Ellen DeGeneres is in the business of making New York City students’ dreams come true.
The talk show host surprised Patrick Henry Preparatory (PS 171) students on Wednesday with a $50,000 check to be used toward improving their educational experience at the East Harlem school. Partnering with Verizon, Ellen let the students and faculty know via livestream that they’d also be receiving a high-tech, on-site laboratory, free of charge.
Before the big reveal, a video clip gave Ellen’s millions of viewers a peek inside the school’s halls. It put the spotlight on Principal Dimitres Pantelidis, who says he starts off his school day at 4:15 a.m. and “will not leave until the work gets done” — even if that means sticking around until 8 p.m.
Why does he do it? Because “these are not our students. These are our kids."
He explains: “This is not the easiest community to live in. Some of our students are raised in single homes, some are raised by grandparents, some live in shelters. But when they do come to our school, they feel that warmth, that love, not only from myself but from the entire staff.”
Three years ago, the school was chosen to benefit from Verizon’s Innovative Learning program, a partnership that theater teacher Jeneena Hubbard says helped significantly boost students’ overall test scores. It provides free internet and access to online classes focused on coding, virtual reality and robotics.
“I don’t think that students should have to be a product of their environment. You don’t have to think just because you grew up in Harlem and you have nothing that you are nothing.” Hubbard says.
Gathering dozens of students, Pantelidis and Hubbard in the school’s gym, Ellen told the group they’d soon be able to access their own 3D printer and augmented reality equipment inside the new tech lab.
Last year, the talk show host surprised another New York City school on-air with a $25,000 check and offered to pay for college scholarships totaling $1.6 million. She invited Brooklyn’s Summit Academy Charter School seniors to visit the show’s taping on Feb. 9. DeGeneres shared a nearly 10-minute video of the entire surprise to her Facebook page, telling her followers it was “one of the most incredible moments I’ve ever been a part of.”