ESCAMBIA COUNTY, Fla. (WKRG) — An Escambia County teacher received a $7,000 grant to enhance her STEM program offered at Escambia County Public Schools’ Roy Hyatt Environmental Center.

Molly O’Connor received the grant from Grants for Excellence High Impact, made possible by the Florida Power and Lighting Company. The grant allowed her to purchase a long list of gardening equipment to improve and maintain a pollinator garden that’s used in many of the center’s hands-on lessons. She was able to invest in an extensive list of supplies from pencils to live butterflies needed for the program.

Molly O’Connor, Hyatt Environmental Center teacher, says they sharpen 60 to 100 pencils a day. Thanks to the grant, they were able to buy two sharpeners that make the tasks much easier so they can spend their time on more important things. 

“This is not a one and done; the equipment purchased with this grant for the ‘My How You Have Changed! The Metamorphosis of Science Lessons about Insects and Plants,’ will be used for years to come, allowing approximately 1,000 students and more than 55 teachers to participate annually,” O’Connor said. “Through these STEM lessons, we can cover many state benchmarks in several subject areas while differentiating instruction for all learning styles in a fun, hands-on, experiential way. Students are hearing it, drawing it, writing it, observing it, and doing it. What better way for students to grasp a concept and enjoy the learning process at the same time.”

The Grants for Excellence Program, funded by the Escambia County Public School Foundation and School District Education Foundation Matching Grant Program, is available for teachers of students in grades K-12 for opportunities that keep students engaged and excited about learning while simultaneously improving their performance. 

ECPS said more teachers will be able to fund high impact projects this year thanks to a $35,000 donation from FPL to support the Grants for Excellence Program. The donation is part of a $125,000 commitment from FPL, through its charitable arm, the NextEra Energy Foundation, to support teacher grants in eight school districts across Northwest Florida this fall. 

Escambia County Public Schools Foundation Executive Director Jo McArthur and School District Superintendent Tim Smith received the $35,000 donation from FPL during a check presentation at the Global Learning Center. Smith said the FPL teacher grants open doors for teachers to pursue new ideas and instructional strategies. 

“The first meaningful piece of this is the support from an important part of our community, FPL. We feel that support, we appreciate that support. It means a lot to us,” Smith said. “The second piece of this is it gives teachers opportunities to do things that they may have thought about or dreamt about but didn’t have financial means to do it, and that’s exciting for our teachers. We are thrilled that our teachers will have these opportunities, and we thank FPL for helping them come to fruition.”

O’Connor’s fellow teacher, Adam Bretschneider, established a Beach classroom, thanks to grant dollars including the FPL supported Grants for Excellence, and was able to purchase digital photo displays to enhance his “Seeing the Sea in a New Light” lesson, which involves students learning about the local marine life by seeing and identifying them in large aquariums. 

Adam Bretschneider, Hyatt Environmental Center teacher, displays one of the digital photo displays he was able to purchase with the grant.

“These grants give us the opportunity to dream and go after things that would not be feasible,” Bretschneider said. “When the kids come into the Beach classroom, it’s awe-inspiring for them. They have something new and exciting. We know we’re seeing success when you hear the students say, as they are boarding the bus to leave, ‘This is the best day of my life,” or ‘This is better than Disney World’.”

J.T. Young, vice president and general manager of the Northwest Florida region, pointed out the teacher donations are one way the Northwest Florida team continues to be committed to supporting its communities to help make them better places to live, work and raise a family. 

“One of the ways we do this is by investing in education and other organizations that make a difference in our communities and for the customers we serve,” Young said. “As they say in the moniker for ECPS, ‘we’re all in’ and our team at FPL is humbled to play a part in the important work our school partners are doing to support teachers and students through these grants.”