Castaic Middle School kicks off voting for ‘Thank America’s Teachers’ challenge

CMSTV advisor and history teacher Ro Osano poses with Farmers Insurance agents and employees during the Castaic Middle School grant kick-off event for the “Thank America’s Teachers Dream Big Teacher Challenge” on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. Christina Cox/The Signal

Castaic Middle School is now turning to the community to help them win a $100,000 grant from the Farmers Insurance “Thank America’s Teachers Dream Big Teacher Challenge.”

In early August, the school was selected as finalist for the program, which gives away more than $1 million in education grants to teachers and projects that make a difference.

“We made it through the first round and we, Castaic Middle School, are one of 15 schools across the country—one of three in California—that are vying for a $100,000 grant,” Castaic Union School District (CUSD) Superintendent Steve Doyle said.

Chosen through popular vote in an online contest, five of the 15 finalist schools will receive a $100,000 to support their proposal and initiative.

“My daughter goes to CMS, this is my community,” said Christine Gonzales, a local Farmers Insurance agent who sponsored the grant.  “I’m incredibly excited.  It gives me chills every time I think about the opportunity to give $100,000 to a school.”

Farmers Insurance agents and employees cast their votes for Castaic Middle School’s “Connecting the Community” grant proposal at Castaic Middle School on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. Christina Cox/The Signal

Friday marked the beginning of the 32-day voting period for the Dream Big Teacher Challenge and Castaic Middle School celebrated the day with a morning kick-off ceremony.

“This year we rolled out for our new school year our new theme which is Make Hope Happen,” Doyle said.  “How appropriate for today that we have an opportunity to make hope happen for the future of Castaic.”

At Castaic Middle School, the grant will support the school’s proposal titled “Connecting the Community” that will upgrade the CMSTV studio and equipment.

“With this money we’ll be able to improve our video production program,” said CMSTV advisor and history teacher Ro Osano who was one of the primary writers for the grant.  “Right now our equipment is pretty old, we have 10-year old computers and cameras and it’s just hard to produce a quality show with old equipment.”

The new equipment will benefit 31 students by updating software from 2008, replacing eight outdated computers and modernizing the space’s operating system.

Castaic Middle School students conduct a segment of “Cougar News” in the CMSTV studio, which they are hoping to revamp with grant funds from the “Thank America’s Teachers Dream Big Teacher Challenge,” on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. Christina Cox/The Signal

In addition to providing the students with real-world experience, CMSTV will offer video services to non-profits in the Santa Clarita Valley and will offer basic camera classes to the community free of charge.

“By getting new equipment with this grant we can actually expand.  We can help the community by offering classes to them,” Osano said.  “Also with that, the kids will help nonprofits create PSAs… They can come to us and I can assign it as a long-term project for my students.”

One of the first beneficiaries of this community outreach will be the Castaic Animal Shelter which has partnered with Castaic Middle School and the Kids Loving Animals Within Shelters (KLAWS) club during the past two years.

“The KLAWS club is an amazing part of the community,” said Karen Stepp, animal care manager at Castaic Animal Shelter.  “They take photos of the animals, they read to the animals and the collaboration is just so much enrichment for the animals and the kids.  It brings them all closer together and it’s therapy for both of them.”

Stepp said the PSAs from the CMSTV students could help promote animal adoptions and bring more people from the community to the Castaic Animal Care Center.

“It could get the animals seen in the community,” Stepp said.  “It’s very important because if no one sees our animals then we won’t have people coming down to adopt.  That’s our main goal is to get every animal out, get them a home.”

Crawfish, center, casts his vote for Castaic Middle School’s grant proposal as his owner, Cinimon Clark, held a treat near the computer screen at Castaic Middle School on on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. Christina Cox/The Signal

With the community’s help, and daily votes on, this dream could become a reality for non-profits and Castaic Middle School students alike.

“This is not only a grant for our middle school students and our program here, but it’s for our whole Santa Clarita Valley,” Doyle said.

To vote for Castaic Middle School, follow these steps:

Step 1: Go to

Step 2: Click on “Vote for a Teacher”

Step 3: Click on “Vote for a $100,000 Proposal”

Step 4: Select “Ro Osano, Castaic Middle School, Castaic, CA”

Step 5: Type your e-mail address.  A confirmation e-mail will be sent to the inbox of the e-mail you entered.

Step 6: Click the confirmation link to finalize your vote.  Voting is not complete until you click the confirmation link.

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On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_

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