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Riverside Elementary’s $10,000 long shot

Thu., Feb. 14, 2013

Frustrated with its antiquated computers, teacher entered contest that might pay off

Teacher Mindy Shaw entered a national contest on a whim to win $10,000 for Riverside Elementary School.

She wrote a 300-word essay about the school’s aged computer lab, took a picture showing a pile of computers in disrepair and sent it to the Great American Classroom Makeover contest.

Shaw recently learned the school is one of 10 finalists out of 550 entries nationwide in the contest sponsored by Great American Financial Resources. The ultimate decision is up to an online vote, and the fifth-grade teacher, who is not a social networker herself, has been working the phones, email and any other angle she can think of to encourage votes for Riverside.

“I emailed the (Washington) governor and told him, ‘I voted for you, would you vote for me?’ ” Shaw said. “I called the Ellen DeGeneres show. One of my former students is tweeting Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates. We’ve called Rachael Ray and Katie Couric.” She has friends stumping for votes on Facebook, too.

Riverside – a district of about 1,700 students alongside the Little Spokane River, 35 miles north of Spokane – is competing for the prize against schools in much larger districts such as Austin, Texas; Wilmington, Del.; and Detroit.

“It’s not just a Riverside thing,” Shaw said. “It’s a Northwest pride thing. We’re the only school in the Northwest that’s a finalist.”

The school’s computer lab has 30 antiquated computers; on Monday, some students waited 20 minutes for the computers to boot up. “Chairs are broken, often kids stand; signs are taped on several stations saying they don’t work and the printer doesn’t print,” Shaw wrote in her entry essay. “All in all it is a sad state of affairs and new computers are certainly not something we can ask for with budget cuts. As teachers we are constantly asked to do more with less and we do so constantly with smiles pasted on because we love our kids and live to teach.”

Shaw has taught in Riverside for 14 years and works in a classroom next door to her husband’s.

Angela Egertson, 11, said Monday it’s frustrating to use the computer lab; “There are so many signs on them saying they (the computers) won’t boot up.”

Shaw said the district is tight-knit and has many great aspects, but when it comes to computers, “I just want our kids to have the same opportunities as many other schools.”

The school district, which spans 185 square miles, was founded in 1935 and has a history of tug-of-war with the community over money.

Time after time voters have turned down a levy or bond on the first try, according to news archives, only to have it reintroduced and passed – barely – on the second.

The most recent levy, in February 2012, was no exception. It failed on the first try, then the district lowered the levy amount and it passed by 11 votes in April.

“We continue to work to tell voters what we need and why we need it, and sometimes people just need a second time around to understand that,” said Superintendent Roberta Kramer. “People are really interested in our schools, and how our kids benefit here. And because we don’t have a town, sometimes we need to work differently to convey that message.”

School buses travel widely to pick up students from Deer Park, Chattaroy and Colbert to attend one of the district’s six schools.

The schools act as the area’s community centers, Kramer said. “Even people who don’t have children in the schools go to the games and events – all of our music events are well attended as well as drama and sporting events. Folks come to those things.”

The most popular event is in December, when third-graders and the high school drama class perform together, she said. “That’s hugely attended and it shows one of the ways we connect the kids. We’re small enough we can do that.”

Although the levy passed last year, making ends meet has been tough for the district, as it has for many rural districts around the nation, Kramer said.

“We have to manage the priorities constantly,” she said. That’s why “we are very excited about this opportunity and we are hopeful.”

Shaw said even if Riverside Elementary School doesn’t win the contest, just being in the running “has generated so much positive energy around the district.” Additionally, it has been a chance to teach children a few valuable lessons.

“I’m big on teaching kids stick-to-itiveness, endurance, being humble, hard work and all those golden-rule-like values,” Shaw said. “This is a real-life example.”

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