Snow Hill Schools Wins $100K Target Grant

SNOW HILL — A local elementary school was stunned this week when it learned it would be one of only 50 schools in the country to receive an unrestricted $100,000 grant offered by Target.

“It’s kind of an exciting place to be,” said Snow Hill Elementary School (SHES) Principal Denise Shorts.

The funding for SHES comes as part of a larger $5 million grant Target will be distributing to 48 schools and two school districts in 31 states nationwide. The grants were first announced on the Ellen DeGeneres’ show in November. The contest caught the eye of Worcester County Technology Education Director Judy Mills, who forwarded the application to every school in the county.

Because of the scope of the contest and the number of schools competing, Mills admitted that it was a long shot. So when Shorts got the call from a Target representative telling her SHES was one of 50 winners in a field of roughly 10,000 applications, it was hard to believe, but certainly appreciated.

“Our school is so ready for this,” said Shorts.

Because the funding is unrestricted, SHES faculty can use it towards anything. Though options are still being weighed, Shorts expects the majority of the money to go toward upgrading and replacing technology.

Technology Coach Maryellen Nugent, who wrote and submitted the application, stressed that technology is more important now than ever.

According to Nugent, many students aren’t exposed to much technology at home, leaving it up to the schools to prepare them for an increasingly digital future.

“They’re just going to need such different skills as they go on,” said Nugent.

Technology skills begin early at SHES, with even pre-kindergarten students getting an introduction to computers. However, Nugent explained that the school is taxed to meet the needs of all students with their current equipment. Many computers are beginning to age and while dutifully maintained, are slowly succumbing to wear and tear.

With the boost from the $100,000 grant, SHES should be able to replace or refit most if not all of its technology.

Additionally, SHES is hoping to explore new equipment not yet available at the school. They began this week a trial with a new “smart table,” which Shorts described as a highly interactive learning tool. The trial will last 30 days and Shorts hinted that it may be one of the upgrades the school would like to make permanently.

When asked why she thought SHES was chosen from such a populated field, Shorts admitted that it was hard to be sure. The application process was simple and brief, she said, requiring only basic information about SHES and a short essay. Shorts guessed that the uncommon situation the school was in gave it a leg up on the crowd.

“We’re very rural,” she said. “We’re high poverty but we’re also high performance.”

SHES is both a Maryland and National Blue Ribbon School, as well as being classified as a Title 1 school, which means at least 40 percent of students come from a household of poverty, as measured by the occurrence of Free and Reduced Meal Plans.

Shorts added that a sincere if concise essay by Nugent also probably played a part in Target’s decision.

School officials will be discussing how to apply the unexpected funding next month and will put an emphasis on making purchases that will benefit SHES in the long run. There is also a chance that SHES may be one of two schools selected from the list of 50 winners to appear on the Ellen DeGeneres show.

While Shorts isn’t buying any plane tickets yet, she admitted that a 1:25 chance was better odds than the 1:10,000 SHES already beat.