CHARLOTTE, NC — Earlier this year, Montclaire Elementary school teacher Jordan Siragusa received the surprise of a lifetime while attending the Ellen Show in Hollywood: a full scholarship from Western Governors University so she could pursue a master’s degree, plus a check for $10,000. Tuesday, Siragusa announced that she and her husband would pay that forward through raising money for her school, and matching it up to $5,000.
Siragusa announced the "You Caring" crowdfunding campaign for Montclaire Elementary at an event with her first-grade students and their families, along with the school principal, Leora Itzhaki, and Western Governors University North Carolina Chancellor Catherine Truitt.
"As many of you know, I was fortunate enough to have many dreams come true this past month. I met my inspiration, Ellen DeGeneres; I was gifted a full ride scholarship to get my Masters in Education at Western Governors University; and I was given a check for $10,000," Siragusa wrote on YouCaring.
"There is nothing my husband and I would like to do more than share these blessings with the wonderful students at Montclaire," she said. "We would like to donate the majority of what is left after taxes to the school. Help us make this gift even bigger than we can imagine!"
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Montclaire Elementary is a Title 1 school in Charlotte, and 92 percent of the student body lives in high poverty, she said. The money would go towards learning experiences, like field trips, that are "few and far between," she said.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Siragusa had raised $3,555 toward her $5,000 goal, in part jump started by a $1,000 donation from WGU North Carolina. "Thank you for all that you do for not only the students at MES, but for being an example of kindness," the school said in a comment on the site.
Siragusa’s instinct for kindness was showcased during a January episode of The Ellen Show, where she was a guest in the audience and surprised by host Ellen DeGeneres.
"I know a lot of you try to get tickets to the show for a long, long time. People wait for a long time," DeGeneres said. "There is someone in the audience today who has been trying for 10 years to get tickets," she said, calling Siragusa to the stage.
"Finally!" Siragusa said, beaming with joy as she sat in an armchair across from DeGeneres.
Siragusa recounted for DeGeneres how her last attempt to get tickets had just been two weeks prior during a trip to California with her husband Sonny, but when none were available, they went on a tour of the Warner Brothers Studio. Siragusa took photos of the Ellen Show office plaque. "They drove me by. That was as close as I was going to get to my girl," she said.
Siragusa and her husband then sought out Ellen’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for photos.
"So you’re here with your husband," DeGeneres said. "Did you know he was writing letters trying to get you here?" Siragusa teared up as the host read aloud a letter, describing his wife as someone "born to change lives."
Everyone knows that the number one rule in her classroom is to be kind, and that is all because of you," he wrote to DeGeneres. "Through hardships, financial struggles and my two deployments, Jordan always radiates kindness and compassion. Thank you for inspiring Jordan to be kind and the beautiful person that she is."
"Not only are they facing financial struggles but a lot of them are new to the country and learning the language for the first time," Siragusa told DeGeneres. "They just deal with a lot more than other people deal with and they’re still such wonderful bright lights to everyone that works there," Siragusa said. "They’re just wonderful kids."
Siragusa recounted how her first grade teacher treated her when she was diagnosed at a young age with dyslexia. "When I found that out, she made me feel just as smart and capable as everyone else in that room. I just hope I can make other children feel that way. They all are capable and smart and can chase their dreams and do what they want to do."
As any casual or regular viewer of The Ellen Show knows, it’s rare that a guest leaves the stage without swag, and Siragusa’s experience was no exception. DeGeneres presented her with a full scholarship with Western Governors University to pursue a masters degree, and a check for $10,000.
DeGeneres also sent her home with T-shirts for her students. On the front was a message that started it all: Be Kind.
You can watch the entire segment here:
Photo via Kevin McCarthy, courtesy of WGU North Carolina