Eastway receives grant from Ellen Degeneres, Target

By April Simon
NCCU Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE

Sarah Myrick’s fourth grade class at Eastway Elementary is learning about Martin Luther King Jr. This week, they are making dream boxes.

“You decorate the outside,” explains student Salma Martinez, 10. “And inside you write something that you want to see change.”

Eastway teacher Sarah Myrick and students (left to right) Manuel Garcia, 10; Bryan Martinez, 9; and Kimberly Alvarado, 10. (Staff photo by April Simon)

For the students at Eastway Elementary, creating positive change is not just a dream. They have seen firsthand how much can be accomplished based on hope and taking chances.

Myrick, a long time Ellen Degeneres show fan, wrote in late last year in response to an ad  they posted for schools in need of funding. In her message, she explained that Eastway is a school in which nearly 98 percent of the student body is on free or reduced lunch, and many are – or have been – homeless at some point.

“We have a lot of students who go through what kids shouldn’t really have to go through,” says Myrick. But even given this, she stresses the positive. “They are so resilient, and they come to school every day excited to learn.”

Her letter touched the show’s producers and Myrick, along with Eastway principal, Kendral Flowers, were flown to California to appear on the show and receive a $100,000 check from the Target Corporation’s Community Support Program.

“Everything happened so fast,” says Flowers. “At first I thought that this was not really happening.”

The pair appeared on the Ellen show which aired on MLK Jr. Day. Though they had been informed that the school would be featured on the show’s website, neither knew that that Myrick would be called to the stage to speak to the national audience. Another shock was the gift of an extra forty-one $500 gift cards to Target for each teacher to purchase classroom supplies.

“Ms. Myrick was crying because she was happy,” says student Damichael Tatum, 9.  “She said we’re like her kids.”

Flowers and Myrick are grateful for the opportunity and recognition that Ellen Degeneres and Target have afforded their school. The attention brought to Eastway has spurred donations from several groups and individuals, some from as far away as Australia.

The school faculty is in meetings to decide how the money should be spent. Some of the possibilities are computers and other technology for the classrooms, a cot for the health room, and stocking a clothes closet. It is the little things, Myrick asserts, that make big differences.

“I thought she was going to give the money to charity,” says student Yoni Talentino, 9, “but it’s good the school is getting it because we need a lot of things.”