A drumroll went out Wednesday for St. Joseph Catholic School in Shawnee, because that’s what happens when you win $100,000.
Kindergarten teacher Lisa Fox’s name was on the giant check presented by Farmers Insurance as part of its Dream Big Teacher Challenge. She’s the one who had the big idea that brought in the big money.
It’s also why the school surprised Fox with an all-school celebration in the gym, where students and other teachers surrounded her with hugs.
Fox was one of six teachers nationwide to win $100,000 for their school in an annual competitive grant-writing program sponsored by the insurance company to thank teachers for the work they do.
Earlier this year Fox thought it would be a good idea to find money to buy enough iPads so that all of the more than 450 students and teachers at St. Joseph could have one during class time.
That way, seven or eight classes wouldn’t have to share the 25 iPads the school would roll from room to room on a cart each day.
“We knew we couldn’t do what we want to do with that,” said principal Sue Carter.
For a year now, St. Joseph has been teaching its students computer program coding. Students from kindergarten to eighth grade are learning the skill since all the research Fox has read says “there is a shortage of people who write coding. We thought it’s just another language, and so they could learn it better while they are young.”
But being a private Catholic school means it operates on the tuition dollars paid by students, not on state funding,
“For a lot of the extras, we have to find the money,” Carter said.
Fox found the Dream Big grant challenge. She and three other teachers spent the summer writing a grant that they thought would get them the technology they needed.
In September they learned they were among 15 finalists. To win, Fox and her school had to stage an online campaign through Facebook that would bring in more votes than other competitors.
“I didn’t even have a Facebook account,” Fox said. “I had to get one just so I could vote.”
Carter said St. Joseph had an advantage: “When you are a Catholic school, you’re used to putting out the call for help. And we have a wonderful school community.”
So when the word went out about the Dream Big challenge and the need for online votes, “it snowballed,” Fox said.
St. Joseph is the first school in Kansas or Missouri to win the challenge, which is in its second year. Fox and Carter expect that by the time students return from the holiday break, there will be an iPad in the building for every student enrolled.