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From Deep in the Heart of Texas

  • HSEF
From Deep in the Heart of Texas

By: Kimberly Uelmen, HSSD Communications Specialist

Kerri Vande Hei, 4th grade teacher at Howard, and Barbara Gruener, author from Texas, have created a beautiful virtual friendship. 

The two were connected through their brothers who were best friends. Prior to the 2021-22 school year, Gruener’s brother passed away unexpectedly. 

As this family connection flourished, Vande Hei’s brother purchased Gruener’s children’s book Mr. Quigley’s Keys, for each of Vande Hei’s students. During the beginning of the year, the students enjoyed the book so much that Vande Hei and Gruener planned a virtual visit, giving students the opportunity to learn from and ask Gruener questions.

Author visiting students

Gruener visited Howard 4th graders.

Following the virtual visit, Gruener surprised Vande Hei and her class by funding the remaining balance of Vande Hei’s DonorsChoose project. Vande Hei was requesting flexible seating in her classroom. 

“I want to spark my students to lead a healthy and active lifestyle for years to come,” said Vande Hei. “I believe that this tall table and wobble chairs will help my students be more focused and engaged in the classroom.”

Teacher working with students

Vande Hei works with students on the new seating options funding through DonorsChoose.

When Gruener funded the DonorsChoose project, she shared the following with the class, “To my caring can-doers: I can tell that you are well on your way to becoming published authors! I hope that you'll always save a seat in your classroom for me. Never forget that your quiet echo speaks volumes. Much love from deep in the heart of Texas.”

As a token of gratitude, each of Vande Hei’s students picked a key principle (a nod to Mr. Quigley’s Keys) to live by, which also tied to Vande Hei’s Social Emotional Wellness lessons, and sent a thank you video to Gruener. Click here to watch the video. 

Student holding book

A Howard 4th grade student holds Barbara Gruener's book, Mr. Quigley's Keys.

About HSEF and DonorsChoose
The Howard-Suamico Education Foundation (HSEF) partners with Nicolet National Bank and DonorsChoose during its ‘Choose to Give’ campaign. HSSD educators are encouraged to post projects on and HSEF is committed to funding the final 25% of all projects, up to $400, while funds are available. To view current HSSD projects listed on the site, visit Contact Nicole Smith at if you need help getting started with a project.