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Ashbrook’s Trent Sims earns Teacher Hero award

Ashbrook High School’s Trent Sims earns Teacher Hero of COVID-19 award

Ashbrook High School chemistry teacher Trent Sims knows that the Little Free Libraries located at schools across the county serve as “food for the soul and for the mind” for students.  But when the coronavirus pandemic hit North Carolina in March and schools were closed for in-person instruction, Sims and his wife, Katie, worried about food to fill the stomachs of students who would no longer be at school to eat in the cafeteria. 

The couple jumped into action, deciding to turn the Ashbrook Little Free Library, an outdoor resource center for books, into something more.  The two went to Sam’s Club and bought as much food and snacks as they could.  Then, they filled the library with food in an effort to make it available to the community. 

“At the beginning of the pandemic, we realized we would be out of school for the foreseeable future,” Sims said. “My wife and I had all the resources we needed, but we realized there were students in our community who were going to struggle and that really hit home for us.”

The project gained traction around the county, and Trent and Katie were soon asking for donations and filling Little Free Libraries at Highland School of Technology and Gardner Park Elementary School.  Trent’s involvement in the project led to him being named a weekly “Teacher Hero of COVID-19,” a recognition program sponsored by FSI Office, HP, and the Carolina Panthers.

“It was a big surprise,” Sims said. “I had colleagues who nominated me and that is such an honor.  Being able to bring recognition to Ashbrook and to Gaston County is really important to me.

Sims said that he and Katie both love to read and enjoy being able to stock the Little Free Libraries with food and books. 

For being nominated as a “Teacher Hero,” Sims received a large box of practical items like sanitizer, masks, and school supplies.  When he earned enough votes to be named a weekly winner, he was approached about the $1,000 prize being split up into $750 for school supplies and $250 to go toward purchasing food supplies for the libraries.  He said the decision was easy. 

He also found out he would be attending a Carolina Panthers game with two free tickets.  At the game, he competed with six weekly winners and was announced as the overall winner.  This time, the honor included Panthers merchandise and another $1,000 for Ashbrook High School.

While the prizes are wonderful, the Gaston County native and Highland graduate said he has been overwhelmed by the support he has received for the project. 

“It’s been amazing,” Sims said. “I’ve been getting notifications and texts and emails. I couldn’t be more thankful for my support system.”

Dr. Rebecca Wilson, principal at Ashbrook High School, said it’s been great to witness the outcome of the Little Free Libraries’ conversion to a place for free books and free food. 

“Trent Sims has created a real, visible change throughout our community,” Wilson said. “Through all the difficulties our students have faced during this challenging time, they always knew the pantry would be stocked.  Mr. Sims has truly been a beacon of hope and encouragement for our students and for the community.”

And the recognition isn’t over yet.  The final prize involves the Panthers’ mascot, Sir Purr, which Sims said is generating lots of talk around school.  He said the classroom virtual visit may become a school-wide virtual visit.

Throughout the project, Sims has found it important to remind his students that the project isn’t about him, but instead it’s about making a difference when you can. 

“It’s easy to sit back and let someone else do the work,” Sims said. “It can begin with me, but it shouldn’t end with me.  Pay it forward, and it comes back to you.  Our Little Free Pantry idea had a snowball effect where people were willing to step up and do the work in their community as well.  That’s what it’s all about.”