The Lebanon-Wilson County Chamber of Commerce developed an education division in 1996 with a goal to develop and promote education opportunities and tell the story of a high-quality education system in Wilson County.
A teacher grant program began that would secure funding to provide grant money to all Wilson County teachers. All public and private school teachers countywide are eligible to apply for up to $500.
The chamber applied for a 501c3 nonprofit status to search for grants and request donations that would benefit these programs. The grants must be used in the classroom and benefit several students in the individual schools.
Since the inception of the teacher grant program, more than $150,000 has been awarded. Teachers are given the applications, or they may go on the chamber website and download the application. They have from the beginning of the school year until the end of September to apply. All grants received are read and rated by a committee, and then all applications are notified about whether they will receive their grant request.
On the first Wednesday in November each year, a breakfast is held and a check is presented to each teacher to be used for their grant.
Jackie Gaither with Cumberland Real Estate has sponsored the teacher breakfast since the beginning.
Funding for this program and the other education-sponsored programs are made possible through local industry, businesses, Middle Tennessee Electric round-up and the annual Taste of Wilson County.
Every month, one grant is chosen to highlight in the chamber newsletter and the local newspapers. This month, Melanie Botts, a teacher at Coles Ferry Elementary School, was highlighted due to her outstanding idea and project for her school.
Botts created an outdoor classroom available for use by everyone at Coles Ferry. The classroom has a science theme, but other subjects may be taught using the outdoor seating area and the mounted dry erase board. The outdoor classroom offers a butterfly garden; it showcases plants that grow to attract butterflies.
The area has a weather station, a garden area and two cameras. One camera is mounted inside a birdhouse and is connected to the school’s computer lab, so everyone can watch what goes on inside the birdhouse, such as birds building a nest, eggs hatching and then the baby birds.
The other camera is a time-lapse, which allows everyone to watch a slow process really fast of plants growing, and to see what kinds of critters visit the outdoor classroom when the children are not at school.
Botts plans to implement more areas to the classroom, with a math station the next focus.
The teacher grant program is one of four programs sponsored by the education division of the chamber to promote quality education in Wilson County.
The fifth-annual Taste of Wilson County will be Oct. 17 on the square in Lebanon. Every ticket sold for the event sponsors a grant for Wilson County Extra-Mile Educators.