Sherry Walker is spending every spare moment gathering votes. The Heritage High School teacher knows the political season is over, but she is asking for votes for her high school.
The prize? A share of $1 million dollars.
Walker is the technology teacher at Heritage, and she is spearheading an effort for her school to be one of ten schools to receive $100,000 from U.S. Cellular.
“We have sent out mass emails through our system. We’ve exhausted every effort we can imagine doing besides dragging people into stores, and we’re not above that,” Walker said with a laugh. “That’s our next effort.”
Students are getting in on the campaign as well and have made fliers and banners that were used at basketball games.
“We are asking for the community’s support to vote for us,” Walker said.
U.S. Cellular launched the $1 million giveaway in early December. The nationwide contest will end on Jan. 15. At that time, the 10 schools who have had the most votes will each be awarded $100,000 from U.S. Cellular.
Heritage was in the top 20 a week ago, rose to 12 and then fell to 19. But the list changes daily as the top schools try to better their positions.
Voting is easy. There is no purchase needed and you do not have to be a U.S. Cellular customer, Walker explained.
“All you have to do is fill out a postage-paid postcard provided at a local U.S. Cellular location and let them mail it for you. You do need to list your phone number, but you will not be called,” she said.
Voters must be at least 18 years old. “Make sure you spell out Heritage High School and be sure to put Maryville, TN as the city and state when voting,” she said.
Chris Stokes, area sales manager for Tennessee and Western North Carolina, said Heritage is doing a great job so far. “With some hard work in the last 10 days, they have a strong chance of finishing in the top 10,” he said.
Stokes said the program was launched nationwide and there’s been a strong reaction from many schools throughout the country. “But I’m very proud of East Tennessee,” he said. “We have three schools vying for the top 10 in East Tennessee alone. That’s quite an accomplishment. That shows the pride East Tennesseans have and shows you the focus on children in the schools systems.”
Lauren Christ, public relations specialist with Moxley Carmichael, said the program started on Dec. 3 and is running through Jan 15.
“We have less than 10 days of voting left. Heritage High School has been in the top 20 the past few weeks but hasn’t broken into top 10 and it’s only the top 10 schools that will receive $100,000,” she said. “We are tracking the top 20 and encouraging those that are close that there’s the possibility of them breaking into the top 10. It has fluctuated.”
Christ said that each week schools are moving up and down the list depending on the amount of votes mailed in to the company. “We still think in the next 10 days we’ll get communities out there voting and Heritage has a shot to break in. We want them to get into top 10.”
Jack Brundige, U.S. Cellular director of sales for Tennessee, said the initiative started in the company’s Chicago headquarters. “We were thinking of all the economic issues and how many schools face funding cuts,” he said. “We know that schools and our children are very important to our customers so that makes it important to us. This is a great way to support communities by giving away $1 million to the top 10 schools.”
Brundige said Heritage has a chance to break into the top 10 by the last day. “You really want to get word out to Blount County residents to get out and vote,” he said.
Christ said there has been a tremendous response to the promotion. “We knew there was a concern about school funding, and we wanted to jump on an opportunity to support schools and there has been a tremendous response,” she said.
Brundige said schools are very excited and three Tennessee schools - McMinn County High, Bearden High and Heritage High, all are in the top 20.
There are no restrictions on the way the schools spend the money.
“The schools spend the money however they see fit,” said Brundige. “U.S. Cellular leaves that up to them.”
Walker said she learned about the promotion from a newspaper story in early December. She spoke with principal Patty Mandigo and she and another vocational teacher got information from U.S. Cellular. Although the promotion started on Dec. 3, it wasn’t until about Dec. 10 that Heritage students, teachers and supporters started responding.
“We started promoting it. I sent an email to teachers and started talking to parents,” she said.
Walker said the promotion was a great idea and drives traffic into stores. “They want you to come into the store and fill out a post card,” she said. “You don’t have to be a customer or make a purchase. You just tell them you want to vote for your school, and they give you a postcard to fill out.”
Walker said being a technology teacher, she would love to see the school win the money and use it to improve technology courses. “We need to get some information systems and network and program classes in,” she said. “That’s where I would like to grow our technology courses. Right now, we just want to win.”
Mandigo said times are tough now for everybody. “That $100,000 would do an incredible amount of things for Heritage High School, for things as little as filing cabinets to things as big as teaching units. We could help students in a variety of ways.”
Mandigo said they haven’t thought much about how to spend the $100,000. “We’re thinking about how to get there. It’s a dream, not a reality,” she said. “Just the fact we are in the running is such an exciting thing. We’re pumped up about it.”
Needs at the school come quickly to mind, however. Assistant principal Chip Fuller the money could be used to help the wellness program. “We’re also looking at creating a nature trail around our 100 acre campus.”
Fuller said tax shortfalls make it difficult to keep up with growing teacher and student populations. Other needs at the school include awnings to give students cover between the main building and portable classrooms and to help support the ninth grade academy.
“It’s in third year and has been working on a shoe sting budget,” Mandigo said.
The US Cellular locations in Blount County are:
U.S. Cellular - Alcoa 717 Louisville Rd Alcoa Beside Salsarita’s
Cellular Express -Foothills Foothills Mall
B&H Computers 314 Market Place 411 Maryville Beside Beef O’ Brady’s
For more information, visit www.uscellular.com/callingallcommunities