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Teacher overwhelmed by outpouring of support for student bullied over hand-made Tennessee shirt

The care package, scholarship offer and university-sanctioned t-shirt were unexpected. But the high-fives, hugs and pats on the back meant even more.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

The student didn’t have a University of Tennessee shirt of his own for “college colors day” at his Florida elementary school, so his teacher told him any orange shirt would do.

The fourth-grader went a step further, creating a handmade logo design that he pinned to the front of the shirt.

He was so excited about it, he couldn’t wait to show it to his teacher.

But after lunch, he returned to the classroom, put his head on his desk, and began to cry.

The same shirt that had brought him such pride earlier in the day had become the target of ridicule.

Girls at the lunch table next to his had made fun of his shirt.

“He was devastated,” his teacher, Laura Snyder, wrote in a Facebook post.

“I know kids can be cruel, I am aware that it’s not the fanciest sign,” Snyder continued, “BUT this kid used the resources he had available to him to participate in a spirit day.”

Snyder shared the student’s plight in the hope that someone with connections to the University of Tennessee might help her acquire an official UT shirt for the boy.

And did she ever get a response.

As of Monday morning, the post had more than 24,000 reactions, 6,000 comments and 11,000 shares.

The University of Tennessee sent a care package featuring notes and school gear the boy shared with his class: bracelets, water bottles, cooling towels.

Instead of ridicule, the boy received high-fives, hugs and pats on the back.

“This experience is uniting my class even more than I could have imagined,” Snyder wrote, “and it was truly amazing to witness!!”

But the care package was only the beginning.

The university’s website created a t-shirt featuring the boy’s design. More than 50,000 shirts were pre-sold, with proceeds going to benefit STOMP Out Bullying.

A University of Tennessee shirt using the design of a fourth-grader from Florida who was bullied by his classmates. (AP Photo/Steve Megargee) [STEVE MEGARGEE | AP]

“When I told him that his design was being made into a real shirt and people wanted to wear it, his jaw dropped,” Snyder wrote. “He had a big smile on his face, walked taller, and I could tell his confidence grew.”

Snyder, a die-hard Florida State fan, made sure to order one for herself.

“Personally, I’m looking forward to wearing the shirt he designed,” she wrote. “It’ll be the one and only piece of orange clothing that this Seminoles fan will ever.”

On Thursday, school officials offered the boy a four-year scholarship beginning in the fall of 2028 if he meets admission requirements.

And on Saturday, Tennessee’s marching band wore the T-shirt based on the student’s design before the Vols’ game against Chattanooga.

Members of the Pride of the Southland band perform as they wear the University of Tennessee superfan shirt after designing his own UT shirt and wearing it to his school before an NCAA college football game against Chattanooga Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne) [WADE PAYNE | AP]

The shirt even made an appearance on ESPN’s College Game Day.

Out of respect for the student and his family, Snyder wrote, she did not name the student or show a photo of him on her Facebook post.

She did promise to read all of the comments and share a few with him each day.

“By the looks of it, he will have enough to hear every day for the rest of this school year,” Snyder wrote. “That’s so awesome to me!!”

Like any good educator, Snyder turned the experience into a teaching moment.

“My student has definitely felt the love and support from people all over the world,” she wrote. “It has been such an awesome week with my class. We’ve had lots of discussions about being kind, and I’m really excited to see my students step up their acts of kindness.”