A cash prize to G.W. Trenholm Primary School in Tuscumbia will help the school continue a program that has direct connections to the city's most famous native, Helen Keller.

Trenholm along with Kilby Laboratory School in Florence are two of 21 schools statewide to be selected as Bicentennial Schools of Excellence.

Each congressional district had three schools selected. Trenholm was chosen to represent the fourth district and Kilby for the fifth district.

Each school won a cash prize of $5,000.

In August 2018, 200 schools were named Alabama Bicentennial Schools. They received $2,000 to support the implementation of community service projects connecting classrooms and local communities.

Those projects ranged from oral history projects to community gardens to mentorship programs.

G.W. Trenholm Principal Veronica Bayles said her school rallied behind the idea of building partnerships with groups such as the Alabama Institute for Deaf Blind (AIBD) in Tuscumbia.

"We're located right here at the birthplace of Helen Keller, so it just made sense to pursue this part of our history, focusing on visual and hearing impairment as we have these elements in our society, as well as in our school," Bayles said.

The Trenholm students learned, through sensory perception activities, a better understanding of the struggles facing those with visual and hearing impairments.

"Throughout the year we really solidified our relationship with AIDB, and the students not only gained some understanding but it made them want to do more," Bayless said.

One project requirement calls for the schools to show continued sustainability.

The teachers and students are already thinking ahead, Bayles said, and plan to use the $5,000 to add multi-sensory boxes to classrooms and more tactile instructional materials to the reading curriculum.

The school will also partner with Ivy Green, which is Keller's birthplace in Tuscumbia, to share the "Miracle Worker" story with students. The "Miracle Worker" is a play that's performed every year at Ivy Green and depicts Keller's childhood as a deaf and blind girl, and the the breakthrough moment her teacher, Anne Sullivan, taught the young Helen to communicate.

The plan also includes adding additional Braille tactile signs for the outdoor classroom stations.

The school focused on second-grade students for most of the project work, but all students learned some sign language and participated in school-wide events. 

Kilby Principal Eric Kirkman said the school has not determined how it will spend its $5,000 cash prize.

"It's my understanding there are no stipulations of how it has to be spent," Kirkman said.

What he expects to happen is the money will be used to offset the cost of field trips taken by students to help broaden their knowledge of the state and its history.

"I know there is talk about doing that," Kirkman said.

The principal said the students take a variety of field trips to places like the home of composer W.C. Handy in Florence, FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield, and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia to learn about the rich musical heritage of the Shoals and the state.

They also visit the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville to learn more about the state's role in the aerospace industry.

Kirkman said field trips are determined by grade level.

He said the school had to provide the state with a "grant portfolio" that included written accounts of the field trips, videos shot during the trips, and still photographs.

"It's a huge honor," Kirkman said of being named a bicentennial school.

The schools submitted final reports last month. Community leaders from across the state served on committees tasked with evaluating each project and narrowing the list of finalists to 21.

In addition to the $5,000, schools of excellence received a commemorative banner and a special sculpture made from Alabama marble titled "The Dawning" by renowned Alabama native sculptor Craigger Browne.

Schools of Excellence are invited to participate in commemoration ceremonies Dec. 14 in Montgomery in culmination of Alabama's bicentennial.

The Alabama Bicentennial Schools Initiative is presented in partnership by Alabama 200, the Alabama Department of Archives and History, and the Alabama State Department of Education.

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