When 8-year-old Laynee Kirby saw a fellow classmate with holes in her shoes, she just couldn’t stop thinking about it. She went home and told her parents, concerned about her friend who may not be able to participate in school activities and be comfortable throughout the day with inadequate shoes.
Her dad, Andrew Kirby, Caribou High School science teacher, soccer coach, and newly named 2021 Aroostook County Teacher of the Year and his wife Brittany started to form a plan. Drawing inspiration from Andrew’s fellow County Teacher of the Year Hillary Hoyt, who experienced a similar issue in her region of Waldo County, Andrew and Brittany got to thinking about how they could help Laynee make a difference in her school and region.
In researching other similar programs across the nation, they found that adequate footwear for kids could mean as much as a 56% improved attendance at school and 70% increased physical activity offered through school.
“There’s so many social issues that kids deal with and this is just one of those and can sometimes be the determining factor that motivates a kid to go to school,” said Andrew Kirby.
“When kids have shoes that fit them, they will be able to focus and learn more in school,” added Laynee.
Andrew, or Mr. Kirby as the students call him, got in touch with Dr. Valerie Waldemarson, the district Jobs for Maine’s Graduates (JMG) Specialist, who he knew would have some ideas to get this started. She dove into action immediately.
“Given the level of economically disadvantaged students in our school district, I agreed to take on this project to bring awareness to a need within our student population, teach my current JMG Students essential skills that are relevant to competencies taught in my class, and mentor a second grader with a passion to serve,” said Dr. Waldemarson.
Incorporating her high school JMG class, Dr. Waldemarson developed Laynee’s sole purpose into multifaceted, cross-curricular, project-based learning lesson for her students, that encompasses leadership development, social awareness, civic awareness, career development, community service, and financial literacy.
Crocs, the shoe company, has made a generous donation to the project along with another local retailer, who has offered a discount on shoes purchased for the project, and many Caribou High School Alumni have made very generous donations as well. Haney’s and Sleepers are both businesses in Caribou who are also helping support the project. In addition, the JMG Viking Pantry Project is also supporting Laynee by purchasing 10 donation boxes and purchasing print material for the project.
In partnership with art teacher Jessica Goodwin, the group has cut wooden hearts that will accompany each pair of shoes that say, “Laced with Love by Laynee”. These were created and cut utilizing technology at Caribou High School and show students how to enhance their presentations utilizing technology available to them at school. In addition, Jessica Goodwin and her digital media class are on board to help in the development of marketing material.
Mr. Kirby’s varsity soccer team is helping to attach the hearts to every shoe collected and donated. “We are using the project as a way to help demonstrate the importance of community service to our players. Laynee, along with our other children, have tagged along with me to practices and games which allowed the girls to build relationships with them,” said Mr. Kirby. “I think that is a key part to their wanting to support her in this.”
They are in the process of filling a closet of shoes of all sizes for school aged youth in the area that will be available to students or teachers at request for those who might be in need. Another component to Laynee’s Sole Purpose is to use the school social worker and guidance counselors to help connect with the families in need, to ensure they are on board with accepting donated shoes.
The project has also set up donation boxes at Caribou Community School, which serves Pre-k to 8th grade students, Caribou High School, the Superintendent’s office, and a few other places around town. The gymnastics center that Laynee frequents (Allstar Gymnastics) is also supporting her by allowing her to set up a donation box at their Presque Isle and Houlton gym locations as well.
“We are blessed with an amazing leadership team and wholeheartedly believe that none of this would be possible without the constant encouragement of our Superintendent, Tim Doak, Assistant Superintendent Jane McCall, and CHS administrators Dr. Eric McGough and Evan Graves to meet students where they are at and to take their education to the next level at every possible opportunity,” said Dr. Waldemarson.
Because the issue of students not having the adequate gear needed to participate equitably in school is not unique to Caribou, after becoming fully operational in Caribou area schools, Laynee’s Sole Purpose hopes to expand their efforts to help surrounding towns and Aroostook county schools.