Bright Ideas Grants Light Up Learning in NC Classrooms

From testing local bodies of water for contaminants to building Lego walls that expand students’ imagination and creativity, North Carolina’s educators are lighting up learning in classrooms across the state thanks to the Bright Ideas education grant program.

Now that teachers and students are back to school, here’s a look at some of the innovative projects funded by North Carolina’s electric cooperatives.

Bright Idea: “Water, Water Everywhere – but is it really safe?”

Sponsoring Cooperative: Albemarle EMC
Grant winner: Michele Swinney from Perquimans Middle School, Hertford, NC
Participating students: 175

This project gave students the opportunity for hands-on learning by collecting water samples from local bodies of water. Students tested the samples and determined whether the water was safe to drink. Grant funding enabled the purchase of water quality test kits.

What they are saying: “Michele’s project is giving her students hands-on experience helping solve real-world issues,” said Chris Powell, coordinator of public relations at Albemarle EMC. “We are inspired by her dedication to her students and proud to have played a role in helping bring her bright idea to life.”

“The main goal of the project is to allow students to perform hands-on science activities as they collect and test water samples from local bodies of water,” said Michele Swinney, science teacher at Perquimans Middle School. “Any time you can get students doing hands-on learning, you open the door for creativity.”

Students at Perquimans Middle School collect water samples for testing. Source: Michele Swinney

Bright Idea: “Rubik’s Cube Challenge”

Sponsoring Cooperative: Brunswick Electric
Grant winner: Sharon Harris from East Columbus High School, Lake Waccamaw, NC
Participating students: 30

Through a Bright Ideas grant, Mrs. Harris was able to purchase 50 Rubik’s Cubes to be used in the “Rubik’s Cube Challenge.” Working in pairs, this activity challenged students to think abstractly and solve puzzles using logic and problem-solving skills. Mrs. Harris has won 15 Bright Ideas grants during her career.

What they are saying: “Sharon’s project uses a unique combination of innovation and creativity to teach her students problem solving skills and teamwork,” said Wendy Koonce, communications specialist at Brunswick Electric. “We’re excited to see her class learning, working together, and having fun while doing it. We know her students are learning valuable lessons that will take them far in and out of the classroom.”

“This project has been so rewarding,” said Sharon Harris, science teacher at East Columbus High School. “To see my students work together and encourage one another, or to see them overcome something they didn’t think was possible, that’s what it’s all about.”

Bright Idea: “Create, Visualize and Learn with 3D Pens”

Sponsoring Cooperative: Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative
Grant winner: Jessea Waterfield from Cape Hatteras Elementary School, Buxton, NC
Participating students: 25

The grant funded sets of 3D pens and filament for third grade students at Cape Hatteras Elementary School. These items were used to help students create, visualize, and better understand key concepts during the school year, such as creating models of different landscapes, making representations of plant parts, constructing 3D shapes and designing fictional characters.

What they are saying: “Jessea’s commitment to the education of our island’s youth is inspiring and we are pleased to help bring this project to life,” said Laura Ertle, director of public relations & marketing at Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative.

“I am so excited to bring this opportunity to my students,” said Jessea Waterfield, third grade teacher at Cape Hatteras Elementary. “Learning will truly come to life with these materials, thank you for your support!”

Jessea Waterfield (left) and Beverly Hagy of Cape Hatteras Elementary won Bright Ideas grants from Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative. Photo by Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative.

Bright Idea: “Hands on Music Learning”

Sponsoring Cooperative: Carteret-Craven Electric Cooperative
Grant winner: Luana Palimetakis from W. J. Gurganus Elementary School, Havelock, NC
Participating students: 360

This Bright Ideas grant funded new instruments and materials for music classes at the K-5 elementary school.  Through the purchase of new instruments, Mrs. Palimetakis is able to design new games and activities to engage young musicians and enhance their learning through teamwork and collaboration, building skills applicable in the music classroom and beyond.

What they are saying: “Mrs. Palimetakis’ grant gives her students unique ways to learn music concepts through the use of various tools allowing all types of learners to practice their skills,” said Melissa Glenn, communications director at Carteret-Craven Electric Cooperative. “The co-op is proud to fund this and other Bright Ideas grants that provide a positive impact on the lives of students in our service area.”

“The support provided through Bright Ideas has allowed me to offer so much variety to my students that I feel they receive a more complete music education while at our school,” said Luana Palimetakis, music teacher at W. J. Gurganus Elementary. “I love that the Bright Ideas program is open to educators in all subject areas, reiterating the fact that all content is important to help our students grow and expand their horizons.”

Bright Idea: “Building Creative Thinkers”

Sponsoring Cooperative: Lumbee River EMC
Grant winner: Kim Brown from Sycamore Lane Elementary, Laurinburg, NC
Participating students: 800

This Bright Ideas grant helped to fund an 8 by 12 foot Lego wall at Sycamore Lane Elementary. Students are able to build their own lego creations or use Lego Challenges to design new projects. The primary goal of this project is to give all students the opportunity to stretch their imagination and creativity while working together.

What they are saying: “Lumbee River EMC is committed to building a brighter future for our region and education is critical piece of the puzzle,” said David Spencer, communication specialist at Lumbee River EMC. “We’re proud to continue our long history of supporting educators and the students who will become our future leaders.”

“This project’s biggest impact is expanding our students’ creativity,” said Mrs. Kim Brown, media specialist at Sycamore Lane Elementary. “Kids are filled with imagination, they love to create and design, and the Lego Wall is going to give them a chance to do that.”

2023-24 Bright Ideas Grants Available Now for NC Teachers

North Carolina’s electric cooperatives funded over 600 innovative classroom projects by awarding nearly $715,000 in Bright Ideas grants to K-12 teachers in 2022.

Since 1994, North Carolina’s electric cooperatives have collectively issued over $15 million in grants that have supported more than 14,200 projects and benefited well over 3.5 million students statewide.

For teachers interested in applying for a Bright Ideas grant, the deadline to submit an application for the 2023-2024 school year is Sept. 15 in most counties, but applicants should confirm the specific date with their local electric cooperative.

To learn more about the program and apply, visit