Suzette Brunson knows firsthand the difference the money, and the change it brings, can make.
For the third year, Brunson, a science teacher at New Bridge Academy in West Columbia, received a Strong Schools grant from Colonial Life. She knows the $1,000 award will improve her classroom and her students’ lives, because she’s seen it happen before.
“We’re an alternative school, so we don’t get the funding that regular schools do,” Brunson said. “For us, this was a game-changer.”
With past funding, Brunson has been able to take her students from doing science experiments on a computer screen into a hands-on science lab. Last year, her ninth through 12th graders studied light using shadowboxes and prisms. This year, they’ll investigate ecosystems, learning how organisms coexist.
“We’re going to learn more about rivers and how different things impact others — like when one animal disappears, what happens to our food chains?” Brunson said. “I’m excited to get back and do my order.”
Brunson was one of 25 Lexington School District Two teachers awarded mini-grants totaling $20,000 from the Columbia-headquartered supplemental insurance company. The educators gathered for a luncheon on Aug. 15 at the Lexington Two Innovation Center in West Columbia.
“Education is the key to everyone’s successful future, and in the long run, it brings talent into the workforce,” said Marie McGehee, Colonial Life’s director of corporate social responsibility. “Supporting education, not just the students but the educators, is extremely important for long-term economic vitality.”
William B. James Jr., Lexington Two superintendent, called the grants of up to $1,000 “godsends,” saying they enable teachers “to think outside of the box and be creative.”
Other grant recipients included Sarah Weatherly and Karen Williams of Congaree/Wood Early Childhood Center, who are using playgroups to help picky preschoolers try new foods. Stephanie Bailey of Airport High School is integrating crime scene investigation techniques into her classroom using food coloring “DNA” processed through electrical chambers.
Beverly Rucker, who also teaches at New Bridge, will use her $1,000 grant in a program called Manners Matter, in which she will teach self-esteem and respect for others along with proper table decorum.
Brunson’s grant is part of a partnership with Lynn Moseley, who brings her New Bridge elementary students to Brunson’s lab for joint study on “Fun Fridays.”
“My high school kids, who are these big, tough kids, they actually teach the elementary kids,” said Brunson, who has three classes of up to 16 students. “It’s turned out more like a mentorship, but then they all get to play.
“They’re retaining more, just because they’re getting that hands-on experience, so they get excited.”
In its sixth year, the Colonial Life grant program has awarded nearly $140,000 to educators in Richland School District One and Lexington Two. Recipients are chosen with help from the United Way of the Midlands.
“Every application is scored, and those that receive top scores are awarded the grants,” said McGehee, who said the grant amounts are based on project budgets. “The goal of the grant is to help supplement where school budgets don’t necessarily play into the programming. We know that a lot of teachers spend their own money to invest in the things they offer their students.”
Brunson, a 19-year teaching veteran who is in her fourth year at the West Columbia alternative school, said the benefits of the grant-funded services go beyond the classroom for her students.
“A lot of these kids weren’t trusted with things before,” said Brunson, who had to reassure some students that they could touch glass beakers and other lab equipment. “We’re trusting them, and so that in turn brings their self-esteem up.”
The grant recipients are:
- Amanda Altman, Airport High School, $725, “Dynamics carts in physics”
- Mary Elizabeth K. Owen, Airport High School, $1,000, “Working in plein air”
- Odaliz Martinez-Cruz, Airport High School, $850, “Relax and read a book”
- Stephanie Bailey, Airport High School, $1,000, “Who Dunnit? Using technology to solve mysteries”
- James Brown, Brookland-Cayce High School, $725, “Farm to school program”
- Lori Wood, Congaree Elementary School, $1,000, “Hands-on math”
- Sarah Weatherly and Karen Williams, Congaree/Wood Early Childhood Center, $1,000, “Food Friendzy – a sensory-based food playgroup for picky eaters”
- John Hunter Reese, Cyril B. Busbee Creative Arts Academy, $1,000, “Habits of a successful middle school band”
- Beverly Rucker, New Bridge Academy, $1,000, “Manners matter”
- Suzette Brunson, New Bridge Academy, $1,000, “Can one organism affect another?”
- T. Lynn Moseley, New Bridge Academy, $1,000, “Our amazing world”
- Amanda Chapman, Pine Ridge Middle School, $1,000, “Pine Ridge Middle School STEM challenge”
- Maggie Cusey, Pine Ridge Middle School, $750, “Force and motion racing”
- Alexis Deese-Smith, R.H. Fulmer Middle School, $700, “Typing turbo boost”
- Jessica Jeffers Goings, R.H. Fulmer Middle School, $650, “The key to learning”
- Jessica Zearfoss, R.H. Fulmer Middle School, $950, “Communication for all”
- Kim Addy, Riverbank Elementary, $1,000, “Sound off with phonics”
- Brittany Staples, Riverbank Elementary, $850, “Inquiry through South Carolina history”
- Brooke Jones, Riverbank Elementary, $800, “KEVA planks education”
- Kathy Seibert, Riverbank Elementary, $1,000, “CSI (Class Science Investigations) – forensics at its best”
- Sherry Wright, Riverbank Elementary, $1,000, “Field trips for preschool education”
- Kim Gibson, Sherry Page and O’Neta Poovey, Springdale Elementary, $1,000, “The Osmo Digital Learning System for kindergarten”