Students at Gov. Thomas Johnson High School have haphazardly taped more than 200 paper hearts with their names written on them to a bulletin board on the back wall of teacher Karly Strauch’s classroom.
“The kids smile when they get their names up there,” Strauch said of the board. “You can tell that they feel good about it.”
Teachers often try to teach that success is its own reward, but her students at the Frederick high school are finding out that their good grades are not only rewarding to them, but can also help the less fortunate in their community.
For every “A” students earn on a test in Strauch’s math classes, or any other of their subjects, and show her the tests, they get a heart-shaped sticky note to put on the board. Strauch donates $1 for every heart collected to a charity chosen by her students through a vote at the end of the year.
In her fifth year as a math teacher, Strauch began “Show the Love, Give the Money” about a year ago as a way to recognize her students for earning good grades.
“I had tried a couple of [other] techniques but they either took too long in class to do or I forgot about them. This one stuck,” she said.
Along with donations from school faculty, family, and friends, Strauch puts aside some of the money she receives from her tax returns for the effort, she said.
Last year, students earned about 100 hearts over the course of a semester.
With some help from private donations, she was able to give $192 to the Frederick Soup Kitchen, a program run by Frederick Community Action Agency, which provides a nutritious meal each night to those in need of it.
“It’s like every test I take matters now,” said senior Matthew Penman, 17, of the program. “It makes me work harder on my tests because [my grades] are helping someone else.”
“I have four hearts,” Lavon Hackett, 18, a senior, said proudly with a smile. “It makes you feel like you’re making a change.”
As of May 7, students had earned about 248 hearts this year, five of which have Erik Rivera’s name written on them.
Erik, a 17-year-old junior, said that he still remembers earning his first heart for a math test he took a few months ago.
“I didn’t feel so sure about [getting an ‘A’] on it,” he said. “Then when I got it back, and saw that I got an ‘A,’ I felt proud of myself because I was helping other people, too.”
Alanna Hefle, 17, a senior with three hearts, said that she likes to see hers on display in the classroom.
“It’s cool because everybody can see them and knows that you’re smart,” she said.
“It makes me feel good about myself,” said Chris Moon, 17, a senior, of earning hearts.
Suggestions for charity recipients this year include the Frederick Soup Kitchen again, and Heartley House, a nonprofit organization that helps county residents impacted by domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse.
“The idea is to work for intrinsic motivation instead of extrinsic,” Strauch said of the effort. “[The students] overall are very positive about it.”
Few students other than the 90 taught in Strauch’s algebra, geometry, and contemporary math classes participate in “Show the Love, Give the Money,” but she said she hopes to expand the effort beyond her classroom walls.
“It would be great to expand it through the school or the county,” Strauch said.