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News and Stories from across the District

Take Five with Teacher Marina Mantel

22 December 2022

One initiative Ms. Mantel is known for is distributing holiday gifts to the students of Pickard.

Ms. Mantel and Pickard Students

Take Five is a series that highlights some of the many CPS staff members who are going above and beyond for our schools. If you know someone who is making a difference, nominate them to be featured here

This holiday season, we are pleased to introduce Ms. Marina Mantel, a current 8th-grade teacher at Josiah Pickard Elementary School. A CPS graduate and 16-year veteran with the District, Ms. Mantel has worked with various grade levels, teaching English-Language Arts, Writing, and Social Studies, and has also served as an International Baccalaureate (IB) Coordinator at Pickard. 

One initiative Ms. Mantel is known for is distributing holiday gifts to the students of Pickard. This year, with the help of Families Helping Families Chicagoland - a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting schools and families in need - Ms. Mantel was able to procure gifts for all 287 students at Pickard.

How did this holiday gift initiative get started?

Before I started at Pickard, a former Art teacher here had established a partnership with the Chicago Sun-Times “Letters to Santa” program. I took over that partnership after the teacher left our school and continued it until the pandemic hit. Then in 2021, I was able to connect with Families Helping Families Chicagoland - an organization whose mission includes supporting schools, to keep it going.

What has this partnership meant for the students at Pickard?

For the past two years, students from Pre-K through 5th grade have received a toy during the holidays, while our older students in grades 6-8 have received a gift card from Amazon. This year, our school also received 200 bags with hats, gloves, and other winter essentials for our students. I am grateful to Families Helping Families Chicagoland for making this happen. 

What inspired you to lead this initiative at Pickard?

I have always been someone who volunteers for organizations focused on hunger, homelessness, and other social issues. But it was a chance meeting with a stranger that inspired this gift-giving initiative. One Saturday morning, I saw a man walking his little white French bulldog puppy. I asked him what the puppy’s name was, and he replied, “Zero.” I was so curious how the dog came to be named that, and he told me that the dog was a gift to himself as he had never received a birthday or Christmas gift in his life.

I was moved to tears after hearing the story, and I wanted to make sure that none of the students at my school would ever have a similar story to tell. 

What is special about the community at Pickard?

The fact that there are always people who help with whatever needs doing. For example, the two colleagues who joined me in collecting the gifts this year. They gave up their Sunday to drive to Glenview, load their cars to the roof, keep the gifts overnight, and bring them to school the following day. Other colleagues were there to hand out gifts, and to help our younger students write thank-you notes after the event. We are a team at Pickard Elementary School. Whatever needs doing, someone will step up.

What is your favorite holiday tradition?

As a kid, Christmas Eve was always my favorite day. There was so much that had to be done, and as the oldest of four siblings, I got to be in charge of much of it! We'd start the day by going to a local tree lot to choose a live Balsam tree, and we'd bring it home and attempt to put it up. Invariably, unless we had a neighbor's help, the tree would fall over every year. Then, we would make and eat Christmas cookies and go to the Children's Church Service in the early evening. Finally, I would wrap gifts for my siblings to open on Christmas morning. Seeing all the gifts under the tree and then watching my brothers and sister open them was the best part! Those memories have become today’s traditions for my own family, each time with a fond look back.

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