Educators, Businesses Team Up to Help Each Other on Teacher Appreciation Week

With the local economy blunted by coronavirus, businesses are offering teachers coupons — not gift cards — to encourage spending

By Andy Viano
Stillwater Christian School kindergarten teacher Erin Arneson and her daughter Ariahna Arneson participate in a physically-distant parade on April 24, 2020. Teachers and staff waved from the curb as their elementary students drove by Stillwater Christian School in Kalispell. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

In years past, before the pandemic arrived, businesses said an annual thank you to their community’s teachers during the first week of May. This year, teachers are returning the favor.

Teacher Appreciation Week began on May 4, and Scott Countryman at Horace Mann Financial and Insurance Services has organized his annual effort to thank educators throughout the Flathead Valley for their work, but in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic that effort looks quite a bit different.

In 2018 and 2019, Countryman rounded up $2,000 worth of gift cards from local businesses to be given away in packs of $200 at 10 of the area’s largest schools. This year, with many businesses struggling through forced closures or reductions in service, Countryman went to them with a new proposal. He would collect a package of coupons and distribute them to up to 500 teachers at any of 30 different Northwest Montana schools, putting an incentive to support local small businesses in the hands of teachers currently working from home.

“With COVID and these businesses being closed, (gift cards) didn’t jibe but they wanted business and this was a way to make that happen,” Countryman said. “Really the teachers are going to be the ones thanking the businesses.”

Montana schools have been closed to in-person education since the middle of March, but teachers have been working since then to develop and execute remote learning plans, finding ways to remain connected to students online or via other means. Many teachers, like countless others working from home, are also looking for ways to ease the combined burden of at-home work and at-home parenting. That’s where 11 restaurants and breweries in Kalispell and Whitefish are stepping in, and getting the added bonus of bringing in teachers, who remain employed, as rising unemployment and economic uncertainty depress their customer base.

Twelve total businesses made offers available in the teacher appreciation coupon book, including Bias Brewing, The Boat Club Restaurant, Bonelli’s Bistro, Ceres Bakery, Desoto Grill, Food for the Soul, Imagination Station, MacKenzie River Pizza, Sacred Waters Brewing Co., SunRift Beer Co., Sykes Diner and the Whitefish Lake Golf Club Restaurant. As of May 4, more than 300 coupon books were still available to eligible full-time teachers and can be requested by completing an online form at https://help.horacemann.com/4CQB.

In addition to the coupon books, Horace Mann is also giving away $1,000 in classroom supplies to one local teacher. All teachers who complete the online form will be eligible to win. A drawing will be held on the Horace Mann Facebook page on Monday, May 11.

Horace Mann Financial and Insurance Services was founded 75 years ago by two teachers and offers discount policies to educators at locations throughout the nation. Countryman said his office’s participation in Teacher Appreciation Week is a natural fit given Horace Mann’s history and mission.

“Teachers have always been a core of who we are and whom we serve,” he said. “Without teachers, Horace Mann wouldn’t exist.”

For more information on Horace Mann or the Teacher Appreciation Week program, contact Countryman at (406) 315-5700.

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