Class acts

WTHS Students’ effort to console teacher with Sixers tickets draws attention of the team

Washington Township teacher Matthew Groark with his two students, Anhtina Ho, and Evan Chu, who came up with the idea to get Groark and his wife Philadelphia 76ers tickets. Photo: Krista Cerminaro, The Sun

By Krista Cerminaro

It’s no doubt schools across the nation are still being affected by the February school shooting in Florida.

While students and teachers everywhere continue to deal with copycat threats, talk of gun control and safety measures, Matthew Groark’s health class at Washington Township High School gave the nation a reason to smile amid the chaos.

Acts of kindness in Groark’s class are not unheard of. After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, Groark, who’s been teaching in the district since 2003, had his classes write and send letters to the affected students.

But, another act of kindness in Groark’s class has recently gone viral, and caught the attention of everyone from parents, to WTHS alumni, to the Philadelphia 76ers. After discovering their teacher and his wife had just suffered a miscarriage, Groark’s second-period students pitched in to surprise Groark with 76ers basketball tickets.

“After we heard his story, we saw how affected he was,” said Junior Evan Chu, who came up with the idea alongside classmate Anhtina Ho. “We kind of just mutually came up with the idea of Sixers tickets, ’cause we knew he loves basketball.”

“When you see someone that affected by something,” Ho said, “you want to do a lot more to try to pick them up and make them feel better, so I don’t think a card was simply just enough to do that.”

For Groark, however, a “thank you” wasn’t simply just enough, either. “I started thinking, ‘well, how cool would it be to get them to come with me?’”

Groark’s students asked permission to post his reaction to the tickets on Twitter, which caught ample attention on social media outlets, generating likes, comments and retweets.

“A lot of negative [is] coming from high schools now, with everything, so for people to read something sweet and positive like that — I think hit a chord with a lot of people, and I think that’s why it’s gotten to the point it has,” Groark said.

Groark reached out to WTHS graduate Linda Hanford, who interned with the 76ers and was able to put him in contact with Director of Game Presentation Derrick Hayes.

“I emailed him, told him the story, told him what I would love to see happen, and he wrote me back in and hour and said, ‘the Sixers would love to host your whole class,” Groark said.

That Friday, Groark surprised his students with the news. They would be joining Groark and his family in a balcony suite at the game.

“Some of these kids may have never been to a Sixers game,” Groark said. “And their first game is going to be in a balcony suite hosted by the Sixers. It’s pretty crazy. So to be able to give them that, that’s what it’s been all about for me. To give them that opportunity, and that thanks.”

After a healthy pregnancy with their second son, the couple had planned to have a third. They faced another miscarriage last year at about six to eight weeks — marking the couple’s fourth loss. A fertility doctor recommended the couple would be a good candidate for In Vitro Fertilization, to aid in holding onto the pregnancy.

Groark said he and his wife went through one unsuccessful round of IVF before they went through the process again.

“We did a second one, came back with one successful embryo — one healthy, strong embryo. We did genetic testing to take it that step further. It was a boy, so we implanted and it took, which we felt was like, a miracle meant to be. That was going to be [our] third, we had a name.”

According to Groark, everything was going great for the couple’s pregnancy — they saw doctors weekly and decided to share the news at about 13 to 14 weeks.

“We made a formal announcement — all our friends, my kids knew. I spend more time with them than I do my family, at times,” Groark said.

Shortly after, the couple was faced with devastating news.

“We went to the 17-week appointment pretty calm and confident, like excited — which was new, because most appointments we were on edge,” Groark said. “We went to that appointment, and found out that there was no heartbeat.”

Groark returned to school after a week spent grieving, and had to break the news to his class.

“Everybody knew I was excited. Everybody knew about the pregnancy. How do you present it to kids that are teenagers?” Groark said.

Instead of just going through the motions or not being himself, Groark said he wanted to address what happened.

“I sat down — I pulled that chair up, sat down in the middle of the class and we just talked about it. I told them what happened, I cried, and some of them did, and they were silent and they listened. And, I hope they learned a little bit at the same time. The next couple days was spent kind of talking about perseverance, and dealing with things that happen in life. So, we kind of turned it into a lesson,” Groark said.

“He didn’t have to tell us his story,” Chu said. “To tell us what actually happened, and the whole situation — I think that really affected us more.”

“I’m a health teacher and that’s what we teach, that’s what we talk about. We cover abortion, we cover pregnancy, we cover all that stuff, so it’s something that I talk about all the time with kids,” Groark said. “But they saw me upset — just on a human level, and I think it’s something that we lose in education sometimes — they saw me upset, and they wanted to make me happy. And that’s kind of how I viewed it, and that’s why I got emotional.”

Beyond the tickets, Groark said the heartfelt message that was written in the card is what triggered his emotions most.

“Even more so than the tickets — I mean I was shocked that they would buy Sixers tickets,” said Groark, an avid Philadelphia sports fan. “The card, and what they wrote, was mind-blowing. The reaction in that video wasn’t because of the Sixers tickets. It’s because of what I read, and that a 16-year-old kid sat and wrote that hit me — hit me hard, as a parent more than anything.”

Groark and his wife, who just celebrated their five-year anniversary, have a 3 and a half year-old son, and a 2-year-old son.

“I talk to these kids about hitting rock bottom, and that’s what [they] wrote in the card. ‘Thanks for teaching us that when life hits rock bottom, keep your head up.’”

“Sometimes people in life take things a step further, and this class did that, and I think it’s a testament to them,” Groark continued. “This is a class that I’m not going to forget in my career. I teach thousands of kids, but this group has just cemented a pretty special place. [They’re] mature beyond their years.”