BONNER – A first-year teacher at Bonner School is one of 10 finalists for a $10,000 national prize she would use to bolster her special education reading program.

Breeann Adam will need the community’s help to win it.

Starting next Monday and going through Feb. 21, voters can help Adam’s cause by going online to vote in the Great American School Spectacular competition. Votes can be cast once a day at gaschoolspectacular.com.

Adam found out two weeks ago the short essay entry she’d submitted in December had been selected for the finals among hundreds submitted nationwide.

“They didn’t give me any inkling why,” she said Monday. “I’m guessing they just saw the need: rural Montana, special ed, we need some reading stuff. We don’t have much to work with at the moment.”

This is the sixth year of the contest, the brainchild of the Annuity Group of Great American Insurance Group of Cincinnati. Known until this year as the Great American Classroom Makeover, the program awards cash prizes to three teachers and their schools.

The grand prize winner splits $10,000 with her or his school. Second and third place split $5,000 and $2,000, respectively, between classroom and school.

Last year’s top winner was Mindy Shaw of tiny Chattaroy, Wash. She used the money to replace broken chairs and 30 antiquated computers in her technology lab at Riverside Elementary School. Teachers in Wisconsin and Michigan won the other prizes.

The first three grand-prize winners came from California and the fourth from Virginia. Montana entrants have yet to win a cash prize in the first five years of the competition.

Adam, a 2013 graduate of Montana State University-Billings, landed the job at Bonner after moving to Missoula with her husband Troy, a student at the University of Montana. She said she learned about the Great American contest on a flier hung in the teachers’ lounge in November.

It required a 200-word essay explaining what would make her school or classroom even more spectacular. While Bonner has reading materials for middle school students, Adam has scrambled to find resources for her 14 sixth- through eighth-graders with reading disabilities. She’s used the Internet, the library and her own childhood books.

Her dream is to have formalized reading program, which can be as pricy as $30,000.

“I’m looking at ones that are more in the $7,000 to $10,000 range,” said Adam, whose goal is to get her students’ reading proficiencies up to grade level by the time they enter high school.

“It makes me upset to see middle school kids that can’t read. It kind of breaks my heart,” Adam said. “I just want them to be able to at least have the best opportunities to learn. I don’t want to feel like there was something I could have done differently that would have helped them learn to read before high school that I didn’t do.”

Reporter Kim Briggeman can be reached at (406) 523-5266 or by email at kbriggeman@missoulian.com.

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