Tallassee City Schools sent four employees to Orange Beach last week for a conference on grant writing.

Titled “Grants 4 Schools Workshop,” the instruction was led by a former teacher and principal named Susi Epperson.

Superintendent Wade Shipman led the team chosen to participate, which included myself from Tallassee High School, Tallassee Elementary School’s Brittany Spencer and Southside Middle School’s Josh Taylor.

Mrs. Epperson, a native of Arkansas, didn’t waste time with icebreakers or other introductions; she had already made cards with our names on them and was able to call on us at various intervals during her three days of meetings.

She was quite the colorful character. She may have been the most well-dressed presenter I’ve ever seen at an educational conference. I suppose she had to make it interesting, as we were only a few feet from the beach sands and cool waves of the Gulf of Mexico.

We learned, for lack of a better phrase, where the money is. There are educational foundations whose sole purpose is funding various aspects of schools. I’d heard of most of them, like National Endowment for the Arts or the Ford Foundation. They are the kinds of names you might hear at the introduction or conclusion of a program on PBS.

Then there are endowments in which money is set aside for certain schools, towns, people related to a specific person and so on. A local example might be the Mildred Weedon Blount Foundation. 

Finally, there were grants from big box retailers such as Walmart, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Target and Dollar General that have money set aside to give away — all one needs to do is follow the procedures on their applications.

The magic in applying for grants, we learned, really lies within two areas. One, the person writing it must be a good writer who can succinctly request, within a few sentences, assistance for their school or system.

The other part is what we really learned the most about — where to dig to find all the facts and figures about our community. Nearly every grant application asks for this information.

Locally, we discovered Tallapoosa County is 36% obese while Elmore County is 34%. Eighteen precent of Tallapoosa County citizens are smokers and 17% of Elmore County folks smoke as well. 

The median household income for the Tallapoosa side is $43,361 and it is $59,347 on the Elmore side. While 88% of our locals have completed high school, only around 55% pursued a college degree. 

A shocking statistic uncovered in census data is 44% of Tallapoosa County students live in single-parent homes compared to 31% in Elmore County.

When it came to quality of life (availability of businesses, doctors, et al), we discovered Elmore County ranks eighth in Alabama and Tallapoosa County ranks 46. This is out of all 67 counties. Considering the wealth around the Lake Martin area, it was a surprise to see the Tallapoosa numbers drop so precipitously compared to the Elmore numbers.

Before we left the conference, we were encouraged to apply for one grant. I wrote, after talking with my teaching partner Robby Glasscock, “with social distancing and sanitation requirements due to COVID-19, students will not be permitted to share instruments anymore. Our school is in need of band instruments at the beginner level.” 

I requested $5,000. I will find out in 60 days whether or not we are approved. Hopefully, we will have an idea of what school will be like by then, too.  

Michael Bird is a music teacher for Tallassee City Schools and regular columnist for The Outlook’s sister paper, The Tallassee Tribune.