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Triangle educators awarded more than $170K for Bright Ideas during American Education Week

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Editor’s note: This press release was originally published by North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives.

The hallways of the Dorothy and Roy Park Alumni Center at N.C. State University were buzzing with excitement as over 100 educators and school leaders from the Triangle and surrounding areas filled the iconic building. Conversations of creativity and curiosity flowed through the ballroom as each teacher shared the exciting details of their Bright Ideas project with their colleagues.

For 20 years North Carolina’s electric cooperatives have recognized these classroom innovators with a Bright Ideas celebration, and this year’s group walked away with more than $170,000 to fund their classroom projects aimed at bringing learning to life for their students.

The annual event, which is hosted by Wake Electric, Piedmont Electric, South River EMC, Central Electric and North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives honors the hard work and commitment these teachers dedicate to the next generation.

“Classroom projects that enrich learning can be costly,” said Nelle Hotchkiss, senior vice president and chief operating officer for North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives.

“Many teachers personally fund experiences that bring learning to life for students, and we recognize how important those lessons are in – and beyond – the classroom. That, combined with our dedication to supporting the communities we power, is why North Carolina’s electric cooperatives created the Bright Ideas program all those years ago.”

Nelle Hotchkiss, Senior VP and COO for North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives
Courtesy of North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives

For many of these educators, they are hoping to bridge the gaps in education that exist in rural communities across our state. These grants will restock libraries, bring top of the line robotics to STEM classes, and plant the seed of sustainable food practices with greenhouses. Grant winners say these opportunities are life-changing for many of their students.

“This program is special, because without Bright Ideas my library would be bare and stuck back in time,” said Mauriah Smith, a media specialist at North Elementary in Caswell County. “This program has brought us to life. When my student’s come in and want to know what we are creating each day, the only reason they can ask that is because of my local co-op investing back into our school.”

Educators gather in ballroom for teacher-led panel discussion. Courtesy of North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives

Some attendees say the Bright Ideas program is an experience that keeps on giving, many years later.

“These grants from previous years are still used today in my classroom,” said Ashley Bailey, a Roxboro Community School biology teacher and six-time Bright Ideas Grant winner. “Things I received back in 2017, my students are still using today. These grants have a huge impact that continues year after year for our students.”

For 29 years, North Carolina’s 26 electric cooperatives have awarded more than $15 million in grants to fund nearly 14,200 projects, reaching more than 3.5 million students.

Next year is the program’s 30th anniversary. Applications to apply for a Bright Ideas grant for this commemorative year open in April and run until September. All 26 of North Carolina’s electric cooperatives select Bright Ideas winners each year, with grants available in all 100 counties. North Carolina K-12 educators can learn more and apply at


EdNC staff reporting relies on staff, interns, and columnists.