Newington Elementary School Principal Cammy Groome took a chance nearly two years ago when she hired a young couple to teach at her school, and this week that paid off to the tune of $50,000.
The story of Jen Balyeat and Brad Emerton is a love story, to be sure, but it’s become so much more.
Faculty, staff and students thought Thursday they were Skyping with Ellen DeGeneres to talk about life since engaged teachers Emerton and Balyeat appeared on her show a couple of weeks ago.
Instead, “Ellen” employee Jeannie Klisiewicz showed up at the school in person to deliver a basket of school supplies and the check, donated by Skype.
They were asked to keep the secret until the show aired locally Friday.
“From the moment I met them, I knew I liked them both very much,” said Groome, who hired the pair in the summer of 2011. “They have a passion for kids, and I knew they were the right teachers at the right time for our school.”
Emerton and Balyeat are Western Michigan University grads who met through their best friends while both were teaching in Florida after college. They have been together for six years.
In 2011, a camping vacation brought them to Givhans Ferry State Park, where they “stumbled on Summerville and fell in love,” Emerton said. “We were looking for our forever home, and Summerville has that small-town feel we love.”
They moved here in June 2011. Emerton teaches second-grade boys and Balyeat teaches fifth-grade English Language Arts. That fall, they became engaged.
Last month, their love story went national.
DeGeneres asked viewers to write her if they thought they deserved a trip to Australia. Emerton, a fan of the show, wrote two paragraphs about how he sold his car so he and Balyeat could move to Summerville and he could buy an engagement ring.
On Valentine’s Day, he got a call inviting the couple to a taping of the show.
As they sat in the audience, DeGeneres asked if there were any teachers present. They raised their hands and were ushered to the stage. Of course it was a set-up. DeGeneres knew their story and gave them a 2013 Toyota Rav 4 to replace the car he had sold.
They returned to their seats, happy and excited, but DeGeneres wasn’t through. Minutes later she presented them with $1,000 from Shutterfly for wedding photos and an all-expense paid honeymoon to Australia, which they will take following their April 5 wedding at Magnolia Gardens and Plantation.
Balyeat said she wasn’t expecting much of a honeymoon at all before that.
“We’ve been scrimping and saving and working extra jobs just to pay for our wedding,” she said.
“That all that happened was insane,” Emerton said. “We never expected anything else.”
But officials at “The Ellen Show” weren’t through with the couple yet.
When they learned that Newington is a Title I school, meaning that more than half the students are on free or reduced lunches, they wanted to help out. On Thursday, they presented the check.
Now Groome has another decision to make. Asked what she’ll do with the money, she said, “That’s the $50,000 question.”
She said she plans to involve the students in the decision-making, and knows that iPads are high on their list of “wants.”
“Technology is great and all, but I’d also like to do something permanent to remember all of this,” she said. “We might install a rehydration station where the students can refill water bottles. That seems like it’s in line with what Ellen stands for. I think she’d be pleased for us to do something like that.”
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or www.facebook.com/brindge.