DeLand students get $10,000 boost for weather station
DeLAND — Third-graders at DeLand-Weldon Elementary will get to play meteorologist without leaving the classroom after winning the grand prize in a national contest.
Third-grade teacher Kelli Benner got the news via phone from a representative of Great American Insurance Group, telling her that $10,000 was headed the school's way after DeLand-Weldon received the most online votes in the Great American School Spectacular.
"It was students telling their friends and relatives to vote and all of the surrounding communities getting involved that made a difference," Benner said. "I don't think we could have done it on our own as a small community, but we were the only school in Illinois, and I think that helped bring everyone together."
A portion of the money will be used to improve a recently installed weather station used for educational purposes at the school.
"What I'm really excited about for the kids is that this is going to provide a way for them to get their hands on some new technology the school could not have afforded on its own," Principal Ben Barth said.
Last fall, Benner came up with the idea to incorporate science in a hands-on setting for her students. She decided to explore ways to fund a weather station for her classroom.
Benner applied for the Great American School grant last fall, but didn't want to rely on winning the national contest. So she set up a page on donorschoose.org, asking friends and family to chip in.
In addition to the impressive amount community members gave, The Walt Disney Co. donated $500 to help the class buy the weather station. The equipment was installed in January and is linked to a computer in Benner's classroom.
Each week, a student is designated as the class weather person and presents various aspects of the current climate, including barometric pressure, humidity and wind speed.
"The kids love the computerized panel because it will pop up with a lot of different information and graphs, and I love that it is something they can use as much as they want and not have to worry about pushing a wrong button and deleting something," Benner said.
Benner plans to use $5,000 of the winnings to improve the weather station, and she is also researching ways to expand its capabilities so more people can use it. Her students have their own ideas about how to use the other half of the prize money — including replacing outdated or damaged books with new ones in class libraries.
"I think it would be awesome if we could use a good amount of this money to get some new books for our elementary classrooms," she said.
"Some of my students have come up to me with requests and they have started to make a list of books they would like."