Thanks to community support, the face of Charlotte Jewish Day School has changed drastically in the last few months.
CJDS, at 5007 Providence Road near Fairview Road, took part in a nationwide contest sponsored by Kohl's last fall, in which supporters of any school in the country could visit the Kohl's contest page on Facebook and vote for their school. Each person got 20 votes, but only five could go to a single school.
The 20 schools with the most votes each won a half-million dollars.
There were more than 11 million votes cast, and thanks to CJDS supporters galvanizing community support, the small school, with less than 120 students in grades kindergarten through fifth, nabbed 11th place.
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The school received the $500,000 in November, and soon after began spending the money where it was needed most.
"We didn't spend it all because I want to make sure we do it thoughtfully and don't just go on a shopping spree," said CJDS Principal Mariashi Groner.
The school already has replaced its 25 desktop computers (most of which were 12 years old) and purchased 43 laptops. A speaker system has been installed throughout the school, and as a reward, students get to give the morning announcements.
"It really makes the school feel more centralized," said Groner.
The school also is buying its first bus, which will arrive in April. Until now, CJDS has relied on parent volunteers for every outing.
"You lose a little of that school spirit when you're split up in cars," said Groner. Now there will be a sense of spontaneity, she said.
In fall, the school also plans to use the bus for morning and afternoon pick-ups at a designated spot.
About $5,000 has been set aside for a rolling cart, designed by local occupational therapy center Pathways for Learning.
The cart, which can move from classroom to classroom as needed, is loaded with educational tools, such as stress balls and weighted vests, for students who find it difficult to pay attention or do assignments the typical way.
One of the biggest expenditures will be the school's new science lab, which is still in the planning phase. A science curriculum currently is being written that matches national standards. After the curriculum is completed, the school will hire someone to design a lab to meet those needs.
The school also plans to buy iPods, so music can be used as a teaching tool in the classroom, as well as flip cameras to add another dimension to students' education. On the fourth grade's upcoming trip to Raleigh, students will use the flip cameras to answer a set of questions by making a movie, which later will be presented to the class.
The CJDS website is under construction, and updates to the current playground are in order as well, said Groner.
So far, the school has spent about $150,000, which means there's still $350,000 left to spend.
Groner said the whole experience has been great for students, and not just because of the school's new amenities. The students have seen what determination and community unity can accomplish.
It shows the students that "if you try hard and work hard enough at something, you really can get it," said Groner. "Even today, we're still blown away ... that so many people cared about us to vote for us."
"We never could have done it without the help of the community," said Groner. "Hopefully we can make them proud as we educate these children."