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Surprise! PNC and DonorsChoose reward pre-K teacher hero

Above photo: Sara Podvasnik transformed her bare classroom into a colorful, fun environment where kids like to learn.

Sara Podvasnik entered her pre-K classroom four years ago with just a few materials in hand.

The white walls were bare, and the room didn’t have much more.

“I thought, ‘We have to do something,’ ” says Podvasnik, who teaches in Duquesne City School District. “I love color. Kids need a stimulating environment. They didn’t have that.”

Podvasnik took to the Internet. She sought donations for supplies for her classroom through

First, she got books.

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A surprised Sara Podvasnik was named a Teacher Hero by PNC Foundation and

Then, last April, when the PNC Foundation teamed up with for a two-year, $5-million alliance to provide resources to Head Start and pre-K classrooms, Podvasnik benefitted from a “flash fund.” That was when PNC Foundation funded all open pre-K teacher requests on Podvasnik received several months-worth of Playdough supplies for her students, plus STEM kits to assist in their learning.

Fast forward to this year. On April 4, in a surprise presentation, Podvasnik was named a Teacher Hero by PNC Foundation for her efforts in the classroom and use of She received a $2,000 gift card to use on for her classroom and a second $2,000 gift card to fund other pre-K projects on the website.

“She is a terrific teacher,” says Sally McCrady, PNC Foundation chair and president. “She is also a heavy user of”

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PNC Regional Vice President Lou Cestello reads “The Most Magnificent Thing” by Ashley Spires to Sara Podvasnik’s pre-K class at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

PNC marked the day by having 100 employees – including Regional President Lou Cestello – read to kids in the 92 Pittsburgh Public Schools early education classes.

At the presentation, Podvasnik’s students were a shining example of why their teacher named a hero.

“It was just so clear that these children were the recipients of high-quality early education and they are going to be so set up for success in kindergarten,” McGrady says. “That’s really the goal of why we fund PNC Grow Up Great.”

This is the second year of the alliance between PNC Foundation and The partnership allowed the platform to expand for the first time in its 17-year history to include Head Start teachers.

A study of Head Start teachers found that 88 percent were spending up to $500 of their own money on their classrooms, while 94 percent said they needed more resources.

In 2017, the partnership funded more than 7,500 pre-K classroom projects across 21 states and the District of Columbia.

“The magic of is it really allows teachers, who know what their kids need, to get the resources that they most need in the classroom,” McGrady says.

More good news for teachers within the PNC footprint:

  • PNC will match dollar-for-dollar all donations that support public pre-K and Head Start teachers’ project requests through May 31.
  • The 3,700 pre-K teachers who submitted a project request on since April 4, 2017, received a $100 gift card to use on a project.
  • All 17,000 PNC employees who volunteered with the Grow Up Great program last year will receive a $50 gift card to support a pre-K project on

“One of the coolest things is that you actually get to see your dollars at work in the classroom,” McCrady says. works to level the playing field for students in less fortunate areas, she says. Podvasnik takes that into account with her students.

“When they go home, they might not have access to anything they have at school,” she says. “I love working in the school that I do. The kids need to have a really great start to life.”

In all, Podvasnik received funding for nine projects on, totaling $4,600. Included are a book nook, a kidney-shaped table, gorgeous carpets and flexible seating.

Her room is bright and colorful now.

“It’s definitely a modern, 21st Century classroom,” she says. “It’s exciting. Students just want to be in here.”

She credits that to the alliance.

“DonorsChoose and PNC are empowering teachers across the country,” Podvasnik says. “When teachers feel empowered, students feel empowered. When a teacher has these rich materials at his or her fingertips, the possibilities are endless.”