Featured Donor: Mesquite’s Southern Lady Improves Learning Results with Gift of Technology

Eighty-eight-year-old Dr. Ann S. Rice is giving back to her community in a stunningly contemporary currency: Chromebooks.

Dr. Rice is a lifelong educator who sought no public recognition but has over the past three years become the largest individual contributor to AdoptAClassroom.org, a national nonprofit that provides funding for teachers to purchase supplies and materials they need to do their job and for their students to succeed.

From Mesquite, NV, a town of 16,000 people along the western Arizona state border, Dr. Rice has revitalized two rural Nevada elementary schools by providing them with funding to buy, among other things, 776 Chromebooks complete with Google educational licenses — an addition that the principals of both schools saw as vitally important to their curriculums yet out-of-reach for their schools, until Dr. Rice made her gift.

Dr. Rice’s own story began in 1928 in Ashburn, GA. She graduated from Georgia State College for Women and began teaching at age 19. She and her late husband Myron, also a teacher, began a lifetime of adventure as they pursued their teaching careers around the world including schools and colleges in Florida, Georgia, Colorado, California and Australia.

Dr. Rice decided to focus her philanthropic giving on education after seeing some of its deficiencies when she was faced with a young cashier who could not count change. She asked a business associate Jim Wilson to find a way to help teachers in the classroom, and he found AdoptAClassroom.org, which proved to be a perfect fit. They dubbed their initiative Project GET SMART – with the GET standing for Giving Educators Tools. With an emphasis on elementary education, Rice and Wilson went to work.

They started small, first by adopting one Mesquite teacher’s classroom, then several. They responded to a request for an incubator for a science classroom and then supplies for an art teacher and then… suddenly 17 classrooms from several area elementary schools had been adopted. And the next year, 20 additional classrooms with grants to purchase materials the teachers had requested to improve the learning opportunities for their students.

During this past year Project GET SMART adopted one entire school in a nearby community and now a second school – including more than 50 additional classrooms. Both these schools and the previously adopted classrooms now have some of the necessary supplies and technology that the teachers requested to make learning easier, more practical and more fun.

In the early stages of Project GET SMART, Dr. Rice asked Mr. Wilson to help find out from the schools what they needed most. Not unexpectedly, technology was the answer. And while IPads were the initial request, the consensus view was in favor of Chromebooks, as more appropriate and affordable for student use in the classroom.

Principals of both Ute Perkins ES and Grant Bowler ES were key advocates for this technology. While some of the teachers recognized from the onset the incredibly important teaching tool Chromebooks have proven to be, others were concerned about their own learning curve. With the remarkable results revealed in the classrooms using the Chromebooks, they quickly became immersed in the conversion and were amazed with the results.

The transformation is evident on the students’ shining faces and the teachers’ heartfelt words of gratitude.

As she toured those schools late this spring, Dr. Rice heard one teacher after another attest that her grants have made an “unbelievable difference in the classroom.” Before her gift, each school was forced to rotate all of their classes through one common computer lab filled with outdated equipment. Now each student has an individual Chromebook to use for assignments and research.

The changes are nowhere more evident than in the classrooms themselves, where students are engaged and focused — no small feat in the final few weeks of the school year, where maintaining order can be a challenge as the weather warms and summer beckons. Teacher after teacher expressed deep gratitude for the Chromebooks Dr. Rice has funded for their students.

Ann Rice has a straightforward philosophy about education, believing it should be fun, “because if it is fun – the students will learn because they want to learn,” she said.

Many of the requests Project GET SMART received were for grade leveled books for the classrooms. “How can we expect our children to learn to read if we don’t give them books at different levels about a variety of subjects?” asked Dr. Rice.

One of her special gifts to the Ute Perkins music department was 23 student-sized guitars.

Dr. Rice remains modest about her contributions. She wants the requests to come from those who know best what is most needed to encourage learning. “They asked for this. I didn’t even know what a Chromebook was. I do not want to grant things to educators that they do not want.”

Grant Bowler principal Shauna Jessen and Ute Perkins principal Hal Mortensen had toured Las Vegas area schools and realized with chagrin how much their respective schools needed. “We knew that without some special windfall there would be little we could do to solve our technology deficits,” lamented Ms. Jessen.

But then Ute Perkins began receiving some support – and then that support just blossomed.

“I called Hal and said ‘Is the wind blowing?” Ms. Jessen relayed with a broad grin.

“We are so thrilled.”

Dr. Rice was rewarded with emotional hugs from students and earnest gratitude from teachers and their principals. She was able to see her philosophy in beautiful action: learning is fun when it involves focus and personal interaction. Technology may be the password to both!

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