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Support for Dorchester teacher after ethics concerns over gifts

Parents, officials go to social media to praise her generosity

Nicole Bollerman’s teaching and generosity gave her third grade class at UP Academy Dorchester many reasons to smile.
Nicole Bollerman’s teaching and generosity gave her third grade class at UP Academy Dorchester many reasons to smile.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/File

A Dorchester teacher is receiving a wave of support after concerns were raised about a possible ethics violations of accepting a large prize in an essay contest, which she donated to her school, and a subsequent check from Ellen DeGeneres in response to her generosity.

The mayor, school officials, parents, grandparents, and scores of people on social media applauded Nicole Bollerman, a 26-year-old teacher at UP Academy Dorchester, who was chosen as a grand prize winner in the #WishForOthers campaign in late 2014.

Her winning essay read, in part, “I’m a third-grade teacher in a low-income, high-risk elementary school in Boston, MA. My #wish for others is that my voracious, adorable, hard-working, loving scholars all leave for their December break with a book in their hand.”

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Capital One, the campaign sponsor, provided all of her students with books and gave Bollerman $150,000. Bollerman, who goes by Nikki, quickly decided to donate all of the prize to her charter school in December.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh honored Bollerman in a press conference shortly after her donation, and on Saturday said he remained impressed by her actions.

“Nikki’s selfless actions offer the opportunity to provide students at UP Academy in Dorchester with additional educational resources that will directly improve their learning experience,” Walsh said in a statement. “Her students are incredibly fortunate to have Nikki as a teacher and she has my full support as we move forward.”

After Bollerman made her plans for donation public, she was invited onto “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” this month. The comedian praised her dedication to her students and presented a personal check for $25,000.

DeGeneres also gave each student at UP Academy a $100 gift card and a backpack filled with school supplies, and each teacher a $500 gift card for school supplies, which often are bought out of pocket.

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What looked like an uplifting story was complicated in the past week by questions of whether the original prize and DeGeneres’s cash gifts violate a state ethics laws that prohibit municipal employees, like Bollerman, from accepting gifts of more than $50.

“If it is decided that this donation goes against state law, I hope we can work together to find a solution that allows UP Academy to keep this contribution for the benefit of the students,” Walsh said.

The State Ethics Commission has not officially commented on Bollerman’s case, and a commission spokesman could not be reached Saturday.

“I don’t see what the question is,” said Gladys Deeble, 61, grandmother of a first- and a fifth-grader at the school.

Deeble, of Dorchester, said the parents and grandparents deeply appreciate Bollerman’s donation, which was beyond what they could have expected, given Bollerman’s student loans. “She did her part and she won it,” Deeble said. “She was generous and gave it all to the school, and [the DeGeneres show] appreciated it and gave her something.”

Scott Given, founder and chief executive of UP Education Network, which runs UP Academy Dorchester and other in-district charter schools, said he felt that Bollerman’s gifts were exempt from the state limits.

“Nikki entered the contest last fall because of who she is as a person, not as part of her official duties as a 3rd grade teacher,” Given said in an e-mailed statement.

In an earlier interview with the Globe, Bollerman said she hopes the money will be used for computer carts to help the students become more technologically literate. She could not be reached for additional comment Saturday.

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“We are all so appreciative and proud of the support Nikki has received on social media this weekend,” Given said. “We know all of our students are so grateful to her for putting UP Academy Dorchester’s dreams of a new computer lab within reach.”

Nicole Bollerman was on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” after Bollerman gave $150,000 to a Dorchester school.
Nicole Bollerman was on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” after Bollerman gave $150,000 to a Dorchester school.ABC

Jennifer Smith can be reached at jennifer.smith@globe.com