By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
WEBB CITY, Mo. —
When fourth-graders at Eugene Field Elementary School went on a field trip recently, teacher Sarah West took digital photographs so she could share the experience with parents.
When student teacher Courtney Miller presented a classroom lesson, third-grade teacher Ashley Doran videotaped it so Miller could review her performance.
And when library media specialist Mary Blair wanted to encourage students to share their favorite books, she invited them to show the book covers on a document camera so everyone in the library could see.
None of that technology would have been possible for the school, Blair said, but for one thing: a $4,000 donation by a former Eugene Field student, Trevor Crist, boosted by a $2,000 grant from Wal-Mart.
“I have fond memories of going to school there,” Crist said. “I had fantastic teachers.”
Crist, 34, went on to become a successful Springfield entrepreneur who owns several businesses and works as an insurance executive.
The school has changed, too.
When Crist went there, it was for second- through sixth-grade students; now it serves as a neighborhood third- and fourth-grade center.
“Last year, I was looking for a different kind of donation project to work on,” Crist said. “I reached out to the librarian through email.”
His decision to give to an elementary school, he said, was based on what he saw as a trend of larger institutions receiving donations and having access to technology and equipment that smaller schools often lacked.
Crist’s offer to purchase whatever Blair said she needed for the library caught her by surprise, and she remembers thinking it was a joke. She wasn’t at the school when Crist attended, and she didn’t know him.
“But it was no joke. He was serious,” she said.
Crist did more than just hand over a check for equipment purchases; he became an integral part of the project.
“I knew that at Missouri State University (his alma mater), they have a best practices library that they use to train and teach in their education department,” he said. “So I contacted them, and they sent two ladies to do an audit of the Eugene Field library to look at its overall need.”
What they found was that the school had done a good job with standard materials.
“But where they were lacking, which is where a lot of elementary schools lack, was in technology,” Crist said. “That was their suggestion, to focus on that.”
Meanwhile, he did research as well: “I really wanted Eugene Field to be tops in the country in access to technology, so I looked at what other schools were doing.”
Blair anticipated a donation of $100 or so. Crist, however, encouraged her to make a list of everything she could imagine teachers and students being able to use. She worked on it throughout last summer, prioritizing needs and finding costs online.
“It was a big proposal, and I definitely was thinking it was too much,” Blair recalled.
Crist said the professional world can take for granted its access to technology, which schools often lack.
“Unfortunately with technology, the nature of it is that the very latest is extremely expensive,” he said. “I wanted to give all students, regardless of their background or resources, access to that.”
Crist contacted the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Webb City and wrote a grant request to the corporation’s foundation.
“I said whatever they donated, I’d double,” he said. “They ended up giving us $2,000.”
In addition, the local store donated two video cameras.
The donation included 10 listening centers, which allow students to hear audio books in each classroom; a document camera for the library that connects to a Smart Board and computer monitor so Blair can read books, page by page, to large groups; and 11 video cameras and 11 digital cameras — one for each classroom.
It all arrived a few weeks ago, resulting in a big smile from Principal Tammy Thomas, who was a fourth-grade teacher when Crist attended Eugene Field.
“The yearly budget for furniture and equipment doesn’t come close to this donation, so it’s very much appreciated,” Thomas said. “It’s just wonderful.”
The school will show its appreciation to Crist at an assembly at 9:30 a.m. today in the gymnasium.
“It’s so much more than just recreational,” said Leslie Melton, a library aide, of the new technology. “It gives us great learning tools that we can use in so many ways.”
Eugene Field history
THE FIRST EUGENE FIELD Elementary School in Webb City had no technology whatsoever. It was constructed in 1904 as a four-room schoolhouse near Fourth and Oronogo Streets. Two years later, the school was enlarged to eight rooms. In 1954, the current school opened its doors at 510 S. Oronogo St. A five-classroom addition was built in 1988.