“You must be the angel who brings us masks and water.”
So say the students and teachers at Buchanan Elementary School about the University of West Georgia’s Dr. Angela Branyon.
Being at UWG ignited Branyon’s passion to serve her community. Ever since her arrival, she has taken the lead on service projects to help students at partner community schools.
“When I interviewed, we talked about how UWG is situated near a rural area and how there are so many opportunities to reach out to schools that often have students who are underserved,” said Branyon, an assistant professor in the College of Education’s (COE) Department of Educational Technology and Foundations. “There is just something in my heart that tugs for those students who don’t have equal opportunities to the same resources.”
Branyon was introduced to local schools through her involvement with COE’s Mobile Innovations Lab, which focuses on bringing STEM-based educational technology to rural areas. The goal is to expose schools and community members to the many uses of technology in the classroom. Branyon’s research area is equal access to education, leading her to develop relationships with faculty and staff in area schools.
Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Branyon knew she had to find a way to help. The schools were in need of masks for students, so she reached out to church members, friends and COE colleagues for assistance.
“The rule is you have to wear a mask to come to school, participate in activities and access the resources,” she said. “Everybody just stepped up, and the next thing you know, I had all these disposable masks.”
However, after a discussion with Buchanan Elementary School’s principal, Ethelyn Johnson, Branyon realized using disposable masks wasn’t going to be sustainable for the school. Working together, Branyon and Johnson came up with a new plan involving handmade masks.
The children would pick up a mask first thing in the morning at school, then return them once the day ended. Johnson would then take all the masks home so they could be washed and ready for the next school day. Branyon estimated that approximately 1,000 masks have been made so far.
“My friends were so excited to start making masks; you know how little kids just touch your heart,” Branyon beamed. “The principal told me that some of the girls began asking for masks that matched their outfits, so I purchased different fabrics. We made camouflage ones for the boys. The masks became more than just protection – they were fashion accessories.”
Then Branyon heard about all the water fountains being shut down for safety reasons. She and her group of volunteers sprung into action to help the kids stay hydrated during the day. Donations were also taken from Target, Walmart and Dollar General.
“It took me three carloads to deliver all the water that was donated,” Branyon said. “My garage is again full of water, plus more masks, so I will plan another trip soon.”
Johnson said she is grateful for Branyon and her generous heart.
“Dr. Branyon has such a giving spirit, and her love for all children is evident,” she shared.
Branyon feels honored to be part of the UWG family and said this partnership is just one example of how the university fosters learning and creativity in a place where you can follow your dreams and passions.
“There is truly a sense of the College of Education at UWG being a partner in the community,” she said. “I love that COE serves as a place of collaboration with the public schools because we all have the same goal: we want to educate the students because we all believe that education is the key to open so many doors.”
Photos – UWG Media, Taylor King also contributed to this article.