Michael Rozman/Warner Bros.
Friday, Dec. 16, 2011 | 8:49 p.m.
Viewing video requires the latest version of Adobe's Flash Player
- "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" featuring Justin Bieber's concert at Whitney Elementary will air Wednesday, Jan. 4, on KLAS Channel 8.
Map of Whitney
5005 Keenan Ave., Las Vegas
- Justin Bieber pledges $100,000 to Las Vegas school on ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show’(11-1-2011)
- ‘Ellen DeGeneres Show’ donates $100,000 to Whitney Elementary(9-12-2011)
- Whitney principal wants after-school program patterned after first lady’s (3-14-2010)
- School District donors still giving, but will they outlast need? (5-10-2010)
- School of haves bonds with one of have-nots (2-19-2009)
- Sharp rise in homeless students (9-15-2008)
- School goes all out to help poor kids learn (6-3-2008)
Beyond the Sun
- For information about helping homeless students in the Clark County School District, call the outreach office at 855-6682. Whitney Elementary School can be reached at 799-7790.
Teenage pop sensation Justin Bieber made good on his promise to Whitney Elementary School on Friday.
Last month, the 17-year-old star pledged a special Christmas concert and $100,000 to the east Las Vegas elementary school nationally-renowned for providing its needy students and families with food, clothing, health services and the occasional rent check.
On Friday, Bieber signed the $100,000 personal check after performing hit singles from his new Christmas album, “Under the Mistletoe,” for 650 students in the school’s multipurpose room. To top off the private concert, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” also donated an additional $100,000 in toys — one for every child – for the holidays.
“It was so wonderful and meaningful. He gave them memories no one could ever take away,” said Principal Sherrie Gahn. “They had the best Christmas present.”
Earlier in the day, the pop icon toured the school, popping into classrooms to visit with excited students, Gahn said. He signed autographs, answered students’ questions and shared with them his personal childhood struggles of being raised by a single mother in low-income housing and having to rely on food banks.
“It’s great he made that connection with our students,” Gahn said, tears welling in her eyes. Most of her students are poor, many of them homeless, she added.
Over the years, Whitney has become more than just a school for its 610 students and their families, providing the services and help to its recession-ravaged community. For students, Whitney is a place to receive free haircuts, dental care and eye glasses. It’s where families can get food, clothing and school supplies. It’s where parents can learn to read and get help if they fall behind on their rent.
“These kids are always in crisis and survival mode,” Gahn said. “If I can feed and clothe them, it takes a lot off their plate. … If I didn’t, these kids would be on the street.”
Gahn’s selfless efforts to help her student garnered national publicity from CNN to CBS News. In September, Gahn’s inspirational story caught the attention of the Ellen show, which decided to feature Whitney Elementary in its ninth season premiere.
During a taping for that show, Ellen DeGeneres presented what has become the first of several big donations to Whitney this year: a $100,000 check from Target.
After the Ellen episode aired, hundreds of donations started pouring into the school from across the nation. The outpouring of support overwhelmed Gahn.
“It tells a lot about the human spirit that there are so many people out there who really want to help,” she said. “Since Ellen adopted us … I worry a little less (about providing for students).”
In late October, DeGeneres decided to check in with Whitney during a taping with Bieber. After hearing about all the services Whitney provides its students, Bieber made a surprise announcement: He wanted to match Target’s $100,000 donation and stage a Christmas concert for the kids.
The students were ecstatic, Gahn said. They couldn’t believe Bieber was going to perform at their school, she said.
Word soon got out to generous corporate donors. In the last month, Hewlett Packard pledged to donate $100,000 in new computer equipment for the school. On another episode of the Ellen show, Target stepped up again and announced a $200,000 school library makeover. And individual donations from local businesses such as Snap Towing kept streaming in.
All in all, Whitney has received more than $1 million in the last several months, Gahn estimated. It was an early Christmas gift she said she could never have imagined when she first stepped foot on campus eight years ago.
“It’s very, very surreal,” she said. “This has been phenomenal.”
A few dozen Bieber fans waited patiently outside the school Friday afternoon, waiting eagerly for a glimpse of the famous pop star. Shortly after 2 p.m., Bieber arrived in a black SUV and briefly greeted fans, said Clark County School District spokesman Michael Rodriguez.
By 4 p.m. when the concert ended, the crowd had swelled to more than a hundred parents, teenagers and curious onlookers. Many careened their necks, cameraphones in hand as they waited for Bieber to emerge.
Green Valley High School seniors Raluca Iclodean, 18, and Jori Buckland, 17, heard from a friend about the Bieber concert halfway through the event. They jumped into Iclodean’s car, and he floored the gas pedal.
The self-proclaimed Bieber fans drove 20 minutes from Henderson to the east Las Vegas elementary school just in time to see Bieber driving away in his tinted SUV.
“I just wanted to see him,” said Iclodean, who started listening to the Canadian singer when he was 13. “He’s so beautiful.”
Buckland nodded her head. “It’s a great thing he’s doing, using his fame for positive things.”
Rosie Metlow waited in the cold for her granddaughter Amber, a Whitney kindergartner who was also celebrating her sixth birthday on Friday. In anticipation for Friday’s concert, Amber has been listening to Bieber’s songs seemingly nonstop, she said.
“She was so happy,” Metlow said, beaming. “It’s the biggest birthday present she got.”
Ticia Ledwon — who was waiting next to Metlow for her 6-year-old daughter Autumn — was thankful for all the donations the school has received this year.
“How could we ever repay someone for this?” she asked. “Justin Bieber donated his time so (students) can get to see him in person. So many people could have just written a check. It makes me cry.”
After the concert, hundreds of smiling students began streaming out of the school, large boxes of toys in tow. Kynedi Harris, 10, wearing a sparkly Bieber T-shirt, gave a big smile to her mother as she walked out of the school.
“He actually came through for us,” Harris said. “He gave us money and presents. He’s a helpful and sweet guy.”