BROOKSVILLE — Having watched her students at Eastside Elementary School perform poorly on Florida's standardized reading tests, principal Beverly Chapin knew the kids needed some help.
Many of the 600 students come from needy families. And, on top of that, extra money in the school budget is tough to come by these days.
But the school — along with Brooksville Elementary — is about to get some assistance, thanks to the discount retail chain Big Lots.
And each of the schools, with some help from the public, has an opportunity to win some big bucks.
Big Lots is hosting its annual nationwide Lots2Give contest, where elementary school students provide a video and essay on their school's needs, and then compete for votes on a special Big Lots Web site.
Based on need, Big Lots chose 26 schools from across the United States to vie for a share of $80,000 that will go toward funding educational resources such as books, supplies or recreational equipment such as playgrounds.
Chapin knows what her school could use.
"We really would like to get our kids' reading scores up," Chapin said. "A lot of students come from poor areas, and the books would really help here."
To help make the school's pitch, teacher Jennifer Sisco's fourth-grade class created a video about each student's goals in life and the important role that education has in shaping a child's future.
The kids at Brooksville Elementary talked about their need for books to enter a local contest and how they would allocate the prize money.
The school that garners the most votes by July 12 on the Lots2Give Web site will receive a grand prize of $10,000. But none of the schools will walk away empty-handed because there are three first-place winners that will receive $5,000 and 22 second-place prizes of $2,500, according to Big Lots.
Kimberly King, who works at Brooksville Elementary, talked about the importance of books at her school.
"New books would really get the kids more interested in reading," King said.
Just like Eastside, the school's nearly 800 students have had low scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
King noted that third through fifth grades are the most crucial years to spark a child's desire to read.
The winner and other prizes will be determined by the public through the Internet. Anyone is able to visit the Lots2Give Web site and vote for their favorite student-generated video.
Last year's grand prize winners, Balsz Elementary School in Phoenix, Ariz., built a playground for its students.
Ryan Strong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (352) 848-1432.