For Nikki Bollerman, a once-in-a-lifetime gift started with a simple holiday wish.
Bollerman, a third-grade teacher at UP Academy Dorchester in Boston, had responded to Capital One's #WishForOthers social media campaign with a modest request: She wanted books for her students to take home and read.
The credit-card issuer came through with her request, and then a whole lot more: $150,000 in cash.
Bollerman, who’s 26 and a native of Ridgefield, Connecticut, decided what she would do with that money: After covering her tax liability, give it all to the school.
"To me, there was really no other option," Bollerman said at a news conference at City Hall Monday where she was lauded by Mayor Marty Walsh and schools superintendent John McDonough for what they called a gesture of astonishing generosity and impact. "I mean, I wished it for the kids, and to me, just, where else would it go except for them?" Bollerman said.
The school’s still figuring out what to do with the cash infusion, but possibilities include upgrading greenhouses to help students learn more about how plants grow, or buying upgraded computers.
UP Academy Dorchester was known until August 2013 as the Marshall School, a chronically struggling and underperforming school in a part of Dorchester between the Bowdoin-Geneva and Fields Corner neighborhoods especially challenged by crime and poverty. It then became a "restart" or "in-district charter" school where UP had leeway to run an 8-hour school day, replace staff, and give students new uniforms and much higher expectations. It’s since seen a dramatic improvement in academic performance, notching the single highest percentage rate of improvement in English and math state testing of any school in Massachusetts this past year.
That’s due in no small part to a cadre of dedicated teachers like Bollerman, whose third-grade students rave about her.
"Awesome, great, and funny," was how Caiden Montas described her. "A great teacher, and works hard," added Douglas Miller.
She and her colleagues have taught students powerful lessons, like one Isaiah Lee describes: "Work hard, and never give up. Even if it’s tough."
In this season of giving, Bollerman has made an astonishing gift and taught an unforgettable lesson in giving. But she says it was an easy decision, for all the love she and her students share.
"They’re really awesome, and the money can really be used to better their lives," Bollerman said. "So that's where I want it to go."
With videographer Mike Bellwin