TV host Ellen DeGeneres had more surprises for the 40-year-old single mother Wednesday – a new Ford Edge, fuel for two years from Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs and another $10,000 check for Lew Wallace Elementary from Shutterfly.
Last month DeGeneres flew Romero to Los Angeles for her talk show and presented her with two $10,000 checks donated by Target, one for the teacher and another for her school.
Romero told DeGeneres she starts class each day asking her students if they have eaten, if they need something to wear, need to clean up or brush their teeth, reaching into her own purse for money, if it’s needed.
In November, she opened her home to two little girls, former students, who couldn’t stay with their parents and needed a home.
“The car was an amazing blessing at a perfect time,” she told the Journal on Thursday. She has received many awards and recognitions since the show, but was surprised in a school awards assembly Wednesday, when DeGeneres called her on the phone and told her to go look at the new SUV outside.
The car Romero drives is 8 years old, has more than 200,000 miles on it, and needed major repairs before she could take her 14-year-old son and her foster daughters, 8 and 9, on a planned getaway to Colorado later this month. She and her kids will pick out features and the color of the car before it is delivered in time for the trip: “We are thrilled beyond thrilled. The girls have never been outside of town, so this is a real adventure for them.”
Her story first came to light in The Washington Post, when she commented on a national survey about poverty in the nation’s public schools.
“Poverty matters. Hunger matters,” she said. “At our school, we’ve decided that our kids’ needs come first. Nobody will be left behind.” She repeated what she’s said before, that all Lew Wallace teachers care for students like she does. “Teachers are first responders.”
Principal Anne Marie Strangio says all 20 of her teachers “are rock stars, but Sonya’s the only one who’s taken her students into her home.”
Strangio is working with the Downtown community to create a plan for spending DeGeneres’ donations to make sure the money directly touches as many children as it can.
She says the school has been showered with offers of help from all over the country. She says the school appreciates the attention but suggests that people start with their local schools: “We are not unique in having kids who need to be fed, need clothes or their hair cut.”
Her entire staff works to balance students’ basic physical needs with academics. In her 24 years in education, Strangio says, that balance has become more difficult: “Children arrive with greater needs and fewer resources. We are supremely focused on academics, but we make sure that all of our students feel safe, loved, cared for and have their needs met.”