Making an impact


Karen Neill, first grade teacher at Blountsville Elementary, pauses during hands-on learning time with Ian Floyd, Daniel Stillwell, and Bella Walker.

Karen Neill, first grade teacher at Blountsville Elementary, pauses during hands-on learning time with Ian Floyd, Daniel Stillwell, and Bella Walker.

With numbers expected to hit $3.5 million this year in support for county schools, the Blount County Education Foundation (BCEF) is celebrating its 20th year in existence.

To date, the BCEF has provided $3,380,454 in support through classroom grants and summer learning programs, as well as other great projects such as the High School Ambassadors, STEAM Labs and Activities, Youth Leadership Programs, and the Virtual Learning Project.

The BCEF, which is governed by the Board of Education, consists of 16 volunteer Blount County members representing all communities of the county. Two members, Gregg Armstrong and Jim Henderson, have been on board since its inception.

Executive director Mitchie Neel praised the board saying, “We have strong leadership in our board. They give generously of their time and energy to support the work of the foundation.”

When asked why the BCEF has been successful, Neel pointed out that they have a unique program for many reasons. It is 100 percent student focused. Resources are visible in the classroom and being utilized every day. The summer programs, which have grown every year since beginning in 2011 and served more than 1,200 students this summer, promote continued academic growth throughout the summer. The board has maintained a high standard that must meet the foundation’s motto of promoting academic excellence in Blount County Schools.

Mrs. Neill’s classroom grant provides first graders with multi-sensory, hands-on, active, and child-centered learning experiences. The project allows students to work together to create, build, imagine, and laugh, all while using resources supporting science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM).

Mrs. Neill’s classroom grant provides first graders with multi-sensory, hands-on, active, and child-centered learning experiences. The project allows students to work together to create, build, imagine, and laugh, all while using resources supporting science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM).

The foundation’s main project continues to focus on classroom grants. In their first year, the foundation awarded grants to 23 teachers, eight of whom are still working in Blount County schools. Last year the foundation awarded 157 grants. This year BCEF will add an additional one-time $2,000 anniversary celebration grant to commemorate their first 20 years of making an impact for students.

Neel said, “Student impact is why we do this. Our data pattern continues to demonstrate a move in a positive direction.” She did say however, the results are not tied to any specific data. One positive direction Neel noted is the county graduation rate has increased to 92 percent.

Without the support of individuals and businesses, BCEF would simply not exist. In addition to the support of individuals and businesses, organizations (known as grantors) provide donations to the BCEF to extend support to Blount County students. Neel said, “These grants are invaluable to us as we just couldn’t implement important projects without them.”

Current grantors include Alabama Power Foundation (summer program), Appalachian Regional Commission (Health Occupations teacher unit at BCCT and STEAM resources/activites), Blount County Literacy Council (summer program), Cawaco RC&D (summer program supplies), Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham (STEAM lab), Daniel Foundation of Alabama (summer program), Dollar General Literacy Foundation (summer program supplies), HomeTown Bank of Alabama (summer program and more), Sail – Summer Adventures in Learning (summer program), and United Way of Central Alabama (reading and math intervention, summer).

As BCEF kicks off its 20th year, Superintendent Rodney Green summed up their impact by saying, “The BCEF is an important and crucial part of our efforts to educate our students. Without the foundation’s help, we couldn’t do what we’ve been able to do for students. The great thing about the foundation is they focus on every community, every school, and each student. We are so fortunate to have the BCEF helping us to meet the needs of Blount County students.”