FORT WORTH -- Second-grader Maria Meneses is afraid of losing her teachers.
She considers those at Diamond Hill Elementary School her friends, and if the Fort Worth school district has to lay off any of them, the 8-year-old would be sad.
So she walked into the school Wednesday morning with a sackful of change and handed it to her principal.
"I thought I would bring some of my money from my college fund to my school so more teachers wouldn't get fired because I don't want anyone to go away," Maria said.
"I had to do something to try and help them because they help me. Every single teacher I've had has helped me."
Maria said her classmates have been talking about how teachers might lose their jobs. When she saw more stories about school budgets on the news Tuesday night -- Fort Worth is facing up to $80 million in state funding cuts over the next two years -- she decided to help.
Principal Ellen Verreault and many office staffers cried at the girl's gesture, surprised that students are so aware of the financial struggles.
"She told me, 'I heard on the news that they're going to take you and my teachers away,' and then she started crying and hugged me," Verreault said.
"I know we're watching it closely, of course, but I also know that we're always going to take care of our kids. I didn't realize they don't know that and worry that we're not going to take care of them. It just hit home today."
Verreault said she tried to assure the girl that the school will remain open and teachers will still teach. She returned the nickels, dimes and pennies to her.
Upon hearing of Maria's offer, Superintendent Melody Johnson reiterated her vow that budget reductions would affect classrooms only as a last resort.
"I want to assure Maria, and all our students, that the board of education and the staff will do all they can so students will still have the best teachers and principals available," Johnson said in a news release.
Trustee Carlos Vasquez, who represents the area, learned of the girl's act from another parent. The school board spent Tuesday night talking about options to reduce the budget. Trustees expressed frustration throughout the night at some recommendations, such as reducing pre-kindergarten offerings.
But learning of Maria's efforts made Vasquez hopeful.
"It makes me feel good that maybe the future leaders might do better than we do," Vasquez said.
Eva-Marie Ayala, 817-390-7700