How you can help Round Lake teacher vying for 100K grant

  • Round Lake teacher Allison Nelson is among 15 finalists vying for five $100,000 educational grants from Farmers Insurance.

    Round Lake teacher Allison Nelson is among 15 finalists vying for five $100,000 educational grants from Farmers Insurance. courtesy of Round Lake Area School District 116


Allison Nelson, a special-education teacher at Ellis Elementary School, is vying for a $100,000 grant to build a new accessible playground at the Round Lake school.

She's one of 15 national finalists in the Thank America's Teachers Dream Big Teacher Challenge run by Farmers Insurance. The top five in an online vote will receive a $100,000 grant.

Nelson said her students inspired her to enter the contest.

"I had two students last year who were a major inspiration who both used wheelchairs," Nelson said. "The playgrounds weren't allowing students to wheel up on the equipment. That's when I had the thought."

She created a detailed plan for an accessible playground and submitted it to Farmers in May. She received notice over the summer that she is a finalist.

"I had to reread it two or three times to make sure it was real," Nelson said.

Michael Darling, a Farmers Insurance agent based in Mundelein, said he first met Nelson in March when she won a $2,500 education grant from the company. The grant paid for iPads with special accessibility apps on them.

Darling said Nelson contacted playground manufacturers when drafting her plan.

"I think it's a great proposal that is desperately needed in our school system," Darling said. "Play and activity is so important."

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The playground would allow special-needs students to play without extra assistance.

"It would give them the opportunity to say 'I can do this' and give them their self-encouragement, their self-motivation to get them over those little fears that they may have going on the bigger equipment," Nelson said in the YouTube video promoting her project on the contest website.

Nelson said if the accessible park is built it will be available to everyone who wants to use it.

"It's not just for my students but for all students," she said.

To vote for Nelson visit Voting ends Nov. 3.

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