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Students pay it forward by helping their teachers win Extreme Classroom Makeover prizes

Danielle Roderick, teacher at Catlettsburg Elementary School in Sevierville, Tennessee, was named winner of the $25,000 grand prize in ORAU’s 2023 Extreme Classroom Makeover

Danielle Roderick, a fourth-grade teacher at Catlettsburg Elementary School in Sevier County, Tennessee

Danielle Roderick’s students understand the concept of paying it forward.

Roderick, a fourth-grade teacher at Catlettsburg Elementary School in Sevier County, was named the winner of the ORAU 2023 Extreme Classroom Makeover after judges reviewed the video she submitted in which she and her students creatively demonstrated her classroom’s need for STEM resources using a Jurassic Park theme.

“It’s not just for us that we’re winning this, but for students who come after us as well,” a group of Roderick’s students wrote in a note to Tala Shatara, host of WATE-TV’s Living East Tennessee, where the teacher was invited to discuss her win on Friday, March 31, 2023.

ORAU surprised Roderick with the announcement that she won the grand prize of $25,000 for new classroom technology on Friday, March 24, 2023. Roderick also won the Viewers’ Choice Award, which snared another $2,500 in prize money for new technology.

“It feels amazing that someone like ORAU would care enough about our kids and the future, because we spend so much of our own money on things (for our classrooms),” Roderick said.

Roderick and her students created mockups of the technology she hopes to buy, including virtual reality glasses, iPads, 3D printers, an interactive table and more out of everyday objects like plastic sheets, cardboard tubes and boxes.

She plans to use some of the equipment she buys to launch a podcast where students can talk about dinosaurs and other topics mentioned in the classroom.

Roderick received the surprising news during an already scheduled pep rally at the school Friday morning. A handful of teachers were selected to participate in blindfolded soccer kicks. When Roderick’s turn came, Principal Kim Conrad interrupted the game to allow Andy Page, ORAU president and CEO, to present Roderick with two oversized checks.

Page has always been touched by the “pay it forward” element of Extreme Classroom Makeover.

“The kids in the video who are asking for the equipment aren’t the direct beneficiaries because they’re going to move on next year, but they’re paying it forward to the kids who are coming behind them,” Page said

Rebecca Layton, a seventh-grade teacher at Karns Middle School

Rebecca Layton, a seventh-grade teacher at Karns Middle School in Knox County, Tennessee

Rebecca Layton, a seventh-grade teacher at Karns Middle School in Knox County, received the runner-up prize of $5,000. The check was presented during a surprise announcement at the school on Wednesday, March 29, 2023.

Layton said her students will to continue to be involved in the process of what to do with the Extreme Classroom Makeover prize money.

“I definitely want my students to help me decide what to do to design a classroom that will be more modernized and have equipment and technology that will be relevant to them,” Layton said.

This is the 14th time ORAU has presented the Extreme Classroom Makeover as part of the company’s ongoing efforts to strengthen STEM education throughout East Tennessee. ORAU launched Extreme Classroom Makeover in 2008. Since then, ORAU has awarded $493,000 to area STEM educators. Prizes have been awarded every year except 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

STEM teachers of third through tenth grade students that work for an East Tennessee public school within 50 miles of Oak Ridge are eligible to apply to ORAU’s annual competition. Applicants are asked to submit a video that creatively explains their need for technology in the classroom and how this technology will improve the educational experience of their students.

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ORAU, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, provides science, health, and workforce solutions that address national priorities and serve the public interest. Through our specialized teams of experts and access to a consortium of more than 150 major Ph.D.-granting institutions, ORAU works with federal, state, local, and commercial customers to provide innovative scientific and technical solutions and help advance their missions. ORAU manages the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

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