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SONIC Limeades for Learning November Teacher of the Month: Empowering Students Through Independent Reading

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By Jessica Shock

Stephen Straus is a seventh grade language arts teacher based in Richmond, Virginia. As someone who struggled with reading in elementary school, he still remembers the positive impact his own English teachers had on him.

“I’m so fortunate to have had so many wonderful teachers like Ms. Jenkins, my fifth grade teacher who made reading accessible and fun with books that connected with my interests,” says Stephen. “She made me feel special and pushed me to grow.”

Today, Stephen takes the same care to create individual reading plans for his students that help foster a passion for reading. “You have to take the time to understand their individual needs and interests,” says Stephen. “Allocate time for independent reading – it promotes a love of reading, but also empowers students to make choices about their learning. Plus, it ensures the content resonates with them while making the experience more engaging.”

As a teacher who does his best to build relationships with his students, Stephen also encourages his fellow educators to make time to connect with one another. “Being able to work with others who are passionate about teaching and willing to advocate for their students motivates me in the classroom,” he says.

This includes creative ways to expand learning and lesson plans for students, such a projects funded through DonorsChoose. “Teachers at my school have received funding needs, from classroom basics to projects like community drum circles,” says Stephen. “I have a reading library of several hundred books for students to choose from, which SONIC funded for my classroom through DonorsChoose.”

SONIC’s Limeades for Learning initiative makes a difference in public schools across the country through the brand’s partnership with nonprofit DonorsChoose, to which the SONIC Foundation provides funding throughout the year in support of public school teachers and the great projects they’re creating in their classrooms. To share their innovative approaches to education, we’re spotlighting an educator each month to showcase the different ways they’re enriching their schools and communities.

Are you a teacher interested in securing funding through DonorsChoose? Visit To learn more about SONIC’s Limeades for Learning, visit

This story is part of an ongoing series.