As teachers and students navigate a new school year amid the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, electric cooperatives are welcoming the opportunity to engage with their local schools.
In Wauchula, Florida, more than 55 teachers applied for the new Teacher Mini-Grant program sponsored by the Operation Round Up board at Peace River Electric Cooperative. Directors had set aside $10,000 to help K-12 teachers in its 10 districts implement STEM projects but postponed the program until this year. Winners will be announced soon.
“The response we got was unbelievable,” said Ellen Hamel, who chairs PRECO’s Operation Round Up board, adding that teachers responded a few weeks before the application window opened.
In Springdale, Arkansas, the annual Teacher Appreciation Event, scuttled last year because of the pandemic, took place but with some changes to account for the public health crisis. This year, organizers of the 55th annual fair, a highlight in the community, held it in a large high school arena to allow for social distancing and required participants to wear masks.
Ozarks Electric Cooperative’s Erin Rogers was excited to return to the fair, where the co-op has given away its famous desk calendars for the past several years. Safety protocols gave the fair a different feel, but “teachers appreciated the sense of normalcy,” she said.
Here’s how other co-ops are supporting schools during this back-to-school season:
School Supplies and School Improvements
In Amelia Court House, Virginia, Southside Electric Cooperative gave school supplies and a donation to Amelia Academy, a small private school. Another $1,000 went to a media center and a community garden at an elementary school in the Cumberland County Public Schools system.
NOVEC Lends a Helping Hand
Remote school last year meant that volunteers from Manassas-based Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative and its charitable group, NOVEC Helps, didn’t have their usual opportunities to engage in school-related service projects. This year, though, volunteers spent a day at two local social service agencies where they filled 300 bags with food and snacks for students at Chantilly High School.
A Boost for STEM Education
STEM education is a popular cause among co-ops, including SECO Energy in Sumterville, Florida. The co-op recently donated $3,000 to the Public Education Foundation of Marion County, which provides matching funds to teachers requesting support for STEM-related projects. Other donations included $1,000 to Citrus County Public Schools and $3,500 to Sumter County Schools.
Trico Electric Cooperative, based in Marana, Arizona, is a big booster of the Marana High School Tigers football team. For about five years, it has sponsored the team’s electronic scoreboard, and the co-op recently donated 2,000 water bottles for the school to sell at home football games.
Each year, a handful of directors and employees from Mohave Electric Cooperative join a community service blitz at the BHHS Legacy Foundation in Bullhead City, Arizona, to support Backpack Buddies. This year, volunteers filled about 1,000 backpacks with school supplies and clothes to distribute to more than 1,000 pre-K to sixth grade students.
$30,000 for Teachers, Students
Giving Funds to Schools is an annual program at Tri-County Electric Cooperative in Hooker, Oklahoma, for students and educators in its service area. Funds are allocated based on school enrollment, and recipients use awards for athletics, field trips, FFA programs, yearbook ads and more. This year, $30,000 went to local schools.
Support for the Arts, At-Risk Youth
At the start of each school year, Arizona G&T Cooperatives and CoBank award matching grants to several education programs in Cochise County. This year, the pair donated $20,000 to three groups, including $5,000 to the Cochise Education Foundation for its Teacher of the Year recipient, classroom mini-grants and an academy for at-risk youth.
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer for NRECA.