EDUCATION
02/02/2012 03:12 pm ET Updated Apr 03, 2012

Sara Ferguson, Pennsylvania Teacher Working For Free, Gets Surprise On Ellen Degeneres Show

Teachers from the troubled Chester Upland School District in Pennsylvania made the news when they opted to continue teaching for free, after the district revealed that it could no longer to afford to pay its staff.

Now, the poster teacher for the initiative can bring something home to her school: Ellen Degeneres has presented Columbus Elementary School -- where Ferguson teaches math and literacy -- with a $100,000 check from JCPenney. Ferguson also received a personal gift card while a guest on The Ellen Degeneres Show.

Since Ferguson was featured in a Philadelphia Inquirer piece reporting that Chester Upland teachers had resolved to keep working without pay "as long as we are able," the elementary school teacher has represented the local group of educators nationally. She joined Michelle Obama in the First Lady's Box at the State of the Union address, and blogged for HuffPost about her experience and issues in public schools.

"I never dreamed in a million years that I would be at the White House with the President and the First Lady," Ferguson says in the Ellen segment. "And I tell the young people, you'll never know where you'll end up. You can't even imagine where you'll go one day."

About 80 percent of the students attending Chester Upland schools are on a free and reduced lunch program, and the graduation rate is around 53 percent. Budget cuts have cost the district 40 percent of its teaching staff and 50 percent of its support staff.

"Many times we speak about our beliefs and our values and our convictions, but here at chester upland we were put to the test," Ferguson said. "People always say children first, and we showed the entire country that we do put children first."

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