Teachers win money for bright ideas for teaching

Nov. 10, 2013 @ 07:48 AM

Connie Root stood before a room full of teachers, principals and members of various boards on Friday, talking to them about innards.

“I just wanted to say thank you,” Root said. “I would have never even dreamed of getting a torso like this.”

It makes more sense, of course, when you hear it in context. Root, a teacher at the Caldwell Career Center Middle College, was one of five Caldwell County recipients of Blue Ridge Electric’s Bright Ideas grants, which help fund creative ideas in the classroom.

An $890 Bright Ideas grant will buy a 3-D model of the human torso for Root’s classroom so students can see the position of human organs up close.

“There’s no empty spaces in here,” Root said, gesturing toward her abdomen, “and my kids don’t know that, so that’s what we’re going to do – we’re going to take all the little body parts out and be able to put them back together again.”

Root was one of two grant recipients from the Middle College. The other, David Brotherton, received a $1,300 grant to help students grow a vegetable garden using an irrigation system that will not contaminate waterways.

“We’re going to use that as a problem-solving exercise for physical science, biology, chemistry – all the sciences together,” Brotherton said. “That way, we have a cohesive unit where they’re all learning the same thing, just different parts of it.”

Annie Croon of West Lenoir Elementary won a $725 grant to purchase a digital weather station and teach fifth-grade students how to monitor and record weather data.

“Kids will be able to collect data, graph data, read constructive responses and write about the data, perhaps even write some creative poetry or stories about weather-watching,” Croon said. “It’s just continued exposure to difficult content vocabulary which, for struggling readers, makes a big difference on (end-of-grade exams).”

Melissa Jaroszewski and her teammates at Happy Valley School won $1,500 to revitalize the school stage, which has not been functional in decades. Then the school will start a new program that allows each grade level to pick a foreign culture and immerse themselves in it, culminating in a cultural fair on Happy Valley’s new stage.

“As the community of Happy Valley, we’re really limited in our cultural exposure and diversity,” Jaroszewski said. “One way to get the kids and the community to be more 21st-century-ready is to expose them to the cultures of different countries.”

The final grant recipient, Granite Falls Middle’s Bryan Speagle, will use a $811 grant to fuel an idea his students came up with: Designing and installing a cistern system for irrigation in the school’s greenhouse.

“I had a kid that read an article in the Charlotte Observer about reclaiming water,” Speagle said. “We got to talking about that, and I said, ‘Well, that’s something we can do if y’all are willing to research and figure it out.’ So a group of my boys decided they were going to design a cistern system that can actually pump water into the greenhouse. They took it and ran with it.”

Wongalee Thomas, Caldwell district manager for Blue Ridge Electric, said judges want to see Bright Ideas grant applications that bring something different into the classroom.

“They like to see the passion of the teachers for their students and the learning opportunities the grant will provide,” Thomas said. “They want to hear clearly how the students will benefit – and they like grants that cross over into other curricula and involve teamwork.”

The grants are in their 20th year and, so far, have funded $363,000 worth of ideas in total and $91,325 in Caldwell County.