Sean Kingston's new recording artist, Iyaz, topped the international music charts with his debut single 'Replay' but the 23-year-old singer recently took some time off from music to spend a day in school. Teaming up with OfficeMax and their national education campaign, 'A Day Made Better,' Iyaz dropped into public school M.S. 131 on New York City's Lower East Side this past week, to present one unsuspecting teacher with $1,000 in classroom supplies. In the course of its three-year span, the campaign -- a joint effort between OfficeMax and Adopt-A-Classroom -- has equipped schools with an estimated $3.5 million in supplies, in an effort to curb out-of-pocket spending for teachers.
Growing up with a mother who worked in the public school system, the charity is something that hits close to home for the singer. "A Day Made Better charity asked me to be a part of making teacher's lives better in the classroom, and with my mom being a teacher, I know how hard it is for teachers, so I was definitely for it," Iyaz recently told The BoomBox. "It's a positive cause and I'm definitely blessed that we could've made this teacher's life a lot easier than it was yesterday."
Iyaz presented the supplies to dance teacher Margaret Plaza in front of an auditorium filled with her students. But before handing over the giant box of goodies, he treated his middle school audience to a snippet of his hit song 'Replay,' and passed along autographed posters for each student to take home.
"My mom was a guidance counselor, so she's definitely proud of me," Iyaz said. "She is very heavy on education. As a matter of fact, before I got signed, when the first deal came to me, she said 'Nope, you've got to finish school first.' But I flipped it on her a little bit and said 'This might be a chance for me to pay back all these student loans I have!'" he said, laughing. "But education is definitely key, because everything I learned in school and in college is what I'm doing in my career right now."
The British Virgin Islands native even recalled one of the many odd jobs he would do to help his mom out. "I remember the days when I used to have to go out and get boxes of deodorant to make sure the kids smelled right!" he said.
M.S. 131's principal, Phyllis Tam, who coordinated the presentation with OfficeMax, explained that exorbitant out-of-pocket spending is the norm for public school teachers. "This is something that's very typical. In New York City, teachers only get a $200 subsidy for all of their classroom supplies and all the Xeroxing," she said. "I remember as a teacher myself, I easily spent a thousand dollars just to get supplies and hand outs. Just imagine if you have 65-70 teachers and everyone wants to make 100 copies everyday. Think about the expenses of the Xerox machine, the paper, the maintenance, that's a lot of money."
Tam said that the prize recipient, Margaret Plaza, deserved the award because of her dedication to teaching all of the students at the school. "Ms. Plaza has been working with us for a very long time and she teaches the entire school. My assistant principal and I thought about it and we wanted to start with someone who's school-wide, who serves everyone, who everyone sees and everyone knows."
"Ms. Plaza puts on an annual dance performance for the students, and she teaches dance to over 200 kids -- hip hop, jazz, you name it, and she probably does it -- and that is a year long project for her," Tam continued. "Imagine if you work with eight different groups of kids on eight different performances, how much time and energy you need to do that. That takes a lot of time and she stays here until 5PM or 6PM every single day, working with kids after school."
The surprise presentation went off without a hitch, and a delighted Ms. Tam explained how she made certain Ms. Plaza had no idea what was going to happen. "I just told her that we were having a local, renowned neighborhood dance program who wants to come in and talk to the kids about dance."