02/24/10 — B.F. Grady Elementary second area school to win this year

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B.F. Grady Elementary second area school to win this year

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on February 24, 2010 1:46 PM

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Students at B.F. Grady Elementary School celebrate after the announcement that their school was one of 10 winners of the U.S. Cellular \"Calling All Communities\" campaign - the second one in the Wayne/Duplin area this year, and third in the last two years.

ALBERTSON -- B.F. Grady Elementary is the fourth eastern North Carolina school in two years to win $100,000 from the U.S. Cellular "Calling All Communities" campaign.

Students, faculty and parents screamed in surprise Tuesday as more than 100 U.S. Cellular workers barged into the middle of what the school community thought was an innocent pep rally.

If the T-shirts and confetti cannons did not tip them off to what was really happening, the costumed cell phone mascot and giant cardboard check for $100,000 did the trick.

Supporters made more than 430,000 phone calls to nominate 6,800 schools across America during the contest. The top 10 schools receive $100,000 each, and B.F. Grady Elementary School was the seventh school this year to win a share of the money.

The faculty and staff members of B.F. Grady were as ecstatic about the news as their students were. Even standing on the sidelines of the gymnasium, school staff member Angie Kornegay was drawn into the raucous mood along with everyone else.

"It's wonderful, we all worked really hard, really hard. The students, the parents, the teachers, everybody -- the faculty, the staff, I mean everybody," she said.

"I think it's good they got that money, because they can really put it to good use," B.F. Grady translator John Aponte said, as he paused for a moment from adding his loud whistling to the din.

The school has maintained its place in the top 10 of the contest for some time, so Aponte had hoped B.F. Grady would claim the prize. But he had no idea the surprise was coming, he said.

"We're glad we got it!" Aponte said.

Second grade teacher Natalie Conners joined her students in shouting for joy as the news of their successful bid for the prize money hit home.

"Aaaaah! I'm excited!" she exclaimed.

Everyone in the school community, including her own students, worked hard during the contest, and Principal Douglas Hill deserved special thanks for his own part in the event, Ms. Conners said.

"He deserves most of the credit, he really does," she said.

The school will use the money to help students reach their fullest potential in every area of their lives, Ms. Conners said.

The school will split the money evenly between all of the grade levels, giving teachers a chance to buy whatever they need for their students without restrictions on how the money must be spent.

"We're going to give every grade level, we have nine grade levels, and each grade level from kindergarten to eighth grade will get $10,000 a piece. Then we're going to give the other $10,000 to our music, art and P.E.," Hill said.

"They get to buy whatever they want to for their classroom, for their students, for instructional aid. No federal regulations, no state regulations, just what teachers need. It's the first time they've ever had the opportunity."

Hill said he found out Monday night that the school had won and would be receiving the special guests Tuesday afternoon, but had worked hard to keep it a surprise from parents, faculty and students.

"It's been just wonderful, absolutely wonderful. It's going to provide more supplemental materials, it's going to (provide) more things to stimulate them at an early age," he said.

And the school will also be able to use the money to help provide for B.F. Grady's large Hispanic student population, too.

"We have 6 percent of our kindergartners that are non-English-speaking, so we're going to put some, hopefully, the teachers will decide to give them some opportunities to learn to speak English a little earlier," the principal said.

State Lieutenant Governor Walter Dalton also attended the rally to support the school.

"Is it a great day or what!" Dalton said, although even with a microphone, his voice was barely audible over the cheers and chants of "Let's go, Panthers!"

The school was able to bring the award home because of the way the community pulled together to support their students, he said.

"That's what the power of community can do," Dalton said.

Marcel Bekers, director of sales for U.S. Cellular, helped to make the presentation to the school.

"When we launched the program, I challenged my team, my associates, to say, you know guys, we have to make sure we get this out in the community, so first of all I'm extremely proud of the company I represent for putting the program in place. I'm extremely proud of all these people that are here representing my team in North Carolina," he said.

Bekers commented on why the area has seen so many winners when the program is spread out across the entire country.

"You've got to give it to the community, because they really rallied around all their schools. I think because of all that excitement, because of all that passion, this is rural North Carolina, these folks really get behind their schools, and that's why I think we have four winners this year," he said.

The announcement at B.F. Grady Elementary School came just a few days after Wayne Country Day School also received a $100,000 surprise from the cellular company. Brogden Primary School and Washington High School in Washington both took home the prize in 2009. Three more schools will learn about their own awards later this week.

A camera crew from the Lifetime network show, "The Balancing Act," taped footage of the reveal for a segment of the show. The television show featuring the segment about U.S. Cellular is scheduled to air in March, independent producer Colin Williams said.

The other schools receiving $100,000 this year include Seymour High School in Seymour, Tenn., St. Liborius School in Crete, Ill., Central Lutheran School in Newhall, Iowa, Robert Lince Elementary School in Selah, Wash. and Kalmiopsis Elementary School in Brookings, Ore.

And after the rally, the teachers faced their next big challenge: Getting their hyped-up students back in their seats before the last bell.

"All this excitement, and return to class," Mrs. Kornegay said, laughing.