How would you show your appreciation for a $100,000 windfall?
Try 1,240 thank-you notes.
That's how the student body at Chattanooga Center for Creative Arts plans to make an impression.
This afternoon, students and faculty of Hamilton County's performing arts magnet school will hold a celebration to thank representatives of Target Corp. for its grant of $100,000, which the school received earlier this year.
The jazz band will perform, the school auditorium will be decked out in red and white balloons, and seven students will read their thank-you cards aloud to Target representatives.
CCA was one of the 50 schools across the country that together received a total of $5 million in grants from the national retailer. The grant competition took school nominations from viewers of Ellen DeGeneres' TV talk show.
CCA parent Rhiannon Nelson nominated the North Chattanooga school where her daughter, Hannah, is an eighth-grader.
"When we heard about the grant, I was so surprised. I thought how lucky we were to even have a parent willing to submit our school to the contest," said senior Alex Lowe. "I felt like I must really go to a special school to be recognized like that for what we do."
In preparation for today's celebration, CCA Principal Debbie Smith purchased notecards, had them inked with the school logo, then distributed them among students and faculty. Everyone in the CCA building wrote one thank-you to Target and another to DeGeneres -- 620 notes to each.
Along with those notes, DeGeneres and Target will also receive a 2-minute video showing the school's diverse student body in activities throughout the school year. It was put together by art teacher Chad Burnette.
"I wanted them to see the kids they are helping," said Smith.
The students' cards range from sincere expressions of how the grant will improve their arts programs to irrepressible postscripts such as "I really love shopping at your store" on one Target note; "You Rock, Ellen!" on another to the TV host.
As would be expected from a student body brimming with creativity, numerous cards are decorated in artwork ranging from the Target bulls-eye to original designs.
WHERE THE MONEY WILL BE SPENT
Principal Smith sent surveys to students, parents and faculty asking their input on immediate needs that the grant should fund.
"We totaled the surveys and found common threads," she said.
The first improvement, already under way, is an update of the school auditorium's sound system. Two new auditorium speakers, a new amplifier and 15 head microphones for performers will be purchased.
"Before, the acoustics were not state-of-the-art," said Lowe, a musical theater major.
"In the middle of a performance it would be time for someone to sing and the microphone wouldn't come on and we'd miss the first line of the song. Having the head mics will help performers feel more confident onstage," she said.
Smith said by semester's end the school will have wi-fi access. Sophie Veys, sixth-grade class president, is already planning for this perk.
"I have an iPad and can use it to take notes in class. Now I do it the old-fashioned way with pen and paper," said the middle-school student.
Third, Smith said, all classrooms will have Elmos [document cameras that project onto a screen] with laptops and box lights to accompany them.
Smith said depending on how far funds can be stretched, the wish list also includes Promethean Boards and an upgrade to the school's computer lab.
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...