Challenger Middle a finalist for Bealls & Whistles grant program
Challenger Middle School was named as one of the 76 finalists for the Bealls & Whistles for Schools grant program, which will put it in the running for $10,000 if it is named as one of the top 10 next month.
Mary Beth Fox, Bealls vice president of marketing, said the Bealls & Whistles for Schools grant program was driven by the individual stores because they enjoy doing grass root programs for the community. She explained that the program provided the stores with tools to visit schools in their community and meet administration, teachers and students.
“They wanted to go out in the community and make a difference,” Fox said about the store managers.
She explained that after the managers visited the schools to explain the program, it was up to them to decide how the $10,000 would suit their needs.
The program, which was launched last August, attracted more than 350 kindergarten through 12th grade public, non-profit, charter and private schools from across the state of Florida. Those schools turned in an application to their local Bealls store explaining what type of project the grant would benefit.
Schools had to identify their most compelling need for the grant, their best plan of action to address that need and how they will use the funds to create the biggest impact for the entire school.
Pam Watson, Bealls district manager for Southwest Florida, explained that the store manager chose a panel of mid-level managers and associates who read through the grant proposals. As a team, they decided who was going to be their in-store winner.
Fox explained that some stores received up to 16 applications from surrounding schools. Seventy-six finalists were named for each Bealls store.
She said they were blown away by how many schools participated in the program, along with how creative some of the applications were.
Watson said Challenger Middle School’s grant proposal was well written with a great action plan. She said she was also impressed by the number of students they were reaching through the program.
Challenger Middle was able to very specifically tell Bealls its plan of utilizing the money, Watson said, which included buying additional equipment that the school needed.
The grant “was something that was going to benefit students for years to come,” she said.
The community support of Challenger Middle School also stuck out to the panel because of all of the sold-out productions.
Challenger MIddle School dance and drama teacher Michelle Hamstra said after she heard about the program through an email that Principal Teri Cannady sent her, she began filing out the application to enhance the arts program at the middle school.
“The grant will transform the school into an arts school,” Hamstra said because it will provide funds for lighting, a traveling dance floor, microphones and curtains for their production.
Cannady said they have held multiple fund-raising events to keep the drama and dance programs going at the middle school over the past few years. The possibility of being named as one of the finalists, she said, will allow them to focus on what the program needs.
Hamstra explained that the school currently rents the equipment it needs for the annual production, which reduces the amount of students who can participate due to budget restraints.
Last year, Challenger Middle put on its first production of “Annie,” which attracted 50 students for the audition. This year more than a 150 students auditioned for a part in the “Wizard of Oz” production.
“It’s incredible to have that many students” try out for the production, Cannady said.
The “Wizard of Oz” production consists of 66 students, 15 of whom work behind the scenes.
“When most schools are cutting the arts, we are adding them,” Hamstra said.
“The Wizard of Oz” production will be held in the school’s gymnasium tonight, March 17, at 7 p.m., and again on Friday, March 18, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $3 for students and $5 for adults.
Next year’s production, Hamstra said, will be “Peter Pan.”
Another portion of the program includes a store manager from each department store donating at least five hours at the school they chose as a finalist.
Hamstra said a representative from Bealls will volunteer his or her time during “The Wizard of Oz” on Friday.
Fox explained that the 76 finalists were sent to them to figure out which 10 would receive the grant.
“We hope to keep it going,” Fox said about the program. “It has opened our eyes to what is going on in the community instead of what is going on in our four walls.”
Fox said the top 10 schools will be identified and provided with the $10,000 grant by April 4.
All of the feedback Watson received for the Bealls & Whistles for Schools program has been positive. She shared that individuals were really surprised at the quality of the grants because of how thought-out they were, along with the amount of participation that came from the schools.
The stores received pictures and videos of the students for the grant, along with letters of recommendations from the parents.
“It was a total school project,” Watson said.
“We really look forward to continuing this in years to come and all of us really enjoyed the whole process,” she said.
Other Lee County school finalists are Bonita Springs Middle School, Estero High School, Bayshore Elementary School, Vineland Elementary School and Varsity Lakes Middle School.