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Education Foundation mini-grants a prize for teachers

Community support for public school teachers pushed the amount of money raised last year and awarded last week as 2019 Lenoir County Education Foundation mini-grants to records heights -- $20,836 conferred in 54 grants to teachers at 16 LCPS schools.

A signature activity of the Education Foundation for decades, the mini-grant program has expanded dramatically in recent years thanks to increased participation in the Foundation’s two primary fundraisers – a fall golf tournament and an annual adult spelling bee. All money awarded as grants comes from event proceeds and private donations.

A female teacher holding an orange balloon reacts with excitement after learning from man at right that she's won a grant  “There are a lot of people out there working for you and rooting for you and trying to help you as you help our students here,” Craig Hill, executive director of the Kinston-Lenoir County Chamber of Commerce, told grant winners at Banks Elementary School, one of the stops for the Foundation’s Prize Patrol as it toured Lenoir County on Thursday and Friday to present checks and balloons to teachers.

Total mini-grant awards have grown from $12,962 in 2017 to $17,745 in 2018 and to nearly $21,000 for the 2019 awards. Nearly 200 applications for the grants were submitted in October and a panel of judges picked a record number of winners in December.

The surge in Education Foundation mini-grant opportunities coincides with an increased focus by the school district and its teachers on writing and winning grants, according to LCPS Superintendent Brent Williams, who accompanied the Prize Patrol

“Our theme this year is ‘Leveling Up’ and we’re on pace this year to win twice as many grants from all sources as we’ve ever received,” Williams said. “That begins with our applying for more than we’ve ever applied for.”

Elizabeth Vick-Smith and Jan Humphrey, English teachers at Lenoir County Early College High School, had never applied for a grant, either separately or together. Thursday, they learned that as a team they were one-for-one in grant competitions.

“This is very exciting,” Vick-Smith said after she and Humphrey were surprised with a check for $500, the top limit for mini-grants. “We really wanted to add to our book collection and this is the only way I thought we might do it.”

The money will buy books for an in-house library with more choices of young-adult fare. “Since we’ve started a summer reading program, we thought this would be good way to give students more options on what they read and increase their interest in reading,” Smith-Vick said.

The variety of projects funded by the grants illustrates the school district’s wide range of learning opportunities.

LCPS’s introduction of a K-5 computer coding curriculum this school year prompted no fewer than seven elementary teachers to apply for and win mini-grants to further that instruction. “My grant is for robots for the kids to program. First, they have to assemble the robots and then they’ll be able to write code for them to complete various activities,” said Selina Gray, a fourth-grade teacher at Pink Hill Elementary School who won $410.

The second-grade team at Northeast Elementary School is using its $500 grant to fund a trip for students to East Carolina University to see a musical that’s part of the ECU Art Smart Series. At South Lenoir High, art teacher Laura Jackson will put her $275 award toward supplies that students will use to create tile mosaic tops for the three concrete tables outside her classroom. Jody Guttenberger, family and consumer science teacher at Kinston High, plans to stage a student cooking competition with her $444 award.

“We are greatly appreciative to the Lenoir County Education Foundation and the Kinston-Lenoir County Chamber of Commerce,” Superintendent Williams said. “These grants are good news for our district and our classrooms. We are just so appreciative of what they’re doing for our kids and the instruction our teachers lead every day.”

Williams accompanied the Prize Patrol as it presented grant checks and celebrated teachers’ success with balloons, applause and photographs. The Prize Patrol is comprised of board members and staff from the Education Foundation and the Chamber of Commerce, the Foundation’s parent organization. It was led by Hill, a former LCPS principal who’s now the Chamber’s executive director, and was joined at various times in the tour by Associate Superintendent Frances Herring and Assistant Superintendent Nicholas Harvey II.

Grants winners by school and their amounts are:

Banks Elementary – Catherine Huff ($236), Brandi Murphy ($500), Laura Parks ($500), Bobbi Colie ($80), Taylor Perry ($464), Georgia Vick ($47) and Karyl Willis ($419)

Contentnea-Savannah K-8 – Stephanie Harrell ($420), Sara Pennington ($452), Emily Burkett ($280), Melissa Manning ($337), Kristin Taylor ($490) and Amy White ($309)

La Grange Elementary – Christel Perry ($373), Alicia Davis ($400) and Elaine Yarbrough ($488)

Moss Hill Elementary – April Lee ($179); Missy Small ($465); team of Rachel Braswell, Marenda Everett and Becky Gunn ($468); team of Jeff Clark, Diane Seymour and Lara Colie ($433), Jordan Gray ($106); team of Kristina Jones, Hollie Ayers and Carolina Baker ($460); Donna Casad ($250); Glenda Kennedy ($229); and Molly Barwick ($500).

Northeast Elementary – Hannah Vermillion ($500); team of Jennifer Pelletier, Hannah Carden, Tonya Stewart, Christina Clark-Zoltek and Tiffany Mason ($500); team of Konya Houston and Rubi Blancas Orduna ($498); Konya Houston ($500); and Cheryl McLain ($194).

Northwest Elementary – Samantha Rouse ($290)

Pink Hill Elementary – Jennifer Grubbs ($500), Selina Gray ($410), Leigh Hall ($490) and Allison Whitfield ($500)

Southwood Elementary – Amanda Hoover ($400), Laura Beth Mewborn ($500), Hillary Lee ($459) and Angie Jarman ($500)

E.B. Frink Middle – Pam Pate ($391) and Paula Boldt ($99)

Rochelle Middle – Team of Cordelia Breiner and Brenda Moultrie-Saunders ($498)

Woodington Middle – Steven Loftin ($498); team of Traci Howard and Anna Rouse ($500); Kelly Dawson-Stainback ($300); John Morgan ($300); Kellie Wolfe ($300); and team of Lorraine Kelly and Linda Smith ($496)

Kinston High – Jody Guttenberger ($444)

Lenoir County Early College – Team of Elizabeth Vick-Smith and Jan Humphrey ($500)

Lenoir County Learning Academy – Joseph Grimes ($159)

North Lenoir High – Miriam Ledford ($490)

South Lenoir High – Jessica Hill ($450) and Laura Jackson ($275)

Photo caption:

Northwest Elementary teacher Samantha Rouse shows her excitement after learning from Craig Hill, executive director of the Kinston-Lenoir County Chamber of Commerce, that she's won an Education Foundation mini-grant. A photo album of the Prize Patrol's visits to schools is on our Facebook page.