At the beginning of the 2010-11 school year, students in Sheryl Spears’ first-grade class had an eye-opening experience.
Sunset Elementary School was paired with Chukopi Primary School in the Solomon Islands, Spears said.
“They learned a lot about other cultures,” she said of her students. “They were just kind of shocked. Knowing that (Chukopi students) only had one computer for their village, as opposed to us having five in our classroom. They just kind of stopped. Their mouths dropped.”
After the surprise subsided, teacher and students organized to send books, school supplies and a digital camera to their sister school. A week ago, those items were unwrapped by school children in the South Pacific island nation.
The project began last year when Spears read an article about Christine Epp, a teacher at Hayden Valley Elementary School. Epp had been involved in caregiving efforts to the Solomons for several years.
Epp said Spears gave her a call.
“She called me and said, ‘Hey, I’m interested. Can you fill me in? Can I get involved?’ And that was wonderful,” Epp said of Spears.
Epp, who is heavily involved in the Denver-based nonprofit group World Class Connections, paired Spears with Leto Nonga, a first-grade teacher on the small island of Marovo Lagoon.
Epp said she visited the Solomon Islands a few years ago. She said Marovo Lagoon is a land untouched by time.
“It’s just breathtakingly beautiful. The islands are very small, but the ocean is just immense,” she said. “The people have nothing, but they are the happiest people I’ve ever seen.”
Epp said the people live in small villages, often in grass huts. They live on subsistence farming and fishing. They are English speakers.
Spears said establishing contact with Nonga was difficult because of a lack of computer access on the island. But, in October 2010 the teachers began corresponding.
“She (Nonga) mentioned in an e-mail that they needed books,” Spears recalled.
Spears announced to her students they were going to collect books and other school supplies for the children in their sister school. Spears also spread word to parents through monthly newsletters.
“And, all my parents came through and brought books,” she said.
Plus, the National Honor Society donated money to purchase a digital camera for the classroom.
In January, the students boxed up more than 75 hardcover and paperback children’s books and shipped them to the South Seas.
Then they waited.
Months passed without the package arriving at Chukopi.
Finally, a few weeks after the Sunset students began summer break, the package arrived.
Nonga thanked Spears and her students in an e-mail.
“Such a very exciting morning for all of us,” Nonga wrote. “We really love the books! ... Express our thanks to all your lovely students.”
Spears said the partnership between Sunset and Chukopi will continue next year.
“Oh, yes, definitely,” she said. “Yes, yes, yes.”
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