Creative projects prized in Bright Ideas program

Applications available for educational grants
Apr. 03, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

Last year, Lee County Schools' district-level science coach Sonja Calerara learned that West Lee Middle School didn't have any microscopes. There was no state or county money available for such a purchase and, because microscopes cost several hundred dollars apiece, teachers couldn't exactly buy the equipment themselves. So Calderara turned to an increasingly prevalent tactic: a private grant.

The grant of nearly $2,000 Calderara got for the school from Bright Ideas — an education-only funding source sponsored by the state's Touchstone Energy cooperatives — was one of about 8,300 grants those cooperatives have awarded across the state since 1994.

Calderara said most teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies. But for some — especially those who teach science — certain pieces of equipment can be too expensive to afford on a teacher's salary.

"[Outside funding] is something we have to look into now, and rely on more, because of all the budget cuts," she said. "We've got to get more creative. ... The good news is there are things like this out there."

Another piece of good news: The application period for next year's Bright Ideas grants began April 1. Calderara said last year was the first time she'd gotten a grant from the group, and that she would encourage other educators to apply.

"The Bright Ideas grant is very easy to write out," she said. "It's one of the easiest I've seen. I would highly recommend somebody look into it. It's very clear cut and not hard to manage at all."

The final deadline is Sept. 20, but anyone who applies by Aug. 16 will be entered to win a $500 gift card in addition to the grant. Teachers in Lee, Chatham, Moore and Harnett counties will be covered by the Central Electric Membership Corporation, which has distributed 150 grants totaling about $150,000 to teachers in the region since 2001.

According to Janet Trevino Jackson, energy use and information specialist with Central Electric Membership Corporation and the lead coordinator for local Bright Ideas grants, the best applications aren't for mundane supplies or programs, but rather for something that either shows a real need — like the microscopes at West Lee, where students previously studied cells and molecules without actually seeing anything they were studying — or are unique.

"These are projects that wouldn't be sponsored by someone else," Jackson said of past winners. "We want them to be creative."

Potential applicants can find more information, as well as application forms, online at http://www.ncbrightideas.com.