By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
A local school has been thrust into the statewide spotlight.
Rachel Patterson Elementary School Principal John Brantley announced this week that the school is one of just 200 schools in the state that were each designated a Bicentennial School and awarded a $2,000 grant for development of a community betterment project.
According to a letter Brantley received from Gov. Kay Ivey, the 200 schools will “represent the State of Alabama in the historical Alabama Bicentennial commemoration initiative.” (Alabama was granted statehood on December 14, 1819.)
“It’s a big deal, it’s a really big deal,” Brantley said. “All schools throughout Alabama had the opportunity to apply for these grants. As part of the grant, we had to come up with a project that combines or involves the entire community, for the purpose of a good cause.”
Brantley said he and a number of faculty members met several times to discuss the matter before they settled on Pandas for Pets. (The school mascot is a panda.)
“Several teachers approached me about the grant,” the RPES principal said. “We met several times to talk about what our focus would be, what would be a good project. Several ideas were thrown out on the table; we ended up deciding that we would partner with the (local) animal shelter, and everybody got on board with the project.”
He added that the partnership between his school and City of Atmore / Poarch Creek Indian Animal Control Services has already begun on an informal basis, as Shelter Director Brandon James recently took several animals to meet the school’s first batch of 2018-19 Star Students. [See related photo on page 7A.] A formal launching of the project will be held in the near future.
“We’re going to have a kickoff celebration for the Pandas for Pets campaign,” Brantley said. “At one of the next PTO meetings, we’ll discuss the project with parents and outline the activities for the year. Also, the shelter director will do a short presentation.”
The Pandas for Pets campaign will establish drop-off points at local businesses to collect donations of food for dogs and cats at the shelter and will hold a Thanksgiving Food Drive for the animals in November.
Also planned are a Santa Paws in December, which entails the collecting by students of presents for animals at the local shelter, and a “new bed and blanket drive” for shelter residents in January. At least one special event is planned for each month of the 2018-19 school year.
“We’ll do something every month, getting the community to help with the animal shelter and bringing awareness to the animal shelter,” Brantley said. “A lot of people don’t even know we have an animal shelter here; they think it’s in Brewton.”
The local shelter is located at 206 Cindebran Drive, just off U.S. 31 West, behind the National Guard Armory.
The grant also requires that recipients establish a sustainability fund so that the project can continue after the one-year grant runs out. Their plan to do that involves, of course, the animal shelter, as well as potentially every student in the school.
“We’re going to get students involved in making and selling their own homemade dog and cat treats, and all our students will be able help,” Brantley said. “We plan to have our third-graders measure the ingredients; the second grade can mix all that together and make cookies; our first-graders can bind them, and our kindergarteners can label them so we can distribute them throughout city.”
He added that the state’s Bicentennial Committee would — on December 14, 2019 — choose 21 of the participating schools for designation as Bicentennial Schools of Excellence.
“We’re hoping to be named a Bicentennial School of Excellence,” the RPES principal said. “If we’re one of the schools of excellence, we’ll get to go to Montgomery and participate in the Bicentennial ceremonies. This ties in with our Leader in Me program. It helps teach our students to be leaders, and we’re really excited about that.”