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Valley art teacher helps clothe, feed students in need

Dr. Laurie Eldridge
Posted at 4:42 PM, Mar 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-22 20:57:57-04

PEORIA, AZ  — A Peoria teacher recently won a national award for her work as an art teacher and providing essential items for students in need.

Dr. Laurie Eldridge, an educator for more than 35 years and art teacher at Ira A. Murphy Elementary School, was recently awarded the National 2021 Excellence In Prek-12 Art Education Award From The U.S. Society for Education Through Art Award.

"I was amazed," said Eldridge. I think I do a good job, but there are so many people in our school district and around the nation that do a great job in art education."

"When you think about arts education it connects them to something bigger than themselves. It creates a home for them to express themselves both socially and emotionally," said Robert Panzer, Director of Arts Education for Peoria Unified School District.

Alongside being an art teacher, Eldridge is a resource for students in need of essential items as the head of the school's Community Closet. Years ago, in an empty office, Eldridge and a coworker created a room dedicated for donated shoes, shirts, pants, hygiene products and food to give to students.

"The kids are so excited they’re like 'I can pick anything I want?' said Eldridge. "We take care of them from the inside out."

A child can anonymously approach Eldridge, the school nurse or another teacher, asking for help. Eldridge will then take the student into the Community Closet and have them pick out two to three outfits to start.

Inside the closet, shelves and shelves of shoes, a cabinet filled with jeans, another cabinet filled with dresses, and racks and racks of shirts, pants and other clothes. There are also tubes of toothbrushes, toothpaste, hair clips, and other hygiene issues.

"I had students who wrote letters for support of that award. One of them said I had given them clothes and food and without that they wouldn't have been able to go to school," said Eldridge. "They know that they have a safe place they can go if they’re in need and they’re not embarrassed to go to school."

"If they don’t have what they need to get to school and to come to school, then they can’t learn," said Panzer.