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Oswego Students Share Gift of Reading with Kids in Africa

Nov 24, 2015 03:50PM ● Published by Shannon Antinori

Southbury Elementary Principal Lindsay Allen visited Katayiase School in Ghana last spring. (Photo courtesy of Oswego School District 308)

What started out as a way to help train teachers in Ghana has become a partnership between Southbury Elementary School and its “sister school" in the West African country.

Now, Southbury students are hoping to spread their love of reading to their peers overseas. Starting Nov. 30, the Oswego school’s Character Counts Club began its “Change for Change” drive to build a library at the Katakyiase School in Ghana.

Principal Lindsay Allen said the Southbury community has forged a bond with teachers and students at Katakyiase since she traveled to Ghana last spring.

Creating a connection

In March, Allen led educators from Judson University in Elgin on a trip to Ghana to conduct professional development workshops for teachers there. The goal was to stress the importance of reading aloud to students every day.

“When we got there, we realized they didn’t have many materials,” said Allen. “It was very, very basic — there might be three or four kids sharing a bench or a desk with only one book and one pencil.”

Teachers from the U.S. created a makeshift library with just two bookshelves at the Katakyiase School. After returning to the U.S., Allen and her fellow educators stayed in touch with staff at the Katakyiase School. They hoped to help boost attendance there by launching a school lunch program.

“Kids were staying home to take care of their siblings,” Allen explained. Students also came to school tired and hungry, resulting in behavioral problems.

To raise money to fund a yearlong school lunch program at the Katakyiase School, Southbury teachers paid $25 to wear jeans to school for a week last school year. The campus raised a total of $1,800 for the lunch program, Allen said.

“We also worked with the school to start a farm, so they could have a self-sustaining lunch program,” she added.

At the beginning of this school year, Southbury staff also launched a school supply drive for the African school, and plans began to bring more books to Katakyiase.

With the hopes of raising $15,000, “Our goal really is to build a true library for the community and the school,” Allen said.

Teachers are taking part in another jeans fundraiser, paying $25 to wear jeans to work through Dec. 18. The effort has raised $1,700 for the library project, Allen said.

Opening doors

As part of the “Change for Change” fundraiser, milk jugs will be placed in classrooms to collect students’ spare change from Nov. 30 until winter break begins on Dec. 18.

“Our Character Counts program has really just run with it,” Allen said.

On Dec. 20, Allen will return to Ghana to scout locations for the library.

Students at Southbury have come to see Katayiase as their “sister school,” Allen said. The Character Counts Club put together a video to show other students the need for books at Katayiase.

“They couldn’t believe kids over there had never even seen a picture book,” Allen said. While students were watching the video, “You could hear a pin drop. They just didn’t have words,” she said.

Allen said students and staff at Katayiase were surprised by the support from their American sister school.

“They were astounded that we paid money to get on a plane and go over to see them,” she said. “They are just so grateful for everything.”

Southbury is currently in the process of shipping more than 200 boxes of school supplies to Ghana, and in March, members of the Two Pennies Ministry in Bartlett plan to return to build a school and community library.

“Books just open so many doors for us,” Allen said.

Change for Change

Southbury's Change for Change from James on Vimeo.

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