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Clayton schools vie for support in Big Lots contest

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Two Clayton County schools are in need of community support to win thousands of dollars in cash prizes from the Big Lots store chain.

Forest Park Middle School, and Mt. Zion High School, are among 118 schools across the nation competing for a $10,000 grand prize, and at least one of the 45 prizes of $2,000 to runners-up, in a video contest connected to Big Lots' Third Annual Lots2Give program. The money would support improvement initiatives at each school.

In the one-and-a-half-minute videos, schools make their case for why they need the money, and how they would use it. Supporters can go online (to www.lots2give.com/vote/), between now and July 5, and vote up to three times a day for their favorite school video. The school that accumulates the highest number of votes in the nation wins the grand prize.

"Every vote counts, so any vote, from anybody, would be helpful," said Doe Inthirat, a seventh-grade math teacher, who put the Forest Park Middle School's video together, with the assistance of Clarke Perry, a chorus teacher.

Big Lots Spokesperson Stacey Low said the discount-merchandise chain holds the Lots2Give program every year as a way of helping to improve schools in the communities with a Big Lots store. Low said the company picks school districts that are not financially affluent. Then, schools are selected to participate, she said.

"Whatever we can do, that is feasible, to promote education, we're going to do it," Low said.

Forest Park Middle School's video features students picking up trash, playing games, and hanging out with their fathers, during male-mentoring programs. Forest Park Principal Jamille Miller-Brown said the school would use any money it won to increase male-mentoring programs at the school.

"One of the things we'd like to do is increase the number of programs that get men to volunteer in our school, so that's what we're planning to use the money for," Miller-Brown said.

Mt. Zion High School's video depicts the school in somewhat of a state of decay, as students plea for money to improve. The video features arrows pointing out rusting poles; students complaining about empty book shelves in the school's library; a cloud of dust accumulating on one library book; and a girls' bathroom with no toilet paper or hand soap, and a broken hand-drying machine.

Mt. Zion's video ends with the phrase, "Mt. Zion is a good school, but we need the right funding, so that our programs and clubs can thrive." It is superimposed over an image of the school's gymnasium.

The video contest is only part of the Lots2Give program. The main push is to get people to make donations to the program at Big Lots stores, said Low. The money collected at the stores is then split equally among the participating schools in that market.

"The donations are just a little something to help these schools out with supplies and programs," Low said.

While there are 118 schools that made videos, the Big Lots spokesperson said there are a total of 192 schools participating in the overall Lots2Give program. In fact, there are three Clayton County schools that will receive a cut of the donations made at the 37 metropolitan-Atlanta-area Big Lots stores. In addition to Forest Park Middle School and Mt. Zion High School, Brown Elementary School is also participating, Low said. The school simply did not submit a video for the video contest, she explained.

Local residents can make donations at any of the Big Lots stores in the metro area, to help the three Clayton County schools. Big Lots stores in Clayton are located at 7055 Ga. Hwy. 85, in Riverdale, and at 35 Ga. Hwy. 138, in Stockbridge.