The competitive IMPACT Educational Grants were awarded to teachers across the county Wednesday for ideas ranging from student-made hot air balloons to a digital storytelling festival.
One of the winners was Merry Willis, a teacher at Carmel Elementary School. She was surprised in front of her kindergarten class Wednesday by members of the Cherokee County Educational Foundation, as well as the school principal and district representatives.
“I’m very excited, I’m very surprised,” Willis said after receiving a check for $2,487.95 from the CCEF. “I think it’ll be a really neat opportunity for our students to be able to get to do this.”
CCEF Foundation Board President Billy Hasty Jr. said visiting the schools and presenting deserving educators with grants Wednesday was one of the most rewarding experiences of his life.
“Being part of this organization, I get to experience the joy of meeting students and teachers,” Hasty said, after surprising Willis with the check. “We have a great Foundation, and we’re going to continue it for moments like this.”
Willis submitted her idea to the CCEF grant competition not expecting to win, she said. Willis, who has taught children for more than a decade, wanted to put on a schoolwide hot air balloon festival called “Carmel Colts Take Flight.”
“Just imagine over 1,200 elementary school students cheering as their own constructed hot air balloons take flight — what could be more awesome than that?” Willis wrote in her entry narrative, included with her submission for the CCEF contest.
Cherokee County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Frank Petruzielo thanked School Board Chair Janet Read for her idea to form the CCEF.
“It’s so inspiring to see the ingenuity of our teachers and administrators and how dedicated they are to developing creative new ways to make sure every student receives an outstanding education. And then to have the community rally to fund these bright ideas — that’s a dream come true,” Petruzielo said. “The foundation, in its first year, has done so much to support our mission. We can’t thank the (CCEF) board members and the donors enough for showing that they value public education and the hard work of our teachers and staff.”
Willis wanted all 1,210 students at Carmel, including all three self-contained special education classes, to participate in crafting hot air balloons out of tissue paper, glue, tape and other building materials.
“Students will learn the principles of what makes hot air balloon flight possible as a part of their unit on aerodynamics and flight, where they will compare and contrast the flight needs of airplanes, rockets and hot air balloons,” Willis explained in her entry. “The culmination of their study of aerodynamics, flight and hot air balloons will be the first annual Carmel Colts Hot Air Balloon Festival, where the students will see which design squad’s balloon had the longest, most successful flight.”
Willis planned for teams of about five students each to work together to build the aircrafts, and said it would “deepen their fascination with and understanding of flight.”
“I wholeheartedly believe that interactive and engaging activities like the balloon festival are the experiences students will remember for years to come and will be a positive reminder of school for them,” Willis said.
The grants are supported by public donations, and the CCEF has awarded about $20,000 in grants for teacher, staff and administrators’ innovative ideas and school needs since the foundation’s establishment last fall.
Five other grants were awarded to educators for their own innovative teaching ideas, and the winners were also surprised during school Wednesday.
Other winners included Shelly Brumbelow and Jennifer Lewis at Indian Knoll Elementary School, who won $2,044.85 for “Digital Storytelling;” John Murnan and Michelle Barthlow at Etowah High School, who won $1,640 for “Improving Science Instruction in the Etowah Zone by Fostering STEM Collaboration and Preparedness Between High School and Elementary School Teachers,” Wendy Cope at Woodstock Middle School and Pati Olton at Woodstock High School, who won $1,610 for “21st-Century Skills: Building a 7-Year Program;” Amy Graham, Michael L’Esperance, Tim Lewis and Christy Rich at Teasley Middle School, who won $1,115 for “Teasley Trek;” and Beth Watkins at Teasley Middle School, who won $1,100 for “Boardworks Math.”