The singer donates instruments and gives a surprise performance to her Alma mater in Oklahoma

By Kelsey Witten
Updated August 28, 2009 01:55 PM
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Credit: Rick Diamond/Getty

There was no sign of back-to-school blues at Checotah High School Friday morning when Carrie Underwood surprised her Alma mater.

Underwood, 26, the Academy of Country Music’s Entertainer of the Year, presented 31 instruments – ranging from an oboe to an electric guitar and worth nearly $120,000 – to fifth through twelfth grade music students in Checotah, Okla., schools.

“If everybody did stuff like this, not even on a grand scale, for whatever community they’re a part of, the world would be awesome,” Underwood told PEOPLE after the event. “Especially if you give to schools, because funding is getting cut left and right, the music and art programs are the first to go. To me those are some of the most important [programs].”

More than 500 adoring students and faculty gathered at the morning assembly, where the 2005 American Idol winner was introduced by her elementary school music teacher, Kathy Cooper.

“You never know, we might have some more stars out here,” Cooper said before Underwood came on stage to wild applause. “Maybe we’ll have another American Idol from here. That was just too good to be true.”

Then the star, accompanied by one of her band members on a newly donated keyboard, performed “So Small” for the crowd – with help from fifth grader Kenedee Rittenhouse, who sang the first verse and chorus.

Underwood told students this donation was “only the beginning” for her new foundation, Checotah Animal, Town and Schools (CATS) and she hoped future ACM entertainer of the year winners would follow in her footsteps. CATS’s partnership with ACM Lifting Lives was behind the musical surprise.

“They’ve talked about entertainer of the year winners donating money to a cause of their choice,” she said, “which I’m hoping continues to be hometown schools.”