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story.lead_photo.caption Deb Walter, a physical education teacher at New Tech High School, reacts Wednesday as Gaven Smith, vice president for the Rogers Public Education Foundation, tells her she will receive a $30,000 grant at the Rogers school. The grant will pay for a 16-foot climbing wall, mountain bikes and land paddles and outdoor education equipment. The grant is the second-funded by a special bequeathment of outdoors enthusiast George Merwin to the Rogers Public Education Foundation. Merwin died in 2014. - Photo by NWA Democrat-Gazette / ANTHONY REYES • @NWATONYR

ROGERS -- Deb Walter said she was "overwhelmed and thrilled" upon receiving $30,000 to buy mountain bikes, a climbing wall and other outdoor recreational items for her students to use at school.

Rogers Public Education Foundation officials visited New Technology High School on Wednesday to surprise Walter, the school's physical education teacher, with an oversized check made out to her. Walter clasped her hands over her mouth as Gaven Smith, foundation vice president, approached her with the check.

George Merwin

George Merwin started and operated Aladdin Tool and Dye Co. for 25 years in Connecticut. He retired and moved to the Beaver Lake area with his wife, Elinore Bennett, in 1975. His passion was water sports and water safety and sharing it with others. Although the couple had no children, Merwin regularly invited school groups out to his dock where he took them boating and taught lessons on boating safety. Merwin died June 8, 2014. He was preceded in death by his wife in 2009.

Source: Rogers Public Education Foundation

"I'm just really taken aback by this because this is a lifetime dream for me, to get to teach at a school where I get to do my thing," Walter said, addressing a few dozen students assembled in the school's gymnasium.

She thanked school administrators and the foundation.

The $30,000 grant "gives us the money to finally get this thing launched off and do it, just really form an amazing program for you guys," Walter said. "And anything and everything you want to learn, we can teach you to do here at New Tech."

The students applauded.

"Are you guys excited?" Walter asked.

"Yeah!" the students shouted back.

It was the second grant the foundation has awarded using money bequeathed by George Merwin, an outdoors enthusiast who died in 2014. Merwin left more than $100,000 to the foundation to provide teacher grants in the area of outdoor education.

Jeff Belk, a Rogers High School outdoor education teacher, received the first Merwin grant last year. The foundation awarded Belk $29,674 for kayaking, archery, fly fishing and camping equipment.

Walter, along with fellow New Technology High School teachers JD Gunnell and Mark Morley, submitted their application under the title "Learning Starts on the Feet -- Not the Seat."

About one-third of the grant will pay for a 16-foot climbing wall. The rest of the money will go toward 25 mountain bikes, 15 land paddles and equipment to teach camping, outdoor cooking, fly fishing, archery and more.

"We feel our proposal for the George Merwin grant continues Mr. Merwin's legacy of sharing his love of education and nature through teaching real world outdoor experiences to young people," the grant application stated.

Among the needs identified in the application is to engage the school's students -- especially those deemed most at risk of dropping out -- in multiple ways that reduce stress.

"The proposed climbing wall will provide us a unique space to teach strategies that are critical for improving emotional brain health and greater capacity for confidence, cognition, and retention in their academic subjects," the application states.

The teachers hope to have the climbing wall completed before the end of 2017.

Walter is passionate about giving back to the students and getting them to try outdoor activities, Smith said.

"These are kids who wouldn't have these opportunities and these experiences otherwise," Smith said. "And those are the type of teachers and type of passion we like to support as a foundation. These people are doing God's work. They're giving back. They frequently try to do these things out of their own pocket. So we're here to supplement them and empower their passion to give our students a chance at being better citizens tomorrow."

There were four applications for the Merwin grant this year. Multiple teachers were involved in most of them, said Karyn Tecle, the foundation's development director.

The foundation formed in 1996. It distributed more than $167,000 in teacher grants and awards in 2016.

Walter has worked for the district since 1999. She taught at Kirksey Middle School and Crossroads, the district's alternative school, before moving to New Technology High School this school year.

Kirksey Middle School got a climbing wall in 2013 while Walter worked there. Fundraising for that wall took a few years.

Lance Arbuckle, New Technology High School's principal, called Walter "awesome." She wanted to come to the school, and he believed she'd be a good fit, he said.

"Every day in everything we do, we try to do education differently," Arbuckle said. "Deb and I had quite a bit of conversation about what it means to do physical education differently. It really fit in well with her style."

It was 10 years ago this month Walter received another honor: The National Association for Sport and Physical Education named her its National Secondary Physical Education Teacher of the Year.

NW News on 03/02/2017

Print Headline: Rogers teachers awarded $30,000 grant

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