Eisenhower Student Wins Prize in a Good News Story

By Mitch Traphagen (mitch@observernews.net)

GIBSONTON - This is a story of good news. Virtually every week during the school year, the Observer News receives notice of a student or group of students winning an award or other recognition. We run it all, but rarely on the front page. That does not mean that the students are not deserving of the recognition but rather it reflects a somewhat specific readership, mostly limited to the parents and relatives of the students.

This story, however, has a subplot. It is about good people doing good things. While this story may never make the front page of the major daily newspapers, as a community paper it is our job to tell our readers about things that have an effect on our community.

But first, the story of an outstanding student from Eisenhower.

Thousands of students in Hillsborough County have likely seen the page, a short quiz with questions regarding dentistry. Eisenhower Middle School student Alyssa McKnight, however, answered it correctly and sent it in. Her reward for her effort earned her a huge basket of prizes and a $500 check for her school.

The quiz was part of an ad placed in the planner by McIlwain Family Dentistry of Tampa. "The ad said that I could win $500 for my school so I filled it out," said McKnight. She was more than a little surprised to discover that in addition she also won a number of prizes for herself.

The prize package included cases of soda and bottled water, tickets to Busch Gardens, a lava lamp, McIlwain Family Dentistry gift certificates, free martial arts lessons, candy and other goodies, toothbrushes, disposable cameras, a gift certificate from an acting studio and even a bowling ball and other items all packed into a large Pepsi cooler. Eisenhower principal Tim Ducker was presented with the $500 check.

And now for the subplot.

The quiz that McKnight completed was part of an advertisement for McIlwain Family Dentistry that was in her school planner. It is a planner/organizer that McKnight received from Eisenhower.

The question that might come to mind is why is there advertising in a planner given out by the schools? The answer is simple. The schools do not purchase the planner. It is provided to every student in Hillsborough County completely free of charge by an organization known as Educational Innovations.

So where is the good news in that, you may ask?

Despite a potentially corporate sounding name, Educational Innovations is simply the name for an effort by two Hillsborough County women who saw a problem and took the responsibility to solve it.

Sara G. Byars and Tiel Rey Guilford believed that having students use planners would help children learn organizational skills. It would also help their parents stay in touch with homework assignments and provide a means to correspond with teachers.

When they suggested their idea to their children’s school they were told that there was no money budgeted for planners and that many parents could not afford to purchase them.

They solved the problem by finding advertisers and creating a planner themselves. Today, every student in Hillsborough County receives their planner completely free of charge. In all, Byars and Guilford provide planners to more than 150,000 students and they hope that the number will grow. "We give them to anyone who asks for them," said Byars. They are always looking for new advertisers to continue their mission.

Their motive is not financial - they do not receive a financial gain for their efforts. Their motive is definitely not public acclaim - they not only do not seek it, they actively avoid it by keeping the focus on their mission, not on themselves. Their motive is simply to help out the community.

Their efforts have clearly paid off. The planners do help students learn organizational skills and they do help parents maintain a line of communication with teachers. It would be impossible to measure the monumental impact of their work.

In a world that sometimes seems to revolve around bad news, this story is all good news. It is a shining example of what can be accomplished by those who seek to solve a problem.

Educational Innovations may be contacted by calling 991-7884.

Mitch Traphagen Photos

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