One in a Million: Debbie Kunes


Name: Debbie Kunes

School: Phoenix Coding Academy

Grade: 9 & 11

Support Needed:
I need to upgrade my free teacher accounts to premium on the education websites I use
every day in the classroom to impact learning. I also need virtual reality viewers, USB
headsets with mics, and sanitizing wipes for project-based learning projects.

How long have you been a teacher? 25 years

What made you get into the teaching profession?
I graduated with a BA in Spanish. I spent a semester as a teacher’s assistant in
bilingual/special ed. The school I worked at did not have any supplies in Spanish and I
was asked to translate textbook passages to groups of students in the hall during class
for instruction. While we sat happily on the floor learning, I wanted them to have a
classroom and desks like the other students. I did not like that system. I decided to
become a teacher to improve learning conditions and equity for all students.

Who was your most inspirational teacher and why?
My brother, John Gerace, taught me how to face adversity with poise and confidence
while turning obstacles into stepping stones. My basketball coach, Clifford Scott, taught
me that the largest room in the world is room for improvement. Louise Boyles is most
inspirational teacher because she nurtured the potential I was hiding inside that others
did not bother to see. Ms. Boyles challenged my mindset and fostered a safe
environment for my personal growth.

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges teachers in Arizona face right now?
I think the challenge right now to recruit and retain talented teachers in Arizona is a
direct result of poor school funding, low teacher compensation, and a general lack of

How do these issues affect your day to day?
When teacher positions remain vacant, the ripple of negativity begins to take effect. The
issue affects my day to day with large class sizes and insufficient supplies. There is the
stress on full time teachers to cover classes. The result is teachers lose valuable time to
assess their lessons, personalize student learning goals, and plan for interventions.
What does the $250 tax deduction for school supplies for teachers mean to you?
The tax deduction means I can purchase learning tools for virtual reality to invite
innovative learning investigations.

How are the expectations of becoming a teacher different than the reality?
The expectations are noble and idealistic; the reality is humbling and magical.

Why do you think teachers burn out so quickly?
I think teachers burn out quickly because of the struggle to balance being broke with
being heartbroken. Longevity in the field demands a volitional call to duty, a love of
learning, and a connection with your students.

What “fills your cup” when you’re running on empty?
The reasons why I love teaching have names like Helen, Juan, and Chelsea. When I think
of them and the over 2500 scholars I have had the pleasure of working with, my cup
runneth over in joy and pain. There are so many success stories of former students
achieving great accolades in law and entertainment. There are also too many eulogies
for students denied their growth due to violence and illness. Teaching is a professional
that fills my cup with pride, love, commitment, diligence, fidelity, and excellence.

What are some of the most thoughtful and effective ways parents and the community can
show gratitude?
Sharing a meal, celebrating a special occasion, entertainment and music, video
testimonials, poetry, a simple note or a handmade card are all some of the most
thoughtful and effective ways parents and the community can show gratitude.

What is your wish for Arizona’s children?
My wish is that each school in every neighborhood is full of well compensated teachers
who feel appreciated and supported and who love what they do and remember why they
chose to do it. My wish for Arizona’s children is that they will receive a world class
education of top value regardless of zip code or primary home language. I want
Arizona’s children to attend the top performing schools in the nation with classes taught
by the most talented teachers public tax money can buy.

Who do people contact if they want to offer you additional support or where do people
send supplies if they want to make a donation to your class?
Debbie Kunes
The Phoenix Coding Academy
4445 North Central Avenue
Phoenix, Arizona 85012

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Growing the Tree

Million Dollar Teacher Tree was first developed in a classroom by students in a program called, Next Generation Service Corps at Arizona State University in December of 2017. These students were tasked by Lloyd Hopkins, founder of Million Dollar Teacher project with developing a project that can potentially become an integral part in helping MDTP achieve its mission. The group eventually developed the original prototype for Million Dollar Teacher Tree—a cutout dollar sign that would be placed in surrounding businesses near the partner school. The idea was pitched to staff members of MDTP during the last of their class, and the project was picked up by MDTP as a new pilot program for the organization. After many months of planning, the prototype was eventually revamped into what it is today, Million Dollar Teacher Tree.

Golden Apple

These apples are intended to provide any sort of Professional Development which, in turn, gifts them with key knowledge to add to their personal skill-set to better work with their students.

As educators, teachers are constantly looking to continually grow in their profession to not only learn how to better connect with their students, but to also make the learning experience much more exciting.

Suggested donation amount range: $10 – $100

Red Apple

These apples are designed to provide the typical day-to-day items in the classroom. Teachers spend can spend upwards of $1,000 out of pocket to have enough supplies yearlong for their students– to alleviate this, the Red Apples were created.

Everyday school supplies include; pencils, notebooks, crayons, hand sanitizer, etc.

Green Apple

These apples are intended to provide a big-ticket item for the teachers. These supplies are typically something that the teachers can use for more than one school year.

Examples include; a class-set of computers or new furniture for the classroom.

Suggested donation amount: $500+