BAY MINETTE, Ala. (WKRG) – Baldwin County High School teacher Hunter Bates was surprised Tuesday morning with a big check.

“The $500 is for the kids and they’re going to use it all and their education is going to be better because of it,” he said.

The University of South Alabama is partnering with the College Football Playoff Foundation, awarding Bates with $500 as part of the ‘Extra Yard For Teachers’ program, money he’ll use for a pond restoration project on campus with the help of his students.

“The pond hasn’t been taken care of for a while, so it needs some good restoration to bring it back to health,” Bates explained.

Last year the pond was overgrown with vegetation and debris, but since that time Bates’ earth, space and biology students have removed the litter, laid new pipes to restore water flow and they’ve introduced native species to the pond.

“It’s somewhere really cool where I can go out in nature and teach some really cool projects,” Bates said.

University of South Alabama Professor Dr. Paige Vitulli said she looks forward to surprising teachers every year.

“Any day that we can come in and support teachers in any way is amazing,” she said.

New microscope technology will be purchased for the classroom with Tuesday’s check, allowing students to collect better data from the pond and visualize it together.

Bates was this year’s top individual winner, with 3 other teachers in Mobile County receiving individual recognition. Melisa Motes from Barton Academy and Miranda Manley from Clark-Shaw Magnet School received $250. Kris Cieutat at Williamson High School received $100.

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