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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK Amy Lee, physical education teacher at Oakdale Middle School, is hugged by her students Thursday after learning she received a $23,875 grant from the Rogers Public Education Foundation for outdoor education in the gym at the school in Rogers. This is the third grant paid for by a special bequeathment of local outdoors enthusiast George Merwin, who left more than $100,000 to the foundation when he died in 2014. The grant will buy equipment including climbing wall mats, bikes, longboards and camping equipment.

ROGERS -- An Oakdale Middle School teacher was surprised Thursday with a $23,875 grant that will go to outdoor education equipment for her classes.

Rogers Public Education Foundation officials walked into the middle of physical education teacher Amy Lee's class Thursday morning with an oversized check. Her students, a mix of seventh- and eighth-graders, cheered wildly when Gaven Smith, foundation vice president, announced the award.

Other Grants

Rogers Public Education Foundation officials took time Thursday to present five other grants totaling $8,204 to Rogers orchestra teachers. Here are the grantees, how much they received and what they’ll use the money for:

• Bailey Carr, Oakdale Middle School, $750 for orchestra storage: Patriot Protection

• Rachel Czech, Elmwood Middle School, $1,100 for summer orchestra scholarships

• Kari Keiser, Heritage High School, $4,300 for orchestra scholarships

• Logan Mabry, Kirksey Middle School, $1,000 for summer strings camp scholarships

• Lisa Petersburg, Lingle Middle School, $1,054 for integrating iPad technology into orchestra class

Source: Rogers Public Education Foundation

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It was the third 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 for outdoor education.

Jeff Belk of Rogers High School received the first grant in 2016. Deb Walter, physical education teacher at New Technology High School, received the second one last year.

Lee intends to buy climbing wall mats, bicycles, helmets, long boards, pads and a variety of equipment for archery, fishing and camping.

"These kids love, absolutely love, to go outside and move and do things adventurous," Lee said.

The foundation had six applicants for this year's Merwin grant. Officials considered creativity and potential impact on students and the community when they read applications, said Karyn Tecle, the foundation's development and outreach manager.

Students and the community can use equipment Lee buys, Tecle said.

"We love that Amy's grant title was 'Getting Healthy Inside Starts with Going Outside.' And we agree with that," Tecle said. "We're so glad we can continue Mr. Merwin's passion for getting students outside."

Lee has spent her entire 16-year education career at Oakdale Middle School. The Merwin grant is by far the largest she's ever received, she said.

Oakdale started an outdoor education program last year, something Lee loves. It was challenging at first because of the school's lack of equipment, she said.

"I knew the high schools had gotten a (Merwin) grant previously, so I would always ask them if we could borrow whatever they had," Lee said. "So I would borrow some archery equipment and let the kids experience that, and some of the camping stuff. And we had some tent-building competitions. Everything we did, the kids just lit up. They loved it."

Receiving the Merwin grant makes her excited for the kids, she said.

"The kids here really don't have a lot, and what we give them here is probably the only thing they'll get as far as activity or anything like that. So I'm really, really excited for these kids to be able to experience what we'll be able to give them next year," Lee said.

Jeff Hernandez, Oakdale's principal, called Lee a "top-notch" teacher who wants kids to know how to be healthy.

"While she cares about all of the kids, she also has a great ability to focus on those kids who need extra help," Hernandez said. "So she always makes time for them. She coaches them along and brings them along in a really caring way."

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, according to a foundation news release.

Merwin's 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, according to the foundation.

Merwin died June 8, 2014. He was preceded in death by his wife in 2009.

The foundation, formed in 1996, works to promote and enhance the quality of education in the School District. The foundation gave out more than $190,000 in grants and awards last year.

NW News on 03/16/2018

Print Headline: Rogers teacher gets $23,875 outdoor grant

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