Castaic Middle School students and staff received the surprise of a lifetime Monday when they learned that they were one of five schools throughout the nation to win a $100,000 grant from Farmers Insurance.
“It was really unexpected,” eighth grade student Chris Taguba said. “I thought it was going to come a week later but then they just decided to do it at the pep rally and everyone went crazy about it.”
With the “Thank America’s Teachers Dream Big Teacher Challenge” grant, Castaic Middle School plans to revamp its CMS TV program with new equipment, computers and software, while offering free PSAs and camera classes to the public.
“This is going to be a big step for the program. For years we had very little funding so we have very old equipment and now the kids are going to have a fully-digital studio and we’re going to be able to get all digital equipment,” said Ro Osano, a history teacher and advisor to the CMS TV program. “It means that their stories are going to be better quality and that they’re going to spend less time on [creating] them.”
In early-August, the middle school was selected as one of 15 finalists throughout the nation for the grant program, which gives away more than $1 million in education grants each year.
“I’ve been on cloud 9 since we found out we were finalists,” Osano said.
During the following month, from Sept. 29 to Oct. 30, the Castaic community rallied behind the middle school to vote for Osano and his proposal, “Connecting the Community,” online.
“Being a very small district in a small town in California to being one of five schools getting $100,000 each, I think it’s unfathomable,” Principal Bob Brauneisen said. “This could have not have been done without the community reaching out to family, friends and with all the help we had from Mrs. Schubert and Christine Gonzales, our Famers Agent, it’s absolutely phenomenal.”
For 32 days, students, teachers, staff, parents and community members voted multiple times per day and reached out friends and family across the globe to support the Castaic Middle School proposal.
“It was a community effort. Every time I would go somewhere and somebody saw me and would recognize me they would say to me ‘I voted today,'” Osano said. “I think that’s the advantage of a small district is the community gets behind everything that somebody does or an organization does or especially the schools. They have that common cause and it’s going to benefit them directly and the community directly.”
This was true for Christine Gonzales, a local Farmers Insurance agent, whose daughter was part of the CMS TV program last year.
“My kids are actually part of the Castaic School District and to be a part of a company that allows us to give back to the community in this way is just amazing,” Gonzales said. “I think it’s going to make such a huge difference.”
For the students, the grant provides them the opportunity to work with state-of-the-art software and equipment in an updated studio space and reinvigorated campus environment.
“I think we’re mostly looking forward to rebuilding the sets because we had to work with sets that were not that good,” seventh grade student Faith Violet said as her friend, eighth grade student Estrella Ahedo, agreed. “And we’re hoping to make better shows.”
Eighth grade students Aidan Lindquist and Chris Taguba were also looking forward to getting their hands on new equipment and more reliable computers.
“I think I’m looking forward to the new cameras,” Taguba said. “We just have DLSRs but we’re going to get these big camcorders like the one the news station has and probably new computers as well because now we’ll get a lot faster storage and memories.”
The grant’s reach is also expected to extend outside of the Castaic Middle School’s walls as the students provide video services to the district and local non-profits free of charge.
“We’re going to be able to provide videos for the school and for the district,” Osano said. “When they need [videos], the kids can be assigned that work and they can do it and now they have the equipment to do it and do it quickly.”
And through this experience of working with professionals in the community, CMS TV students will gain the knowledge and skills needed to advance their futures in the broadcast industry.
“It’s an incredible experience to provide our kids with cutting-edge technology in an industry that’s right in our backyard,” Brauneisen said.
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_