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Some 60 Hamilton County teachers from 38 different schools who were given a total in $50,000 in Unum Strong Schools Grants grants on Tuesday pose for a group photo after a luncheon at Unum's headquarters in downtown Chattanooga.

Students in Leah Keith-Houle's scientific research class at Red Bank High School will soon get a new underwater rover they can use to test for E. coli bacteria, heavy metals and other contamination in Mountain Creek near the high school campus.

That's because Keith-Houle — who required her students to assist with the grant request — got a $1,000 check Tuesday to pay for the remote control underwater robot through Unum's Strong Schools Grants program.

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Red Bank High School teacher Leah Keith-Houle shows the $1,000 check she got through Unum's Strong Schools Grants to buy an underwater rover, a remote-control robot that will be used to study contamination in Mountain Creek once students get the hang of using the rover in Red Bank's public swimming pool near the high school, once the pool opens.
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Some 60 Hamilton County teachers from 38 different schools who were given a total in $50,000 in Unum Strong Schools Grants grants on Tuesday pose for a group photo after a luncheon at Unum's headquarters in downtown Chattanooga.

"[Students] helped me with the grant," she said. "We write collaborative grants."

Keith-Houle was among some 60 Hamilton County teachers from 38 different schools who were given $50,000 in grants on Tuesday by Unum, a Chattanooga-based, Fortune 500 company that specializes in disability, life and critical-illness insurance.

Since the program's inception in 2009, Unum has awarded 486 Strong Schools Grants.

"We've invested a little more than $1 million. We feel what you do is extraordinarily important," Tom White, Unum senior vice president of investor relations, told the teachers during a recognition luncheon Tuesday that drew about 100 people to Unum's downtown office complex.

Another winner was Tina Carpenter, a second-grade teacher at Wallace A. Smith Elementary who'll use her grant money to buy four Chromebook laptop computers for her class of 17 students, which will bring the classroom's total to five Chromebooks.

"I only had one [Chromebook] in my room," said Carpenter, who said the school in the Ooltewah neighborhood doesn't qualify for help buying computers like some Title I schools in the district that get U.S. Department of Education supplemental funding for at-risk and low-income students.

This was Carpenter's first Unum grant, and she plans to encourage other teachers at her school to apply.

Keith-Houle said this was the fifth Unum grant for her scientific research class at Red Bank High School.

In addition to having her students learn grant-writing, they use the class's equipment — including drones — to do research for local nonprofit environmental groups and others, such as for EPB, Chattanooga's electricity utility, which had the class work on a way to promote the "solar farm" that EPB announced in September 2015.

"My class is always working on real projects," Keith-Houle said. "If it's not real, we don't do it."

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or www.facebook.com/MeetsForBusiness or twitter.com/meetforbusiness or 423-757-6651.

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