In our Transforming Schools Together series, teachers affiliated with the Center for Teaching Quality invite us to re-imagine the very concept of school, and suggest small actions we can take to improve existing schools.Last spring I visited Nepal for three weeks to teach at SAV School, a rural K-5 school, and to mentor to Nepalese teachers. Yes, my learning curve was deliciously steep and the journey incredible. But there were several lessons that resounded mightily before I even left Siler City, North Carolina.
Let's begin with a mysterious equation: 248 = 21,576. Just keep that in mind.
Here's another, more readily explained: 1 picture = 1,000 words = a passion now realized. Now multiply that by four little girls.
I hadn't discussed my upcoming trip too much with my third grade students at Virginia Cross Elementary. But the time came to share why I'd be gone for a few weeks. Time to ask what questions my students had. Time to share a photo of the school I planned to visit.
That photo enthralled some of my students. They learned the school had no electricity or running water. They noticed the differences between our physical learning environment and theirs. And two of my girls decided they wanted to raise money for the school and its students. By lunchtime they had recruited two more girls to help.
For 15 of my 17 years as a teacher, I have worked in a Title I school, where most students qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program. So it's a personal conundrum to encourage students to ask one another for money… but how could I not honor their attempts?
248 = 21,576
In short order, the four students had decorated donation boxes in the third grade classrooms. A couple of days later—emboldened by some success—they asked if they could go to their former second grade teachers to ask for the opportunity to present about their fundraising efforts, and I said yes. But, I asked, worried about where this might go, "Do you know how to explain this?" Not yet, they realized.
Soon they created a poster—and added a map after being befuddled by a teacher's geography question.
On and on it went. Their initial shyness and hesitation became a well-rehearsed plea for donations, buoyed by their growing knowledge about Nepal. All on her own, one girl requested permission from our school's assistant principal to set up a table at our Cultural Awareness Night to collect donations. They even took part in Skype sessions with the principal of the school in Nepal—but chose not to tell him about their project. (There is now a principal in Nepal who is well-versed in "opposite day," thanks to these girls.)
248 = 21,576
The week before I departed, the students collaborated with a group of fifth graders who filmed them for our morning school news show. One student created a script for a skit about saving money for the school in Nepal rather than buying snacks or needless items. Each girl's lines were highlighted, showing astounding evidence of their knack for foresight.
Keep in mind that these are third graders—kids who are eight and nine years old.
Keep in mind that all of this happened during lunchtime and in the mornings before school began. They brainstormed while they ate, and worked as soon as they were done. It was completely their deal.
248 = 21,576
Just before I left, they labeled photos of students, the school, their bus stop, and staff members on a huge poster. I was entrusted with this treasure, which would go on to mesmerize kids in Nepal.
And the donations topped the girls' goal of $200, for a total of $248. That converts to 21,576 Nepali rupees. That means sponsoring an entire pre-K class for a year. That means six months of a teacher's salary in rural Nepal. The school (which has its own inspiring story) is now raising $15,000 to buy land for a new school building.
I came back bearing thanks from the school, its students, and its teachers. Immediately, the girls told me it was time for them to create a thank-you video to their school community.
I took many lessons from my time in Nepal. But my students back in North Carolina taught me just as much. They reminded me to nurture their passions. To offer support. To hush my inner skeptic. To attend to those measures of growth—empathy, generosity, initiative, persistence, and the joy of discovering a passion—that standardized tests will never suitably capture.
The idea that thoughts and beliefs can manifest themselves into life-changing action, is a lesson in magic—the magic of interdependence, in which my students and those at the SAV school, now believe. Relationships are the cornerstone of all learning. Let's all nurture students' passions and extend this tangible global impact with us.
Click here to add helping SAV School build a dream campus to your GOOD "to-do" list.
Image via Wendi Pillars