After raising $1,000 for victims of Hurricane Harvey in September, a dedicated Southeast Baltimore middle school teacher and his students are in the national spotlight once again – this time on the receiving end.
On Friday, daytime talk show host Ellen DeGeneres brought Wyatt Oroke, an eighth-grade humanities teacher at City Springs Elementary/Middle in Jonestown, to her studio in Los Angeles. One month earlier, students from his school – located just north of the Perkins Homes in one of the poorest areas of the city – selflessly put together a successful fundraiser collecting money for hurricane victims in Houston.
Fast forward to a Friday in mid-October, and Oroke was sitting in DeGeneres’ studio watching a clip air on The Ellen Show featuring his very own students sharing their ambitions. One of them wants to attend UCLA and become a doctor, she said; another a video editor; another a veterinarian.
To his shock, DeGeneres then called him out onstage. His mother was in the audience. He started crying immediately.
Minutes later came the big reveal: an oversized $25,000 check made out to City Springs Elementary/Middle. DeGeneres had one of her staffers present it here in Baltimore, with dozens of cheering students standing behind her.
Before the big presentation, Oroke chatted with DeGeneres about why he loves his job and how institutionalized segregation and limited resources pose some of the biggest obstacles to his pupils’ success.
“It’s all about opening doors for students and giving them points of access that they might not normally have,” he told DeGeneres, later adding, “It’s 2017 in America, and we have kids who don’t have equal access to opportunities. I get very emotional about that because it’s not fair.”
City Springs EMS’ principal Rhonda Richetta said on a phone call Monday that Oroke’s interview with Ellen was “amazing.”
“It’s been incredible, of course, to be recognized on a national stage like the Ellen DeGeneres show,” she said. “I have a lot of really amazing teachers at City Springs, and I’m glad that the good stories are being told.”
Richetta said teachers are now taking input from all students during their daily “circle” discussions on how to spend the money. Some already suggested to her that they simply donate the gift to a Hurricane Harvey relief fund — a sign of the students’ empathy for those suffering, she noted — but noted they’ll probably keep exploring other options.
Once the student body has offered its feedback, Oroke and four of his pupils interviewed on The Ellen Show will work as an “advisory committee” with Richetta to help decide where to put the money, she said.
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