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School with $160 annual budget sees kindness from strangers

First came the calls. Then the reams of paper, more precious in a cash-strapped public school than gold. Finally, the checks arrived.

DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer

First came the calls. Then the reams of paper, more precious in a cash-strapped public school than gold.

Finally, the checks arrived.

Anna Lane Lingelbach Elementary, a public school in Germantown, began the academic year with a discretionary budget of $160: 40 cents to spend on each needy student.

But after readers learned of the school's plight in November from an Inquirer story, an avalanche of donations flowed from around the country.

Most notably, one anonymous angel gave the school $100,000, a sum that should buy Google Chromebooks for each of the school's 420 students, kindergarten through eighth grade.

For a place that principal Marc Gosselin had described as "so far below just the baseline that you need to run a school," the generosity feels like a dream.

"This will help to bridge the equity gap in our school," Gosselin said last week.

The $100,000 check was the biggest donation, but certainly not the only one. Contributions totaled about $17,000, and supplies poured in, too.

The story "went viral," Gosselin said, and people across the region and nation were moved to help.

A 13-year-old boy donated $10. The Springfield School District in Montgomery County sent a truck with educational materials and office supplies. There were checks and crayons from Chicago and Florida and elsewhere.

"I was stunned by the outpouring of love," said Gosselin. "From everywhere."

Lingelbach's plight hit Valerie Cap, a reader in Royersford, in the gut. The human face of the Philadelphia School District's budget crisis was suddenly very clear, she said.

"I've seen headlines, I've listened to the news," Cap said, "but I never felt a connection to it."

Cap's son is not in kindergarten yet, but when he does attend, it will be at a school whose administrators, teachers, and parents never have to worry about what happens if the roof leaks, or if there's enough money to pay to run off copies of a literacy placement test.

"My son has so many opportunities, and I just thought, 'It's a tragedy how we're failing these children,' " Cap said of Philadelphia students. "And these are our kids. All of our kids."

Cap is committed to making things happen for Lingelbach - connecting with a local bank manager who pledged support, reaching out to schools, securing a promise of backpacks.

Realtor Ellen Goodwin knew the school from working in Northwest Philadelphia, at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices' Chestnut Hill office.

After she read about Lingelbach's paltry finances, Goodwin chose to focus the office's holiday giving project on the school, collecting wish lists from every teacher.

Just before Christmas, they delivered highlighters and whiteboards, poster paper and markers. They'll drop off books this week, and Goodwin is also collecting materials to help replenish the school library, which was nearly wiped out by a water leak over the summer.

"We're taking 300 books over, and we're going to volunteer some time to help set up the library again," Goodwin said. "It's great to feel like you made a difference, no matter how small."

And then there are the Chromebooks. Gosselin's calm, even demeanor spikes a little when he talks about them, his face breaking into a broad smile.

One of many calls the principal fielded after the Inquirer story ran in November was from a man who told him, "I think I can help you out," Gosselin remembers.

The reader went to Lingelbach to meet Gosselin and tour the boxy school on Wayne Avenue. He wanted to know what Gosselin would do with a substantial donation, and said he shared the principal's vision that technology, implemented properly, can help open doors for children.

Gosselin was at the supermarket, shopping for Thanksgiving dinner with his young daughter, when the call came.

"He said, 'I'm going to give you $100,000,' " Gosselin remembered. "I just about dropped the turkey."

The computers will arrive in February, and teachers will spend the remainder of the year developing strategies on how to reframe their teaching to use the computers effectively.

"It really should change the way instruction is being delivered," Gosselin said. "We don't want them to be just word processors, or a really fancy pencil."

As for regular pencils, Gosselin is covered - for now.

"But I'm a realist, and I know this is a one-shot deal. Next year, we'll be right back in the same position. We still don't have the ability of a suburban district to just order supplies if they're needed," said Gosselin, a first-year principal who came to Philadelphia from just such a suburban district, Stroudsburg Area school system in the Poconos.

But Lingelbach is one of 200-plus struggling Philadelphia public schools, and even its major windfall can't cover Lingelbach's biggest need - staff. Gosselin doesn't want to use one-time donations to pay for positions he can't fund himself when the donations dry up.

But recess happens now only because staffers volunteer their time to supervise children in the schoolyard. And while the school has a guidance counselor, part of her time is spent not counseling students but covering classes.

Still, Gosselin said he feels fortunate.

"We're comfortable for the year," the principal said, "and it feels wonderful."

215-854-5146 @newskag