For the Star Beacon
CONNEAUT — This past week, Conneaut High School made history. Through the Celebrate My Drive event sponsored by State Farm Insurance, CHS was awarded a $25,000 grant from the company.
“I was very excited and proud,” said Chris Brecht, Conneaut’s local State Farm Insurance agent and sponsor for the school in the program.
CHS students were introduced to the event in an assembly on Oct. 17. The students participated in many challenges concerning safe driving, and T-shirts featuring the slogan “2N2,” two hands on the wheel and two eyes on the road, were distributed to staff and students.
From Oct. 18 to Oct. 26, any person over the age of 14 could go online to the Celebrate My Drive website to join the online community. By entering their email, birthday, selected high school and answering two questions about safe driving, community members made their commitment to drive safely. Voting could be done once per day per person during that nine-day period.
The Celebrate My Drive program was available nationwide for any registered school and separated into two groups: small school (fewer than 750 students) and large schools (750 or more students). Eight first place prizes, four per size category, were awarded with a $100,000 grant while the next 45 schools per size category won $25,000. This year, there were more than 3,500 schools that participated throughout the country, with only one other school participating from Ashtabula County.
Throughout the voting period, Brecht visited CHS every day to keep up the motivation in the student body. Laptops were set up throughout the lunch periods so every student had access to the website. Brecht and CHS Principal Dawn Zappitelli also went above and beyond to open the school on Oct. 26, the last day to commit to safe driving. The school was open from 9 a.m. to noon for any student who came in to vote. Doughnuts were supplied by Brecht to those students who showed up to vote. That day, Conneaut advanced its rank from the mid-50s to the upper 30s position. To get the community involved, Facebook and email were utilized to broadcast information about the event to the community.
“My goal was to keep it in front of people every day,” said Brecht regarding his strategy to keep the community motivated.
The school administration also issued an all call to homes of the students and family to remind them to vote. Many students opted to wear their red “2N2” shirts every Tuesday and Thursday to show their spirited involvement as well.
At the beginning of the challenge in early October, Conneaut was ranked in the upper 70s out of more than 300 schools in the small school category. On Nov. 8, Brecht worked in conjunction with Zappitelli and other administrators to officially announce to the school that Conneaut maintained its position in the top 30s to win the grant. A surprise celebratory party was thrown to reward the students for their hard work and dedication. In light of the accomplishment, the Conneaut students who attend A-TECH were bused to the high school. There was also a surprise appearance by Ohio Rep. John Patterson for “a job well-done” speech along with a few words of encouragement from teacher and coach Rich Shields.
“I was very surprised and proud,” said Kacie Schwartfigure, a senior, “I was extremely appreciative toward Mr. Brecht, Mrs. Zappitelli and everyone else for bringing this opportunity to our school.”
The party included the exhibition of the oversized $25,000 check given to CHS by State Farm along with more than a dozen boxes of pizza and soft drinks.
It was announced that the distribution of the grant money will be decided by the School Pride Committee with approval from administration. The committee has the task of determining what the grant money will be used for, but at least 10 percent of it will be dedicated to an educational program concerning safe driving. The group will begin deciding soon after fall break.
“It was absolutely a success in my eyes. It was incredible to see everyone get on board,” said Brecht.
Brecht plans to continue sponsoring the school for many years to come. He stated that it was a very humbling and rewarding experience, and plans to sponsor CHS in the program as long as the school is willing to participate.