My students and I changed the world, the other day. No, not The World – the entire planet and its paradigms. An individual girl’s world. We don’t know her name. We don’t know what country she lives in. All we know is that, through a fundraising project, we can send her to school for a whole year.
Let’s back up. How could a textbook publisher put a unit in a book about an organization that sets out to build schools and libraries while supporting education in the developing world and not expect the students to want to do something about it? The textbook for my advanced listening and speaking class, Leap Advanced, did this very thing, and then kept on going without every looking back or caring what happened to its so called content. Well, as a class we couldn’t learn this information and not take action.
The unit presented an interview with John Wood, former Microsoft executive and founder of the non-profit organization “Room to Read“. We learned that over 800 million people in the world cannot read, and over 70 million children cannot go to school. These were startling statistics, especially when explained in the context of how by learning to read, people can begin to lift themselves and their nation out of poverty. We learned that they have built thousands of schools and libraries, and sent thousands of students to school, sometimes for the first time ever. They had a particular emphasis on girls’ education, as most girls are expected to dropout or not attend school at all. We learned that $1 donation prints one bilingual book. $250 can send a girl to school for a year and cover her tuition, food, supplies, and transportation.
After all our listening and speaking activities, I asked the students if they wanted to move to the next unit or figure out a way to help. Happily, they chose the later and thus began our fundraising project. Some students simply suggested donating a dollar each, but I asked them to think bigger. Eventually, a day or two later, it was suggested that we sell roses for Valentine’s roses. I thought this was a great idea, but did not know rose prices shot up the week before Valentine’s (but, this should have been obvious). Back to the drawing board, and we decided on a bazaar (half bake sale, half used goods market).
I had students prepare presentations to give to other English classes to gather support for the fundraiser. This made the students both nervous and excited to present in front of peers who were not their classmates. This, it turned out, was a great idea and a positive experience for my students and other students at the ELI. In fact, these students were our biggest supporters.
Last week, students fought two days of cold to sell books, clothes, muffins, and chocolate on campus. Students learned the joys of a donation, and the sorrow of having hundreds of students pass our table by. They also fought whatever anxiety they had to not only present to English students but to engage native speaking students on campus. It was great to watch them explain the purposes of Room to Read to other non-ESL students.
After two days of hard work, the students were overjoyed when they learned we had reached our goal of $250…and so was I. The weeks leading up to this event, and the days of, were very stressful for me, as I worried about failure and disappointment if no one contributed or did not contribute enough. But thanks to their presentations and perseverance, I think they have come away from this project (and my class) with authentic English experiences, a memorable student experience, and the feeling of satisfaction knowing they are contributing to a better world for a single individual.