Less than a week after the death of Jessica Ringwood, a beloved librarian and English teacher at San Ramon Valley High School, a student-initiated fundraiser organized to support her husband, California High School English teacher Ted Levey, and their two young children, passed the $50,000 mark.
"We often talk about the teachers caring about students, but really the students do care about the teachers immensely," said Cal High student Adam Wies. "We know the job isn't easy; we know the time and work they put forward means something. So when we have the opportunity to give back, that really makes us feel like a real community, with the teachers and the students."
Wies and his classmate Kamran Chaudhry, both students of Levey's, said that Levey's class and relationship with students had already impacted them both tremendously, just a few months after school resumed in person this year. Although they'd already felt a bond with Levey, it was learning about Ringwood's terminal illness and hospice care earlier in the month that made the two especially awestruck by his commitment to his students, and determined to give back.
"He's been there for us in the classroom when he's dealing with this stuff at home each day, and to come out in person every day, put on his mask and teach the class – that can't be easy," Wies said.
Upon hearing about Ringwood's illness from Levey in class on Nov. 5, Chaudhry and Wies left school for the weekend unsure what they could do to help.
"It was really heartbreaking, and the part that hurt the most was that we just kind of felt helpless, because it's his personal life, like there's not much we can do to help" Chaudhry said. "But then we both thought of the GoFundMe."
By the following Monday, they'd started brainstorming a statement and working on the fundraiser, driven by determination, social media skills, and an outpouring of community support, despite a lack of fundraising experience or expertise.
"This was one of the few times I've seen our grade as a whole use social media for the greater good," Chaudhry said.
Chaudhry and Wies, both juniors, hadn't had regular classes in person since their freshman year. Although they said they were heartbroken to learn of Ringwood's death last week, they were all the more appreciative of the emotional connections and sense of community they've been able to be a part of and foster during a difficult time.
"It really shows you the generosity of people," Wies said. "Because, especially nowadays, it's hard to feel all the caringness in the world."
Although the two had initially planned for the fundraiser to be a surprise, donations and support for the family flowed in from former students of Ringwood's, Levey's, and the greater SRVUSD community, making it impossible to hide. Nonetheless, they'd hoped to present their teacher with flowers and assorted gifts the next time they saw him in class. However, it was Levey who wound up surprising his students when he came into class last Friday, the day news about his wife's death broke to the district.
"I figured for sure he wasn't going to be here today, so we didn't have anything prepared," Wies said last Friday. "But then we show up to first period, and of course he's there. It meant a lot to us that he was still able to show up after all of this."
"It just kind of made it seem like school is his happy place, and like his students genuinely make him happy," Wies added.
Wies and Chaudhry said that donations to their fundraiser for Levey had started to slow down as of last Friday, when the total had been approaching $50,000. As of Tuesday afternoon, it had passed $50,000. Chaudhry said they planned to leave it up through the holidays.
"We are planning some special ways to honor Jessica's life and career at SRV, but for now, we grieve the loss of our colleague and friend," said a Facebook post from SRVUSD on Friday. "The link for the Go Fund me is also still open, and a testament to the wonderful community we have the privilege to be a part of."
Chaudhry and Wies said they had learned a lot from the fundraising experience, which they expected to put to use in future endeavors, but that they would also be focusing on continuing to strengthen a sense of community, and supporting Levey and his family. Furthermore, Chaudhry emphasized that they no longer feel helpless when it comes to doing so.
"I know Adam told him in class we're always going to be there for him," Chaudhry said. "If he ever needs us, we can help him with whatever it is, because we really do care about him."