In it to win it

Published 9:23 am Thursday, July 29, 2010

AHOSKIE – If Carol Paul has her way, Bearfield Primary School will be the recipient of a $50,000 grant.

Paul, a Pre-K teacher at the Ahoskie-based school, has been one of the major players behind an effort to improve the playgrounds at the educational facility located on Hertford County High School Road.

The grant, if awarded to Bearfield, will come from Pepsi as a part of their year-long promotional program (Jan. 1- Dec. 31). Pepsi is awarding millions per month in grants in different categories.

The Bearfield project was one of 1,000 grant applications chosen by Pepsi for the month of August. All of those possible grantees will be listed on the company’s special website – – from where votes are cast. The project earning the most votes will be awarded the dollar amount of what was asked for in the grant. Once on the website, individuals can easily navigate to the Bearfield project by clicking on the “Education” listing at the top of the page and then using the drop down box entitled “Vote For” to select “Near You.”

Voting begins Aug. 1 and ends Aug. 30. You may cast up to two votes per day.

“We cannot do this, get the votes we need to earn this Pepsi grant, without the help and support of our community,” Paul said. “There are 900 children in this school. Every single child in this school will be on a playground at some stage of their life here. The lessons we teach here will last a lifetime, but the goal is to make our students lifelong learners…to always want to seek out more knowledge. In turn, we’re hoping to develop good citizens, young people that will go off to college and return to Hertford County to work. It’s a domino effect. We are in it to win it.”

Even if Bearfield’s effort comes up short and they are among the top 100 to receive votes, their application is carried over to the next month where the voting process begins again.

Paul added that win or lose in August, there is another grant application waiting to be submitted to the Pepsi program.

If the school is the winner, construction will begin on a new Pre-K playground, featuring a special rubberized surface, a higher fence with a safety gate and water fountains on the playground so the children will not have to re-enter the building if they are thirsty.

“It will be a natural learning environment with plants and trees,” Paul said of the planned playground. “It will be an extension of the classroom; hands-on activities in the playground area such as molds in the shapes of numbers and letters placed in the sandbox. If we are studying animal life in the classroom, the sandbox outside will have replicas of those animals for them to play with, learn and enjoy.”

Another playground feature is a water table where the students can measure water, study about evaporation, and how standing water changes over time.

“What we have learned through research is that interactive playgrounds build children’s knowledge and allows them to retain what we’re teaching in the classroom,” Paul noted. “It will be a safe environment; all the equipment will have safety caps; everything will be designed by National Playground safety regulations.”

The playground plans also features recycling bins in an effort to teach the children at an early age the importance of protecting the Earth. It will also have a bird feeding station, another important learning tool dealing with nature. Butterfly trees will dot the playground, teaching these young students about the life cycle of these beautiful winged creatures.

“Our plans for this playground also focuses on the need to develop activities that address childhood obesity,” Paul said.

Paul said that the school was currently in the process of seeking three additional grants to complete the reminder of Bearfield’s four playgrounds. The total cost stands at $260,000. Grants are currently being sought from Lowe’s Home Improvement, U.S. Cellular and Roanoke Electric.

Another project underway at Bearfield, according to Paul, is to develop yard gardens. She said the food products grown in these gardens – cabbage, lettuce, collards, etc. – will be donated to the local Food Pantry.

“We want to interact with the community, working with those who partner with us in our educational efforts,” Paul stressed.

Hopefully, the grants will help fill the void left by cutbacks in the state’s educational budget.

“Because of the state cutbacks, which also affects the money flow here at the local level, we have to seek other financial avenues,” Paul said. “We have to be proactive to ensure our children are receiving a well-rounded education.”

She continued, “No, we’re not in Mecklenburg County or Wake County; we don’t have the educational dollars they have, but that doesn’t mean that our children don’t deserve the same things the children have in those counties. It’s really important that we, as adults, step to the plate and make that happen. It starts here at school. I don’t have any doubt in my mind that the teachers in the Hertford County School System want the very best for their students.”

Paul credited Tracy Brown, head of the Bearfield Parent Team, as the person whose grant application was accepted by Pepsi.

“We had five individuals submitting grants to Pepsi on behalf of Bearfield Primary, but it was Tracy’s grant that got through,” Paul stated.

That process actually began in March where the first grant was submitted. It wasn’t accepted, so the effort continued in April and May, again without luck. Finally, on June 30, Brown’s grant application was accepted.

“Because over one million grants are submitted each month, it’s like winning the lottery if yours is accepted,” Paul said. “We were so excited that we were finally chosen. We were calling each other, screaming, we’re in, we’re in.”

A campaign is underway within the school to have everyone involved in public education in Hertford County to cast votes for the Bearfield playground grant application.

Paul recently attended a statewide training session, one that attracted 400 teachers, where she passed out flyers soliciting votes.

“I love my children; they have a passion for learning, wanting to do more,” Paul closed. “I want them to graduate from high school, graduate from college; I want them to be all they can be. I grew up here. I’m proud of Hertford County. I want my students to be proud as well.”