welcome had on the students.
“I know as staff they hear ‘Good morning’ from us all the time and smiles and things like that, but to see people from outside of our school, I’m sure they can’t verbalize (what it means to them),” she said.
Group founder Joe Leibfried said group members Chad Chandlee and Anderson Sainci, who also is a Dubuque Community School Board member, spearheaded the effort as a way to give back to the community in between the group’s quarterly gifts of $10,000 to area causes and nonprofits.
“I thought it was a great mini event about how we can continue to make smaller impacts in the community,” Leibfried said. “If there was one hope, it would be that these children see people from the community and see the value they place on education and encourage them to try hard in school.”
The inaugural event, formally called “Cheering for Education,” is expected to continue, group members said, calling it a win-win for all participating.
Kole Wagner, one of the group members, stayed after the students went into the school, sitting and talking with them in the cafeteria while they ate breakfast and socialized before heading to class.
“Everyone was really chatty with me and seemed excited because how they started their day wasn’t typical,” he said. “I think it was a nice shot of energy for them...and it was a great way to start my day.”
Fellow member Eric Lucy seconded Wagner’s remarks.
“We get as much out of it as they do,” he said.
Being able to be a part of the students’ “support team” was meaningful, Lucy said.
“We’re taking 20 minutes out of our day to have some impact on a kid,” he said. “There’s some kids in here that that could just be the difference from how they start their day, which could end up moving them in the direction of how their week progresses to their month.”
He added that the event also encouraged students to see adults as friends who care.
Being able to have a positive male role model can be influential and motivational for kids, said Audubon Principal Ed Glaser. He explained that it was one of his male teachers who helped inspire him to pursue education both as a student and professionally.
“We have a lot of kids that are growing up in households where there isn’t a male role model,” he said. “And that’s unfortunate, but that doesn’t mean that that has to be the end. We can fill that through different avenues, and (the event) was just fun.”
Glaser added that he “jumped at the opportunity” to have the event and that there likely will be a “buzz around school” because of it.
“The small gesture by a group of men taking time meant a lot to me and my staff, and most importantly, our students got to start their day in a special way today, and that means a lot to me,” he said.