some text
A new greenhouse is seen at Dug Gap Elementary in Dalton, Ga., on Tuesday.
some text
Dug Gap Elementary media specialist Emily Rich shows one of the school's new iPads in Dalton, Ga., on Tuesday. The school acquired 150 of the devices, and is getting 90 more. There will be an iPad for each third-, fourth- and fifth- grade student.

TOP 10

Anonymous donor's 10 largest donations to Whitfield County Schools:

• Southeast Whitfield High School tennis courts and track: $970,000

• Dug Gap Elementary media center rehabilitation: $647,252

• Dug Gap Elementary science lab: $277,908

• Antioch Elementary School bus loop: $194,532

• Southeast Whitfield High School parking lot lights: $178,250

• Southeast Whitfield High School activity bus: $127,378

• Southeast Whitfield High School government trip: $112,000

• Southeast Whitfield High School STEM lab: $106,000

• Dug Gap Elementary greenhouse: $94,531

• Dug Gap Elementary soccer field: $92,400

Source: Whitfield County Schools

some text
Leo Goralski, left, and Matthias Carr unwrap new furniture in the media center at Dug Gap Elementary in Dalton, Ga., on Tuesday.

DALTON, Ga. - Most of Dug Gap Elementary School's students don't come from well-off families. About 70 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

Yet the elementary school soon will put the final touches on some $1.1 million in improvements worthy of a pricey private school, including a versatile new soccer field, a state-of-the-art greenhouse, a stand-alone science lab and a remodeled media center equipped with the latest technology, including a Promethean ActivTable.

"It's basically like a big iPad tablet, but it's table size," school media specialist Emily Rich said.

The school has iPads for its third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. And 20 students will get an all-expenses-paid trip in December to Disney World to attend a leadership academy there.

An anonymous donor is paying for all of it - and numerous other improvements at the Whitfield County Schools totaling about $4.5 million over the past five years.

If school officials know who the donor is, they aren't saying - except for letting slip that the giver is a "she."

Dug Gap Elementary School was the first to benefit from the donor's largesse. About five years ago, the donor paid for a black, decorative metal fence around the roughly 4-acre play area in front of the school on Dug Gap Road within earshot of Interstate 75, southwest of Dalton.

Principal Mandy Locke wanted the fence to improve security.

"I just wanted a chain-link fence," said Locke.

She remembers the donor asked, "What is your dream fence?"

Locke responded, "I don't know. I dream in elementary school budgets. I don't dream that big."

Since then, the donations have kept coming. The district lists them all in a spreadsheet that's 74 lines long. Some highlights include $970,000 worth of tennis court and track improvements at Southeast Whitfield High School, a $78,159 playground at New Hope Elementary and $194,000 for a new bus loop at Antioch Elementary School.

"We are going to be able to separate the bus drop-off from the car drop-off," Antioch Elementary Principal Tracie Dempsey said.

"We also received a Starlab, which is a portable planetarium," she said. That cost $68,540, according to the district's spreadsheet.

Dempsey doesn't know who the donor is.

"We don't really care who it comes from," she said, "we're just glad to have it."

Dug Gap Elementary also got a Starlab, which inflates like a kids' bouncy house and seats about 35 people, as part of science department improvements paid for by the donor. Students this week expect to start using the new science lab, which was installed over the summer. Dug Gap is the only elementary school in the county to have a dedicated science lab.

"Elementary schools don't have science labs, typically," said the school's science teacher, Ken Richmond.

Kids will peer into new microscopes to see microorganisms from a nearby swamp. They'll make hot air balloons. And they'll learn about erosion and creeks at a "stream table," which sends simulated rainfall flowing over dirt. In the new greenhouse built nearby, students will grow vegetables to eat and flowers.

The elementary school brought in advisers from Dalton State College to help decide what equipment should be in the science department.

"Our benefactor pretty much said, 'Go for it,'" Richmond said. "They asked us to dream, and dream big."

School officials say they're trying to be mindful and spend the donor's money wisely.

"That generosity - this is something that's going to bless generations of kids to come," Locke said.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at or or or 423-757-6651.