CLEARWATER — Coachman Fundamental Middle School, one of eight schools being closed in Pinellas County for economic reasons at the end of the academic year, is going out with a bang, not a whimper.
In February, seventh-grade math teacher Bridget Bohnet was named the county's Outstanding Educator for 2009.
Now, 24 of her students have won $1,000 scholarships in a contest called MathMovesU sponsored by Raytheon Co.
Coachman had the most scholarship winners from any school in the United States.
"Raytheon doesn't think that having 24 MathMovesU winners at one school is unusual," said Mitch Lee, Raytheon vice president. "We think it's fantastic and demonstrates what hard work can accomplish. Those winning students skipped television and video games to work on their entries.''
What's more, Safety Harbor Middle School had three winners, giving Pinellas County 27 of the 150 honorees nationwide.
"I was really excited and I started jumping up and down,'' said Austin Klein, 11, a sixth-grader from Tarpon Springs.
His older sister, Ashley Klein, 13, an eighth-grader, also won.
"The Coachman math department is proud of all the students that entered the MathMovesU competition and thrilled that 24 of our students won scholarships,'' said Bohnet, who also is Coachman's math department chairwoman.
"This is an incredible opportunity for students at all levels to see the relationship between real-life activities and mathematics. We cannot thank Raytheon enough for continuing to sponsor this event."
The theme of this year's competition was "How Does Math Put the Action in Your Passion?"
During winter break, students made Power Point presentations, photo stories and DVDs demonstrating how math plays a part in the activities they love such as baking, sailing, skateboarding, karate, billiards, soccer and cheerleading.
Several of the girls chose shopping, using discounts, sales tax and savvy to show how numbers impact their lives.
"It's neat,'' Bohnet said. "Kids who aren't always successful at math got to see real-life application of math.''
Since the program began in 2005, more than $2 million in scholarships have been awarded in hopes children will be inspired "to do better in math in school and go on to pursue math- and engineering-related careers — something which fewer students have an interest in, but something the U.S. cannot do without to stay innovative and globally competitive,'' Jennifer K. Chan, manager of community relations for Raytheon, wrote in an e-mail.
She said research has shown that interest in math declines in middle school, and "we feel if we don't capture them then we'll lose them forever.''
"We're looking at the talent pipeline in the future,'' she said.
Raytheon also matched the scholarships with a $24,000 check to the school.
The money comes at a critical time as Coachman prepares to close and have its programs move to Kennedy Middle, a consolidation forced by a real-life lesson in economics. The funds will be used to purchase new classroom technology, said Coachman principal David Rosenberger.
"It's just a godsend," he said, "it really is.''
Eileen Schulte can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4153.