This is the story of a small school and a beloved music teacher who beat the odds for a remarkable — and lucrative — win.
Steven Hutchison, a music teacher at Midland Adventist Academy in Shawnee, was presented a $2,500 grant Friday from the Farmers Insurance Thank America’s Teachers program.
Out of several thousand applicants nationwide, Hutchison was one of 60 winners from the final field of 350. Launched in 2014, Thank America’s Teachers is a competition in which grant winners for education-related projects are determined exclusively through online voting.
School size often comes with a built-in advantage, simply because of sheer numbers, for larger schools in densely populated areas. With an enrollment under 150, Midland faced steep odds against schools with several thousands students — and the larger voting community to match.
Getting a late start on the whole online-voting process further handicapped the cause for Hutchison and Midland.
“I didn’t find out we were eligible until late in the game,” he said. “March was voting month and we didn’t get started until March 12th. On the 12th, we were 350 out of 350.”
However, it wasn’t long before that number shifted in a big way.
“In just two days, we were 180,” Hutchison said.
Thanks to the collective effort and enthusiasm of the entire Midland community, online numbers for Hutchison exploded exponentially during the daily voting, topping out at more than 500 votes a day.
The school connected with their voting public through multiple social media platforms, in newsletters, by email, and good old-fashioned word of mouth. Support came from other Adventist churches and schools, local businesses, Hutchison’s alma mater, Union College, and more.
“To get the traction we got was incredible,” Hutchison said. “As our numbers climbed, so did the enthusiasm. It’s a blessing to be part of a community that supports what you’re doing.”
When the bits and bytes settled, Hutchinson finished 18th nationally in the final ranking and was the only teacher in Kansas to win one of the 60 grants.
Another teacher at Midland Adventist — Jonathan Borne, who teaches science for grades 7 to 12 — also submitted a proposal for one of six $100,000 Dream Big Teacher Challenge grants, which Farmers will award at the end of the year.
For now, the smaller grant will help purchase musical instrument lockers as part of Midland’s music program renovation.
“Music programs are expensive and a high investment,” Hutchison said. “I wrote the grant for music lockers with Farmers in mindm because I knew they were into asset protection.”
Of course, it wouldn’t have been possible without the wider community’s support, including Mayor Michelle Distler who was on hand for the ceremony.
“This has been a partnership with the community,” Midland Adventist Academy Principal Dan Kittle said. “It reaffirms that there is potential, possibility, and support. It also shows the loyalty of people to music and a belief in the importance of music.”
Hutchison’s care and appreciation for his students was effusively reciprocated, as shown by their ardent, ongoing applause during Friday’s presentation assembly.
“This grant isn’t for me,” he said. “It’s for you.”