In the quest for funding, Texas schools have been forced to deal with what legislation allows. But the shortfalls of school finance have caused teachers to think creatively in their effort to bring innovative programs to students.

One teacher within the Stephenville Independent School District is working to get the word out about a contest that could deliver thousands of dollars to the district's high school art students.

In an effort to improve the art department, instructor Emily McLemore has turned to an Internet-based contest in which a private company will award thousands of dollars to schools that receive the most votes by Nov. 1.

"Power a Bright Future," a program sponsored by Clorox bleach, was created to provided grants for school programs. A number of schools across the nation have signed up to take part in the contest and the outcome is up to voters, who are asked to support their favorite schools by casting daily ballots in the competition. 

McLemore is confident that a little support from community members and others who have moved away but stay connected to Stephenville through the World Wide Web, will bring SHS to the top of the ranking.

In describing the existing program in a contest questionnaire, McLemore detailed the school's existing visual arts program, which has been working for two years to bring students of all abilities together for creative learning.

"As part of our visual arts programming, we strive to include students of all abilities in our classroom lesson plans. This has meant creating appropriate curriculum that engages all students in the mainstream classroom as well as finding supplies that are safe for use for all students," McLemore said. "In the last two years, we have seen incredible growth in all of our visual art students because of our creative approach to teaching students with mental and/or physical disabilities. Traditional students are engaged in creating art next to students that require personalized assistance from a teaching aide. Because of this, our traditional students are learning that all students need to have a voice and that all people are valuable."

Based on the effort to allow students of all abilities to explore their creativity side-by-side, McLemore assigned the local campaign a fitting moniker, "Art for All Abilities."

But the effort, like many programs across the Lone Star State, struggles with the pitfalls of the current school funding system.

"As our visual arts program has grown, our budget has shrunk and supplies are more expensive. We are committed to offering meaningful activities to all students, however, moving beyond paper and pencil projects eats up a budget very quickly," McLemore said when explaining how she intends to utilize the grant funds. "It is our goal that all visual art students, no matter the potential talent, have the opportunity to experience the potter's wheel and make something out of clay. In order to do so, we need to purchase additional wheels, supplies and a new kiln. We have found that clay has healing and strengthing qualities in it and we want to offer this experience to all our students."

And how will the grant make a difference at SHS?

McLemore said expanding the program will not be possible without the grant funds.

"Without this grant, we do not have the funds to purchase the supplies to continue this program. With our current budget constraints, we only have enough supplies to offer clay to our ceramics class and the students with unique abilities are not in this class," McLemore said.  "We want to increase our ability to reach students with mental and physical disabilites, however, the only way we can add these valuable and meaningful activities is with this grant."

Now that McLemore has a plan for utilizing the grant funding, she is calling on the community for help. Residents can vote every day between now and Nov. 1  for "Art for All Abilities" and increase Stephenville High School's chance at winning the $50,000 grant or one of three $20,000 awards.

To cast a ballot, visit the contest website, www.powerabrightfuture.com, and take a few minutes to register as a voter. At the top of the home page, there is a yellow login bar - simply type in your e-mail address and you will be directed to the registration page. Enter your name and required information, click that you agree to the terms of the contest and submit.

"SHS art is the only grant nominee in this area, so please find us and vote," McLemore said. "Once you vote, you will get a thank you e-mail from Clorox and then you can go vote again every day for the rest of the month."