The Coastal Electric Cooperative Bright Ideas prize team — with balloons, gifts, signs and giant checks in hand — filed into the classrooms of seven surprised Liberty County School System educators Thursday.
The cooperative gave out a total of $22,000 in grants to area teachers and counselors for their cutting-edge projects. The prize team made 15 presentations in Bryan, Liberty and McIntosh counties last week.
“The Bright Ideas educational grant program, funded by the members of Coastal Electric Cooperative through Operation RoundUp, provides grants to local teachers for innovative classroom projects that fall outside normal funding parameters,” said Mark Bolton, Coastal EMC vice president of marketing and member relations. “Since the program began in 2002, $170,000 has been given to educators for more than 165 projects benefitting well over 29,700 students.”
“Teachers have great ideas on ways to make lessons fun and engaging, but often the money to fund these projects isn’t available,” Coastal EMC CEO Whit Hollowell said. “We encourage teachers to think outside the box, to be innovative and create new learning experiences for their students.”
Bradwell Institute school counselor Torri Jackson received $1,924 for her project, First-Generation College-Bound Groups. The project assists those students who are the first in their familyheading to college, Jackson explained. The counselor said she commended these students’ parents for signing their children up for the program during senior orientation, showing their support and desire to have their children receive a college education.
“We don’t have a lot of extra funding for something like this,” she said.
The Bright Ideas grant she received will help pay for college-campus tours for students in the first-generation college-bound groups. Students in the program must keep their grades up and maintain high behavior points, Jackson said. The counselor works with five groups of students, with a maximum of 10 students per group.
Working in smaller groups allows Jackson to give her students more individualized attention as they prepare to navigate an often confusing college-admissions and financial-aid maze, she said. The small group setup also helps make the process less intimidating for them, Jackson said.
“Kids tend to open up more in small groups,” she said. Students in small groups are more prone to tell Jackson “what they need and what they don’t understand.”
Bradwell Institute science teacher Joy McCook was awarded $1,992 for her project, Expanding Georgia SMORE (Students Monitoring Oceans Response to Eutrophication). Students in Alaska, Texas and Georgia — including Frank Long Elementary School — will partner with University of Georgia and Skidaway Island researchers to study eutrophication, according to McCook.
McCook explained eutrophication occurs when there is “an excess amount of nutrients in our water system.” Eutrophication can cause massive fish kills because it depletes oxygen in the water, she said. Students will test local waters to determine levels of nutrients and then compare their findings with other groups and scientists involved in the study.
“This grant is actually to get more iPads for it, and the iPads themselves allow the student to coordinate (project findings),” McCook said.
The science teacher said she became interested in eutrophication after taking an oceanography class during her student teaching days.
Joseph Martin Elementary School fourth grade science teacher, Victoria Funston, received $480 for her project, YUCK! Owl Pellets. Students will use the pellets to discover what the owl ate as part of their lessons about ecosystems and food chains.
Funston received a Bright Ideas grant several years ago to fund a green house, which still is being used by several JME classes.
“You know, we’ve had budget cuts left and right,” she said. “This (award) really makes things possible.”
Other LCSS winners include Candace Hankins of Waldo Pafford Elementary School, who received $2,000 for her project, Little Books = Big Success! Students in kindergarten through second grade will be reading a new book once a week.
Maureen Jenkinson of Taylors Creek Elementary won $995 for her project, Beautiful Bountiful Butterflies. Butterfly kits will be purchased for students and teachers to work together for the care of their larva and butterflies.
Pamela Scott with the Liberty College and Career Academy received $1,962 for her project, At the Heart of the Matter. General medicine health-care science students will learn basic and advanced cardiovascular technical skills, including the difference between an abnormal and normal EKG.
Kymberli Barney of Lewis Frasier Middle School won $1,407 for her project, Artist Tech: Artistic Technology for Young Creative Minds. Students will learn to design new sites from the ground up.
Bright Ideas grants are funded in part through the voluntary donations of cooperative’s members who participate in Operation Round Up, Bolton said.
“Members allow their electric bills to be rounded up to the nearest whole dollar,” he said. “Those nickels and dimes each month are turned over to the Coastal Electric Cooperative Foundation, which oversees the fund.”
Teachers from public and private schools who applied for the grants were judged on innovative and creative learning experiences, instructional experiences otherwise unavailable, direct involvement of students, clearly defined goals and statements, ongoing benefits to students and an adequate budget summary, according to Bolton.
“We sanitize the applications so the judges do not know which school or county the applications are from,” Bolton said. “The judges are just people in the community that we have asked to help. Frequently, they are retired teachers or school administrators. We want them to take the process seriously, so we pay them each $100. This year, there were over 50 grant applications to be evaluated by each judge.”