Extreme Classroom Makeover

Pre-K classrooms are exposing students to technology and a healthy lifestyle with the help of DonorsChoose.org projects and flash funding by the PNC Foundation.

The Big Bad Wolf Won’t Blow These Houses Down

Perhaps one day, a preschooler in Sara Podvasnik’s class will look back at a classroom exercise featuring the Three Little Pigs as the day that sparked their engineering career.

Podvasnik’s class of 15 students, ages 4 and 5, come from a low socioeconomic area in Duquesne City, Pa. “They always come to school; they love learning at this age,” she said.

They’re some pretty great kids, and they deserve to have the same opportunities as kids in more affluent areas. I just want to be able to get any resources I can to help encourage their love of learning.

pre-k students on a hayride and opening a box

So, when Podvasnik found DonorsChoose.org, she started submitting her classroom project ideas for funding. “I thought it was so cool that a big corporation, like PNC, or just any individual could donate to support these classrooms,” she said.

To help classrooms like Podvasnik’s, for Great Day on April 4, the PNC Foundation flash funded all DonorsChoose.org projects across our footprint that were specifically focused on pre-K classrooms. Since then, 1,260 new projects have been created by 740 teachers, which will help 35,265 students at 479 schools.

With all of those new projects available, on May 1, PNC sent $50 DonorsChoose.org electronic gift cards to approximately 14,500 employees who volunteered for PNC Grow Up Great in 2016.

Each recipient has three months to take a look at all the pre-K projects in PNC’s footprint and choose one that inspires them, then help fund it with their $50 gift card. PNC also is currently matching donations to those projects. Employees are welcome to tell pre-K public school, public charter school or Head Start teachers in their communities about the initiative, and can encourage them to submit projects to DonorsChoose.org so that they can take advantage of PNC’s funding.

In just the first week, 2,216 PNC employees used their gift cards to donate $110,800 to 1,031 projects created by 875 teachers in 705 schools.

"Engineering" Learning

One of the projects PNC has helped fund so far includes problem-solving STEM kits, like the one featuring the Three Little Pigs.

“There are storybooks that go with the kits, so you get the literature component in there. Then they get to build something that goes along with the story,” Podvasnik said. “With this one, they had to use the materials to build the strongest house they could, so the Big Bad Wolf couldn’t blow it in. You ask them, ‘Which foundation would you use? Just the straw, or straw with blocks, too?’ If it doesn’t work, they get to rebuild it until they find the best solution.”

Some of Podvasnik’s other recently funded projects included about $500 of Eric Carle books, and new Play-Doh to replace the supply that dries out through the school year. “You think about Play-Doh as being fun, but you don’t think about how it helps kids learn their fine motor skills, not to mention teamwork and socially engaging with each other,” she said.

Without DonorsChoose.org and companies like PNC, she said, her classroom wouldn’t be nearly such a vibrant or enriching place.

students with thank you sign

“The kids definitely wouldn’t be as engaged or as excited as they are,” she said. “They’re new materials, really rich materials, and I get to pick them out.”

I’m in the classroom with them every day, so I have a good idea of what will and won’t work for the kids. The materials really enhance my teaching and allow them to get a more meaningful education.

Healthy Snacks & Life Lessons

About eight hours away in Flushing, Queens – New York City’s most diverse borough – Andy Yung teaches a class of 4-year-olds at a school that’s focused on giving them a healthy start. The kids are active and moving around a lot, and their parents are encouraged to provide them with healthy mid-day snacks, like yogurt, fruit and veggies, to give them the fuel they need to stay focused on learning. But healthy food can be pricey, and some families don’t have the means to provide it.

“Everyone gets free breakfast, so we’ll save some leftover multigrain cereal for the kids who don’t have snacks,” Yung said. “But other kids will bring in things like dragon fruit, kiwi, apples, carrots or goldfish crackers, and some of the kids have never seen those things before. They get curious and want to know what it tastes like, and you’ll see sad looks on their faces because their friends have something they don’t.”

Even at that young age, the students’ sense of community is strong. “These kids are among the most compassionate and caring I’ve seen in my five years of teaching,” Yung said. “The kids who have snacks will offer to share. One child is autistic and doesn’t have the verbal ability to communicate that he wants a snack, so they’ll offer. It’s amazing that a 4-year-old can read another child and want to help, and it shows me what a great job their parents are doing at home to raise such giving kids.”

Still, Yung wanted to give each child an equal share, so he created a Mid-day Meal project on DonorsChoose.org.

“Every day since that project got funded, we sit at three large picnic tables, put a tray of healthy snacks in the middle, and the kids help themselves to their share,” he said. “They know not to be greedy, and they police each other on being fair. They learn social skills, problem solving and teamwork.”

It’s much more than snack food; it’s a life lesson. I also love how the kids can see that generosity pays off, and someone else out there, like PNC and its employees, is as generous as they are.

Yung’s latest DonorsChoose.org project is Extreme Kitchen Makeover, part of a dramatic play area with blocks and pretend kitchen appliances. “Right now, our fridge is broken and the knobs for the stoves are coming off, so hopefully this project can jump-start our new kitchen setup,” he said. “The dramatic play areas are important so our kids can learn to cooperate and play together, use their imaginations to create things, and come up with scenarios they want to engage in. A lot of our kids are English language learners, so it’s important to learn to communicate with each other to work through problems.”

Leaving the World a Better Place

For Podvasnik, Yung and so many more teachers, DonorsChoose.org is helping to bring their classroom dreams to life, so they can better prepare their students for future success.

“Being in a low socioeconomic area, we don’t get a lot,” Podvasnik said. “Kids elsewhere have so much opportunity, and my kids don’t. I really appreciate what PNC, Grow Up Great and your employees are doing. It really does make a difference.”

“Getting these amazing materials has completely transformed my classroom, as well as my school,” Yung said. “I love going into work and seeing how happy our kids are. It’s a mission of mine to impact all of our students. Like the mission of PNC Grow Up Great, I want them to grow up into caring people who want to leave the world a better place.”


Learn more about PNC Grow Up Great


Getting these amazing materials has completely transformed my classroom, as well as my school.

Andy Yung, Pre-K teacher - Flushing, Queens, NY

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