MOUNT GREENWOOD — Maggie Kendall finds out if her dream comes true on Sunday.
That's when online voting concludes for the Dream Big Teacher Challenge. Kendall applied for a $100,000 grant through Farmers Insurance's Thank a Million Teachers program and was named a finalist on Sept. 5.
Her proposal aims to bring an indoor horse riding arena to the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences at 3857 W. 111th St. in Mount Greenwood. Kendall teaches animal science at the Southwest Side high school and wants to build the facility to further the school's therapeutic riding program.
"From the rumors that we hear, we are pretty close" to winning, Kendall said earlier this week.
Students learned the school was in second place on Oct. 2 and rallied to boost voting through social media. The push worked. The insurance company notified Kendall that she was leading her region on Nov. 10.
Yet Kendall is nervous. Farmers Insurance told her she won't hear from the company again until the final results are tallied. And the Ag School's lead was slim — just a few hundred votes.
"Every vote counts," she said, while reminding herself to send her daily text message to students nudging them to cast yet another ballot.
Chicago's erratic weather has always been Kendall's main reason for wanting an indoor riding arena. Having a roof over the horses will allow the students to work with the animals every day — rain, sleet or snow. It will also allow the school to further its programs for students with physical and cognitive disabilities.
Kendall plans to expand community outreach as well with the indoor facility, which is slated for the northwest corner of the Ag School campus. She's already reached out to Special Olympics Chicago and Horses For Heroes — which works with returning military veterans.
"There's even a class I was looking at that's for stressed-out moms," Kendall said, adding that the yoga on horseback program could be a popular draw in Mount Greenwood.
Kendall's confidence in the eventual construction of the indoor riding barn is no accident. She believes the facility will be built even if the school falls short in the Dream Big Teacher Challenge.
"When I first wrote the grant, it really validated the project," Kendall said.
Since becoming a finalist, she's also found sponsors to fund the portion of construction that won't be covered by the $100,000 grant. The project has also grown in scope, and it's now estimated that the indoor barn will cost $1.5 million.
Still, Kendall remains positive and expects to hear good news on Sunday.
"I really believe in the actual dream itself," she said.
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