Blackfoot Teacher “Dreams Big”—and Wins $100,000 Grant
Stoddard Elementary School teacher Melissa Hunt entered the “Dream Big Challenge” contest with the most noble of motivations–but very little expectation of actually winning. Then came the announcement that she was one of three finalists for the $100,000 grant from Farmers Insurance that goes to the winner of the contest—but still she was skeptical that a little school in Blackfoot, Idaho might actually take home the prize. So imagine Melissa’s surprise at a regularly scheduled school assembly on December 5 when it was revealed that she and Stoddard Elementary had, in fact, won the grant and the large check that goes with it.
“I’ve never been a part of something that involved the entire school like this,” says Hunt. “It was really exciting, but also nerve-wracking. There was a lot of pressure.” As a result of Melissa’s efforts, and those of many others, Stoddard Elementary is receiving $100,000 worth of technology equipment and support. She is in the process of finalizing her request, with I-Pads, Smartboards and other essential technology due to be in place as early as February.
Hunt put together the grant proposal in hopes of addressing a pressing need for her small, rural school. “About 70% of our students are below the poverty level and have minimal technology in their homes,” she says. “These kids need to be trained on technology because those are the kinds of jobs that they will be looking at when they grow up. We want them to have every opportunity to succeed.”
Winning the “Dream Big Challenge” required getting people to go online and vote for her proposal, with the other two finalists being a public school in Washington and a private school in Billings, Montana. This meant that Hunt needed support from family, friends, colleagues, and even strangers. “There is just story after story about people who cared and took time to vote and help the school,” she says.
Two contribution stories stand out. A group of senior citizens in an assisted living center who had never sent an e-mail wanted to get involved, so they all got signed up and voted every day. “That was so heartwarming,” Hunt says. Also, a stranger named Eric, who she got to know through Donors Choice, made gift cards available to people who voted in the last few weeks of the contest.
The viral nature of social media played a big role in the campaign; somewhat by design and somewhat organically. Melissa started doing posts on Facebook and Twitter every day, with new graphic content in almost every post. He daughter Katelyn, who is a high school senior, put together a video parody of the popular song, It’s All About That Bass, which garnered substantial plays on You Tube and put a light-hearted spin on the competition. (Highlights from the surprise announcement can also be found on youtube.com)
Writing the original grant was something of a challenge for Hunt, who had successfully submitted smaller grant proposal before, but nothing of this magnitude. “My first look at it was overwhelming,” she says. However, with assistance from others with grant-writing experience, Hunt put together a comprehensive proposal that addressed both the glaring need for technology at Stoddard Elementary as well as how the grant money would be used to benefit students and teachers. “If I can do it, anyone can do it,” she says in encouraging others to follow her lead.
The Blackfoot Education Association and the IEA played a sizeable role in the campaign. “Among the first people I contacted were Rae Ann Brown (BEA President) and Maggie Calica (IEA Region 5 Director),” Hunts says. “They were tremendously helpful in getting the word out.” Hunt has been an IEA member since starting her teaching career 27 years ago. She is in her seventh year in Blackfoot after 20 years in the Snake River School District.
(Did You Know—The IEA occasionally offers grant-writing workshops that can help you with write and submit grant proposals that can make a significant difference for your classroom and school. Contact your region office for more information.)