Teacher with ALS raises $15,000 for field trip

jstancill@newsobserver.comApril 28, 2014 

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Vivian Connell was a teaching fellow at the Holocaust Museum in Washington. She said the museum is an unmatched teaching tool.

CHRIS SEWARD — cseward@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— Vivian Connell’s students at Phoenix Academy High School will have the field trip of a lifetime next month.

The teacher wrote on her blog Monday that she was “gobsmacked” that a two-week online fundraising campaign had netted more than $15,000 to finance her students’ visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington on May 29-31.

Connell, who was recently diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, said the trip to D.C. will be her last act as a teacher. The donations will allow about 30 students plus teachers to visit the museum, have a private tour of the National Archives and see the Martin Luther King Jr., Lincoln, Vietnam and World War II memorials.

One donor, a California businessman, offered to fund any shortfall for the effort. Another provided money for each student to purchase a “Remember” stone and other souvenirs from the museum store.

“Gifts from strangers to strangers, given not for any sort of personal gain but in earnest hope of enriching this world – of making it better by promoting love and tolerance and genuinely equal opportunity for my kids,” Connell, 50, said of the generosity. “My kids who so often have to take whatever life has dished out.”

Phoenix Academy is an alternative school in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district. Most of Connell’s students are from low-income, minority and immigrant populations.

Connell was featured in a front-page story in The News & Observer on April 19. Her story was also covered by other media. “No one has ever had a better Warholian 15 minutes than I have,” she wrote.

Connell taught for years in Charlotte until she graduated last year from UNC law school. She returned to the classroom after passing the bar exam, while she planned the next chapter – a legal career. Now, though, she is counting off items on what she says is a very short bucket list. The field trip is one.

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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