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Teachers surprised with mini grants


Second graders surround Hearne Elementary STEM lab facilitator Olivia Huneycutt on Wednesday after the Wilson Education Partnership surprised her with one of 10 mini grants awarded this week. Olivia Neeley | Times

Second graders surround Hearne Elementary STEM lab facilitator Olivia Huneycutt on Wednesday after the Wilson Education Partnership surprised her with one of 10 mini grants awarded this week. Olivia Neeley | Times

The surprise patrol was out in full force this week as 10 Wilson County Schools teachers received education grants from the Wilson Education Partnership.

The WEP handed out nearly $8,200 in mini grants to teachers over a two-day period. The grants are aimed at enhancing students’ learning experiences inside the classroom.

Olivia Huneycutt, STEM lab facilitator at Hearne Elementary, was surprised to see her project, Magna-Tiles for learning, was chosen. The nearly $800 grant will be used to purchase the tiles, which consist of various shapes that snap together magnetically. It will give students a chance to build geometric structures.

“I’m really excited to increase their creativity, their problem-solving skills and let them see geometry in action,” Huneycutt said. “They can use them to make 3D figures as well as 2D figures.”

Huneycutt’s second-graders cheered when their teacher was surprised Wednesday. Students were working with ozobots in the school’s Smart Lab. Ozobots are little robots designed to introduce kids to coding.

“This grant will definitely help fund even more possibilities and opportunities for our students,” said Hearne’s principal, Kelly Thomas. “This gives a lot of hands-on experience as well.”

WEP Executive Director Robin Williams said she and other board members love surprising teachers each year as they head out on “prize patrol.” She said there’s nothing like sharing love and joy with Wilson County teachers.

“We actually moved the mini grant time up earlier this year so we could provide some ‘surprise excitement’ for the teachers and students,” Williams said. “This is the only time WEP gets to surprise and really shower them with love.”


Megan Proctor, a Lee Woodard Elementary teacher, said she wasn’t expecting her surprise Tuesday. Her project, Coding for Kinders, was chosen as well. And she can’t wait to get started.

“It’s going to be a lot of work, but I think it’s going to be very beneficial to be able to bring coding for kindergarten,” she said. “It will definitely be a learning opportunity for all of us because it’s going to be new to us and the school. I’m really excited to have that opportunity.”

The grants are made possible by Merck, the WEP’s annual adult spelling bee as well as annual funds. Merck also donates a substantial amount of money each year and funds most of the STEAM-related grants throughout the school district.

While STEM incorporates science, technology, engineering and math, STEAM education adds art to the mix.

“It allows us to see how they can do so much with just a small amount of money and how important it is for them to enhance things they do in the classroom,” said WEP President Rob Ferrell, who also works at Merck. “The teachers are so creative with using these grants.”


Lee Woodard Elementary Principal Daniel Barnes said the grants are a great way to recognize teachers for their hard work.

He said teachers are already adjusting to getting kids back in the classroom from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Anything we can do to get connection back,” he said. “This exemplifies how much our teachers really come together and do all they can to provide the best experiences for kids.”

Williams said this year’s mini grants were more important than ever due to the pandemic and the stress it brought.

“It is hard to stay upbeat when you are playing catch-up,” she said. “WEP wants them to know we have their backs and are still supporting all we can. We know they are stretched and we want to say thank you for all they do. We are honored to be a part of making some dreams come true.”

Following is a list of the project, teacher, school and amount for this year’s WEP mini grants:

• Diversity through clay: Ben Gufford, Jones Elementary School, $587.13.

• The living classroom: Carol Price, Vick Elementary School, $906.65.

• Fighting the path toward STEM literacy: Christie Mitchell, technology K-12, $830.

• Bruins FFA hydroponic garden: Bryant Glover, Beddingfield High School, $1,000.

• STEAMing it up in second grade: Sonya Hayes, Frederick Douglass Elementary School, $316.17.

• Getting started with STEM: Laura Lee Garrett and Lauren Byrum, Rock Ridge Elementary School, $932.89.

• Coding with kinders: Megan Proctor, Lee Woodard Elementary School, $967.86.

• SEL resource library: Michelle Hickey, Lee Woodard Elementary School, $977.94.

• Magna-Tiles for learning: Olivia Huneycutt, Hearne Elementary School, $768.54.

• Sensory seating and regulation: Sharon High, Fike High School, $894.61.