Detroit — Ellen DeGeneres had heard about the health and safety problems at Detroit’s Spain Elementary-Middle School and has asked America to help.
They have. The talk show star of the “Ellen DeGeneres Show” secured $500,000 from Lowe’s “in technology, materials for renovations around the campus, and funding for additional staff,” and convinced celebrity and singer Justin Bieber to donate.
The show reached out earlier this year to Detroit Public Schools about helping Spain make improvements, and the district had kept it quiet. The donation will go through the DPS Foundation capital improvements fund and be funneled to the school, said district spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski.
“When I heard about (the conditions at Spain), I knew I had to help,” DeGeneres said in a video taped Wednesday and posted to her website. DeGeneres contacted Lowe’s, said spokeswoman Jenny Popis, because “we knew we could make a difference.”
The show aired Thursday afternoon.
“Of all the people in the whole world,” said Spain principal Ronald Alexander in the video, “I am the happiest principal on Earth. I love you. We love you.”
The building problems at Spain and elsewhere at DPS has spurred periodic teacher sickouts starting in November that forced dozens of schools to close. City inspectors found violations last month at Spain that included water damage in the gym, missing ceiling and floor tiles, and evidence of rodent infestation.
Teachers also have complained about shortages of books and other classroom supplies.
In the video, Spain teacher Ellen Morgan said she and her colleagues don’t have enough books for students to take them home, so faculty members make copies so the children can do their homework.
“That gets expensive, so we also have some of our parents volunteer to make copies for us,” Morgan said. “But we don’t care, because we love our babies.”
Every Spain staffer was given a $100 Visa gift card. Lowe’s also donated $50,000 in technology. Spain teachers have one computer per classroom, DeGeneres said, and often that computer doesn’t work. Through the Lowe’s Heroes program, the company will donate $200,000 in materials and labor, which can be used for any building need.
Popis said the Rochester Hills store will be heavily involved in the work at Spain. In April or May, Lowe’s representatives will tour the school and meet with stakeholders to determine next steps. The work will begin sometime after, and should wrap up later this year, Popis said.
“I have one more surprise for you,” DeGeneres said after those donations were announced, “but I don’t know where it is.”
On cue, pop star Bieber popped out of a box, sending Ellen’s largely female studio audience and the crowd assembled at Spain into a frenzy.
Spain, a performing arts school, has had its arts budget cut. Teachers give dance and drama lessons in their spare time, Alexander said.
Bieber, who will be performing at the Palace of Auburn Hills on April 25, announced he’d be donating $1 per ticket from that show to Spain.
“That’s a lot of tickets,” DeGeneres said. “That’s a big auditorium.”
Seconds later, DeGeneres announced that Lowe’s would be donating another $250,000 to the school.
The talk show host also set up a GoFundMe page with the goal of drawing $5 million in donations for Spain, which serves more than 650 students.
By late Thursday afternoon, more than $29,000 had been donated.