CHECOTAH — Christmas is over for another year, but the staff and students at Checotah Public Schools still have gifts coming in — from Apple computers to band instruments.
Country music superstar Carrie Underwood, Checotah's most famous graduate, made wishes come true at her alma mater over the holidays, donating another $350,000 to the district through her Checotah Animal, Town, and School Foundation.
“It's wonderful. Carrie, she is such a great kid. We've known her all her life, and we're so thankful that ... she hasn't forgotten where she grew up,” Assistant Superintendent Toni Brown said.
All four of Checotah's schools will benefit from the donation.
“Late last year each of the schools created a list of their needs and I am so thrilled that the C.A.T.S. Foundation was able to fund it all,” Underwood said in a news release. “It gives me great joy knowing we are helping my hometown schools to offer an even better education to the students. They deserve it.”
In October, the 2005 “American Idol” winner returned to her hometown to help 200 volunteers assemble a custom-designed playground at Marshall Elementary School. Underwood hinted then that her foundation soon would be giving more aid to the district.
“I've been blessed in my life, and God's given me so much. And it is my responsibility to pass it on, I feel. I'm going to get to do a lot more,” she said.
Marshall Elementary, which has about 430 prekindergarten through second-grade pupils, will use the funds for computer software, a stage curtain for the auditorium, and new ground cover and shaded areas around the new playground.
“I was proud of it before, but now it's really amazing. ... People can come and play any time and there's a place to have a picnic, enjoy the children and have family time,” Principal Jann Ledbetter said in October.
“It just means so much because she's one of our children that grew up here. We love Carrie.”
At the intermediate school, which houses 350 third- through fifth-graders, the donation will put computer workstations in every classroom.
“Every student in that building will have access to a computer during the day,” Brown said.
At the middle school, the funds will buy 25 scientific calculators, furnish a 25-computer lab and establish an iPad lab with a dozen of the tablets.
“At the high school we had some funding from another source, so Carrie is funding about half the cost of an Apple computer lab. We didn't have any Apple computers in our system ... but we will have a new Apple lab for our business technology class,” Brown said, adding the computers were ordered before the holidays and have already arrived.
The Grammy-winning singer's foundation also funded music education projects. The district is building a new high school it hopes to open next fall, and the donation will pay for risers for the new vocal music room.
For the band program, the gift will pay for chairs, music stands and instrument lockers, as well as an electric piano and other instruments. In 2009, the foundation donated more than $115,000 in musical instruments to the district.
While the district paid for new marching band uniforms last year, the new gift will buy uniforms for the jazz and concert bands, too.
“It's just been a big boost to our band program,” Brown said. “This is something that the district probably would not have been able to furnish to our band. It's just extra special that now they're going to be able to have these things.”