Bright Ideas Grants Power Hands-On Learning for NC Students

Whether it’s taking virtual field trips around the world led by the school mascot or learning to grow plants without using soil, Bright Ideas grants are helping turn North Carolina classrooms into laboratories for imagination and creativity.

The Bright Ideas education grant program, a shared initiative of North Carolina’s 26 electric cooperatives, has funded more than 14,200 projects benefiting over 3.5 million students statewide since 1994.

With the Bright Ideas application deadline just nine days away, here’s a look at several projects that received grant funding from local cooperatives last year:

Bright Idea: “Hydroponics System”

Sponsoring Cooperative: Union Power Cooperative
Grant winner: Lacy McIntyre from Wingate Elementary School, Wingate, NC
Participating students: 400

Bright Ideas grant funding gave students the opportunity to grow hydroponic plants, which are grown without using soil. Students were able to investigate what types of crops grow best in different mediums, including water, sand and gravel.

“The Bright Idea funding allows me to teach my students to become more hands-on, learning the responsibility of growing food and understanding how food is grown,” said Lacy McIntyre, agricultural technology teacher at Wingate Elementary.

Students also learned about local food sources and the farm-to-table process.

“Lacy’s Bright Idea allows students to become more hands-on in their learning and discover how food is grown and where it comes from,” said Emily Aldridge, communications and public relations specialist and Union Power Cooperative. “In addition, students will retain responsibility for the food and plants they develop as they try new foods they may not be exposed to at home or in the school cafeteria.”

Bright Idea: “Around the World with Stanley Stallion”

Sponsoring Cooperative: Wake Electric
Grant winner: Cynthia Linton from Stough Elementary School, Raleigh, NC
Participating students: 480

Students virtually “traveled around the world” with Stough Elementary’s school mascot, Stanley Stallion, thanks to this project funded by a Bright Ideas grant.

Through their travels, students explored how artifacts and literature express cultural identity. They collaborated with Stanley Stallion to read, write, create cultural artifact kits and professionally publish a book. The project helped students develop cultural understanding, literacy, technology and communication skills.

Ms. Linton’s students at Stough Elementary took virtual field trips to different countries through a Bright Ideas project. Source: Wake Electric.

“Students need so many different skills to be successful nowadays and we feel that Ms. Linton’s Bright Ideas project will help them learn those ever important skills in a fun and engaging way,” said Don Bowman, assistant general manager and vice president of engineering and operations at Wake Electric. “In fact, about half our staff wishes they had a teacher like Ms. Linton when they were in school and a project like ‘Around the World with Stanley Stallion!’”

“Around the World with Stanley Stallion” also strengthened the school community and as students learned about other countries and cultures.

“Students and teachers at Stough are having an amazing time on the first part of this project as we travel around the world virtually with our school mascot, Stanley Stallion,” said Cynthia Linton, English literacy teacher at Stough Elementary. “So far, more than 150 students have collaborated with their peers, and Stanley, to write stories and take photos for our professionally published book.”

Bright Idea: “The Science of Sound: Building Musical Instruments”

Sponsoring Cooperative: Four County EMC
Grant winner: Laura Black from Rocky Point Elementary School, Rocky Point, NC
Participating students: 62

Through this project, students learned about the science behind sound production before working in small groups to build their own musical instruments from do-it-yourself kits. Students then learned to tune and play their musical instruments.

“Four County EMC is honored to be part of such an incredible program,” said Molly Griffin, communications specialist at Four County EMC. “We have a front-row seat to witness inspiring educators do amazing things. Ms. Black is a testament to our area’s creativity and innovation, taking music education to the next level. We can’t wait to see what comes next!”

The primary goal of this project was to show students the connections between science and music.  Additionally, by working in small groups, students were able to expand their communication skills as they worked together to complete the project.

“All 62 of my students built mountain dulcimers, the state instrument of NC, and learned how to play folk songs on the instruments thanks to this Bright Ideas grant,” said Laura Black, music teacher at Rocky Point Elementary. “I’m so thankful to Four County EMC for their support of education, and in particular, music education!”

Mrs. Black’s students built mountain dulcimers, the state instrument of NC, through her Bright Ideas grant project. Source: Laura Black.

Bright Idea: “Adaptive Coding Collaborators”

Sponsoring Cooperative: Union Power Cooperative
Grant winner: Adam Haas from Rocky River Elementary School, Monroe, NC
Participating students: 550

Students focused on strengthening and building their adaptive problem solving and collaboration skills through coding thanks to this Bright Ideas grant. They were tasked with using coding to solve everyday problems, which helped to build life skills beyond the classroom, including identifying a problem, assessing the issue, and then developing a solution.

“Since this is Adam’s fourth Bright Ideas grant in a row, it has allowed him to build on his project and impact many students from each grade level,” said Emily Aldridge, communications and public relations specialist and Union Power Cooperative. “The students will be able to express their creativity and gain confidence in problem-solving skills to take into the real world.”

“With this project, my students will be able to grow as thinkers and strengthen a skill set that will help them be successful in an ever-changing world,” said Adam Haas, STEM teacher at Rocky River Elementary. “This project will empower them with the confidence and skills of adaptive problem-solving and collaboration, which will assist them in becoming lifelong learners and problem-solvers.”

Bright Idea: “Flashlight Fun Fridays”

Sponsoring Cooperative: Blue Ridge Energy
Grant winner: Emily Roten from Blue Ridge Elementary School, Warrensville, NC
Participating students: 60

This Bright Ideas grant helped to purchase a set of engaging books called “Shine-A-Light” and flashlights to accompany them. These books are intended to be read with flashlights and have “secret” images and text that appear only when light is being shined on them.

The goal of the project was to get students to be excited about reading and encourage them to read more non-fiction text.

“Emily’s project helps students develop a love of reading with engaging books with images and text that only appear when the flashlight is shown on them,” said Tasha Rountree, director of community relations at Blue Ridge Energy. “Emily’s passion for engaging and encouraging students to read in her classroom is an inspiration. We are glad to support Flashlight Fun Fridays and other projects that bring innovation and creativity into our local schools through the Bright Ideas program.”

Bright Idea: “Today’s Mathematicians.  Tomorrow’s World Leaders.”

Sponsoring Cooperative: Haywood EMC
Grant winner: Glenna Rayburn from Bethel Elementary School, Canton, NC
Participating students: 76

Through Bright Ideas grant funding, students at Bethel Elementary were able to build a conceptual understanding of math using manipulatives to help them master the skills needed to tackle difficult abstract concepts in the fifth grade and beyond. Funding went to purchase a subscription to Mix and Math 360, which gave students the strong foundational skills they need to be successful mathematicians in the future.

“Haywood EMC is proud of the work being done at Bethel Elementary by Mrs. Rayburn,” said Mitch Bearden, manager of marketing and economic development at Haywood EMC. “We believe the impacts of this project will empower students to learn math in new and engaging ways!”

Bright Ideas Application Deadline Approaching

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.

Funding is available for K-12 classroom projects in all curriculum areas including art, history, math, reading, science and technology. Educators can apply as individuals or as a team and must include a budget, project goals, implementation plan and description of how the project will engage students and enhance their success.

To learn more about the program and apply, visit