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Bright Ideas Winners

Innovative teaching ideas in the Caldwell County Schools have been awarded recently through Bright Ideas grants totaling $7,641, an academic grants program sponsored annually by Blue Ridge Energy.

“I am so thankful to be a recipient of the Blue Ridge Bright Ideas Grant this year,” said Vicki Cornett, Media Specialist at Dudley Shoals Elementary.  “I recently cleaned out an old computer lab and have started the process of creating a Makerspace lab in our school. This will be an area where students will have an opportunity to design, create, and explore by using a variety of resources that will be purchased with funds from this grant.”

Bright Ideas grants expound on traditional academic learning by funding projects that go beyond available school resources and funding as expressed by Chad Davis, seventh grade science teacher at Gateway School. “These funds will help us create a robotics club where students will be engaged in coding and computer science during flex time at lunch or other scheduled times for optional student remediation.”

“We want to give our students as much exposure as possible to future career paths in technology,” Davis said.

To date, Blue Ridge Energy has awarded more than $593,000 in Bright Ideas classroom grants, affecting over 110,000 local students and teachers. This year, the cooperative is funded grants totaling $25,179 to 21 classrooms in Caldwell, Watauga, Ashe, Alleghany, Wilkes and Avery counties.


Caldwell County grant-winning teachers are:


Vicki Cornett of Dudley Shoals Elementary for “Making it Work With Maker Space!” Students in the 21st century have been around technology all of their lives. They can navigate games and apps comfortably and are often more fluent with devices than adults. However, most students are not given an opportunity to work with their hands by using tools and other materials to build. Research shows that hands-on learning helps students strengthen their hand muscles, improves accuracy, and builds problem-solving skills. Maker Space lab will give students a space where they can invent, construct, build, and problem-solve and be given the freedom to make scientific inquiries. They will experiment to build and solve challenges presented to them by the media coordinator and their classroom teachers.


Rylie Lytle Plaster, of Horizons Elementary for “Keep Us Growing.” The grant for $1,851 will help students continue and expand a small gardening and greenhouse project that began three years ago and involved all students. Since its creation, teachers have introduced students to the effort that goes into growing plants, helping them achieve a sense of accomplishment by seeing the products of their hard work. This project allows teachers to incorporate the project more fully into daily routines and curriculum. It enables children's books in the classroom to lay the foundation of knowledge to prepare students for the things they will experience as the garden flourishes. It includes the expansion of the greenhouse raised garden beds in an effort to provide more space for students to grow fruits and vegetables for many years to come.


Monica O’Quinn of William Lenoir Middle School for “Wildcats Create and Collaborate.” This $1,000 grant will help students build additional skills critical to cultivating success during their school years, careers and later in life.  To help learn critical thinking, communication, collaboration and problem solving skills, the grant will go toward purchasing resources for media center areas, allowing hands-on exploration, creation and learning. It will allow students to use various types of manipulatives to make deeper connections to the core content being taught in classrooms.


Chad Davis of Gateway School for “Glamification of Gateway.” This $1,500 grant incorporates virtual reality adventures, BreakoutEDU escape room simulations, Sphero Education Robots, and GooseChase multimedia scavenger hunts so that teachers can increase student engagement, better understand the North Carolina curriculum, and improve data from assessments.

Megan Starnes of Hudson Elementary School for “Decodable Books for Multilingual Learners.” This $948 grant will purchase sets of “Sound Out Chapter Books” to help 2nd to 5th-grade struggling readers learn to read better and come to enjoy reading. Topics include camping, sports, space, and others that are interesting to older students. These books will supplement the reading instruction that students receive in the regular classroom and give them
extra support in developing their reading skills. Small group work will help teach the skills and decodable patterns in books.

Blue Ridge Energy is a member-owned electric cooperative serving some 78,000 members in Caldwell, Watauga, Ashe, Alleghany, Avery, Alexander and Wilkes counties. To learn more about the Bright Ideas grants program, visit or contact your local Blue Ridge Energy office.

(News Release contributions from Blue Ridge Energy)