Watauga and Avery County Teachers Win Bright Ideas Grants from Blue Ridge Energy

Last Updated on December 6, 2022 10:27 am

Boone, North Carolina (December 6, 2022) – Exciting, hands-on learning projects are coming to six local Watauga and Avery County classrooms thanks to $5,728 in Bright Ideas grants awarded recently by Blue Ridge Energy to local educators during a special luncheon celebration honoring winning teachers and their schools.

Bright Ideas is an academic grants program sponsored annually by Blue Ridge Energy. Bright Ideas grants help further traditional academic learning by funding innovative scholastic projects that go beyond available school funding.

To date, Blue Ridge Energy has awarded more than $593,000 in Bright Ideas classroom grants impacting over 110,000 local students and teachers. This year, the cooperative is funding winning grants totaling $25,179 to 21 classrooms in Caldwell, Watauga, Ashe, Alleghany, Wilkes and Avery counties.

l to r: Molly Rhoades of Banner Elk Elementary; Dave Shack of Valle Crucis Elementary; Heidi Ragan, District Manager of Blue Ridge Energy’s Watauga office; Jenny Phillips of Parkway Elementary; Tom Trexler, Blue Ridge Energy’s Board of Directors; Dani Juarez of Cove Creek Elementary, J.B. Lawrence of Blue Ridge Energy’s Board of Directors and Noah Gordon of Green Valley Elementary. Not pictured: Carly Mize of Green Valley Elementary.

Watauga and Avery County grant-winning teachers are:

Dave Shack of Valle Crucis Elementary for “Trout in our Classroom.” Students will have a hands-on opportunity to apply concepts from chemistry. To go with a trout aquarium already underway in the classroom, this $367 grant will fund a water chiller and water quality test strips. Eighth-grade students will study daily water quality, abiotic and biotic factors as part of ecology, and water chemistry. Students will measure and assess water quality indicators daily including temperature, oxygen, nitrates and turbidity to ensure the trout habitat is appropriate for the fish.

Dani Juarez, of Cove Creek Elementary for “After School Art Club.” The grant for $400 will provide for opportunities in an after-school Art Club, meeting once a week for an hour, for students to explore new mediums they don’t get to use during the regular school year.

Carly Mize of Green Valley Elementary School for “5th Grade Eco-Columns!” This $313 grant will be used to purchase materials and wildlife from Carolina Biological Supply Company and local pet stores for students to create six eco-columns. An eco-column is a model of an ecosystem made from recycled 2-liter bottles and components include a terrestrial habitat with a decomposition chamber and aquatic habitat. The grant funds will allow for live organisms and suitable producers to grow and live in an eco-column. Students will work in groups to design, predict, research, construct and observe the terrestrial and aquatic factors of an ecosystem in this STEM project.

Jenny Phillips of Parkway Elementary for “Building a Finch Flock: Coding Robots from Grades K-8.” This $1,598 grant will support student interest in coding and robotics. Many free coding resources have been used over the years but this grant will enable more hands-on experience. Finch 2.0 robots are compatible with the school’s Chromebooks environment. The grant will purchase 10 robots so that students can work in partner groups to code, test coding, problem solve and more.

Noah Gordon of Green Valley Elementary for “Remote Control Aviation.” This $2,000 grant will help this career and technology education (CTE) teacher purchase several small remote-control airplanes for students to explore technology and learn the basics of aviation. Also, the grant will fund a flight simulator to train students prior to flying the remote-control airplanes. Students will learn how to fly and understand the basic principles of flight.

Molly Rhoades of Banner Elk Elementary for “Amazing Shake—Setting the Tone for a Future Leader.” This $1,050 grant will support development of social and leadership skills in Avery County students through an established program that culminates in county-wide competition called “Amazing Shake.” The competition places emphasis on teaching manners, discipline, respect and how to conduct oneself in a professional environment. It will introduce students to networks, roles and opportunities that will present themselves now and in the future.

“Blue Ridge Energy supports our schools and teachers to build brighter futures for our communities,” said Tasha Rountree, director of community relations for Blue Ridge Energy. “I’m proud that Blue Ridge can help by funding creative classroom projects that bring innovative learning experiences to our students.”

Blue Ridge Energy is part of several North Carolina electric cooperatives providing Bright Ideas grants. Together, they have provided more than $14 million for over 13,500 classroom projects impacting over 2.5 million students in North Carolina.

Blue Ridge Energy is a member-owned electric cooperative serving some 78,000 members in Caldwell, Watauga, Ashe, Alleghany, Avery, Alexander and Wilkes counties. To learn more about the Bright Ideas grants program, visit or contact your local Blue Ridge Energy office.

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