Last week, the Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation announced the winners of its “$100,000 School Challenge,” presented by the University of Phoenix. Twenty-two schools were selected out of more than 300 submissions, and among the winners are District One’s Mary A. Otondo Elementary School and Crane’s Gowan Science Academy.

Established in 2012, the program awards grants to selected schools each year to boost educational programs, innovation and technology, nutrition and fitness or campus improvements.

With $3,000 now to spare, Otondo’s after-school performing arts and dance programs will widen students’ avenue of opportunity to experience the arts.

Each year, under the leadership of drama teacher Michelle Van Voorst, the school presents a big production. In years past, they’ve brought “Annie” and “The Lion King” to life onstage;This year, the cast is presenting “Frozen.”

“It goes above and beyond just a play – there’s amazing sets and music and the kids are involved behind the scenes,” said Christine McCoy, communications and community engagement coordinator for District One.

The new funds will outfit the production with more costumes and set items while also helping expand Otondo’s recently-launched ballet program. “Not only do they work so hard, but they seem to have so much fun,” McCoy said. “To provide them with even more costumes, more things for the set, more supplies to put on these productions gets them really excited about the arts. It also shows that they’re being supported, that their school and their activities are being supported by the community.”

As for Gowan, they’ll be adding a new vending machine to their campus with a $5,000 grant – but rather than dispensing snacks to feed their appetites, the machine will give students snacks to feed their brains.

With the school expanding to new grade levels and a new campus, administration wanted to incentivize non-traditional learning through literature.

“This is a fun way to get more books in kids’ hands,” said Principal Jamie Haines. “As we move to our new location, we want our hallways lined with books. Even though we’re a STEM school, we really want our kids to be readers, because there’s so many places we can go within a book. When books are accessible at our kids’ fingertips, they’re much more likely to pick them up and take an adventure.”

When the vending machine is up-and-running on the new campus this fall, the plan is to offer books of all kinds, fiction and non, for students to take home.

Haines said the vending machine will also work as a reward system. “Just like teachers would give their kids candy or stickers for doing something great, we want them to be rewarded in books, because we want kids reading as much as they possibly can.” Haines said.

Along with their grants, Otondo and Gowan students, teachers and families are receiving complimentary tickets to an upcoming Diamonbacks game, where they’ll be recognized on the field for their awards.

To learn more about the Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation and other Diamondbacks grant programs, visit mlb.com/dbacks/community.

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