9 days and Passback

I picked up the soccer gear from Mike at Soccer.com today.  I’m super excited about it.  He gave us at least three sets of uniforms, a couple sets of cones and over fifty balls.  Looks like a few keeper jerseys and some gloves as well.  I didn’t dig too deep in the bags as I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to repack them.  We’ve got somewhere around 90 pounds of equipment, just under the limit for our flight.  He seems like a really good guy, and his little sister is even working with some of her friends around here to collect a little more gear.  Sounded like she might drop another set of jerseys off for me at school on Monday.

Things are coming together, and the trip is coming on quick.  Mr. Atta and I are planning on sitting down again sometime this weekend and talking a little more about what we need to discuss when we meet with the leaders of Community Eleven School.  I think that he is a little worried about the commitment from Mendenhall and being certain that the school is in it for the long haul.  He says that so many times people come with good intentions, but they quickly fizzle out, and he doesn’t want to see that happen here.  I certainly agree and have some of the same worries.  However, I think that we will be able to build some extra support for it when we return and have some things to share.  Mr. Matson has agreed to draft a letter of support for us to take with us as well.  He’s been supportive of us the whole way, so I think we’ll be ok.  I guess in the end, only time will tell.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I can’t help but take a few minutes to think about how thankful I am for this opportunity.  There are a lot of uncertainties as this project moves forward, but I’m very excited about all that we’ve been able to do so far.  I feel like things will continue to just work themselves out as we go along as well.  That’s how good things tend to happen, right?

9 days…

14 days and television

It\’s getting closer and closer.  Two weeks from the time I\’m writing this we\’ll be in the air.  Hard to believe it really is that close to finally happening.  Things are really starting to come together and feel real.  I got to talk to my friend Julie Olson via Skype the other night and discussed a few of the particulars of our trip.  She\’s kind enough to open her home to Robyn and I and she\’s committed to getting her school, Lincoln Community School of Accra, in on the project.  She\’ll be bringing a group of staff members from Lincoln along with us to meet with the staff of Community Eleven School.  I\’m excited to have another school involved in the project, especially one close by and with a lot of resources to help.

I also did my first television interview today.  GCSTV interviewed Mr. Atta and me this afternoon to help publicise the work that we are doing.  I know it is just the school system channel, but it\’s still pretty cool.  I\’m excited about this project and I want people to know about it.  It will be interesting to see what the final program looks like.  I\’m not sure when it will air.

Finally, I\’m really excited to be collecting soccer gear next Wednesday to take along with us.  There\’s something cool about working with a program (Passback) that\’s connected to the US Soccer Foundation.  I can\’t wait to see what we get but more importantly, I can\’t wait to share it with the kids in Ghana.  The computers and school supplies are of course very important, but getting to share the beautiful game with kids across the ocean is something extra special for me.

Passback just posted this on their Facebook page.  Some of this gear is headed out with us!

The Beginnings – Part III

Mr. Atta managed to get everything all nice and packed sometime around the end of May.  We debated all kinds of plans about the best way to pack the computers.  I called every shipping place I could to ask advice.  In the end, I have no idea how they were packed.  Atta called me one day and told me it was done and that was that.  Not how I had planned, but he is a man of action and I was glad to be one step closer to getting the computers on the ocean. 

Atta contacted a shipping company that he had worked with before and set up a time for them to pick up our containers.  Twice Mr. Atta set up these appointments and twice they did not show.  Once again another road block presented itself.  We were ready to begin seeking other options as our containers had been packed for several weeks now and sitting in Atta\’s garage.  This was an incredibly frustrating time. 

To make a long story short, eventually they did show and our computers were headed for Africa.  I was excited and nervous.  We had just turned over 3 crates full of computers, clothes, and school supplies and I had no invoice.  I was assured that everything was in order, but it just wasn\’t the way I was used to doing busines.  It was well over a week before I was emailed an invoice and we didn\’t even pay anyone for a couple of weeks.  When the crates were picked up Mr. Atta had told them he did not have time to pay them because they had made him wait so long.  They would have to wait.  Wow.  He is a man of action and I am impressed.

Eventually we got a real invoice, paid our bill and I even got a tracking number.  I checked it daily, as if it would make things move quicker.  After a stop in Amsterdam our container finally made it to Tema where it would sit in port for another solid week before being received by Community Eleven School.  Mission accomplished.  Kind of. 

School was out for the summer so the crates were moved to the headmaster\’s house to await the new school year and installation.  Again we would have to wait.

That pretty much gets us to where we are now.  CESC is working on the installation process, aparently with an outside organization.  There is so much I don\’t know about what is going on in my own project.  It can be frustrating at times, but it has been an incredible learning experience.  I\’ve had to accept the fact that I can\’t control every little aspect of this.  It\’s just not possible. I\’m not really used to that, but I\’m coming to terms with it.  I\’ve also learned to accept that there are different ways of doing business.  Mr. Atta has helped me many times with reassurance that everything was ok. 

It\’s been fun, it\’s been frustrating, it\’s been a challenge.  We\’ve only just begun…

Recruiting, Writing and Soccer Gear

Thanks to my wife, Robyn, who is a school social worker in our district, I was invited to share our project at Joyner Elementary School yesterday.  I presented to the 5th grade students and their teachers as well as a few other staff members.  I wasn’t real sure what to expect and basically just adapted a presentation I gave to our staff here at Mendenhall.

The kids were excited and had some great questions.  They were curious about how our schools differ from theirs.  So their plan is to come up with a list of questions that Robyn and I can take with us and work on answering as we visit Community Eleven.  We also provided their teachers with the idea of possibly having the students create an autobiographical poem that we could take with us to share and hopefully have CESC kids complete as well.
In my classroom our students are working on creating an essay about a pivotal moment in their life to share with students in Tema who are preparing the same assignment.  I’m pretty excited about this for several reasons.  One, this is potentially our first real exchange between our students and I have a feeling that the topics the students have chosen will be radically different from each other.  I can’t wait to see what comes out of these.
Finally, thanks to another connection provided by Robyn, we’re communicating with Soccer.com’s Passback program and are working on getting some gear to help Community Eleven build a soccer team.  This is kind of a side project from the original plan, but if we have the chance to connect through soccer (football) I’m all about it.  Mr. Atta also sees this as another opportunity for the kids in the region to find a positive outlet.
Lots of stuff going on right now.  All kinds of ideas and possibilities.  I can\’t wait to see where all this takes us.

The Beginning – Part II

The success of Ghana days had us planning to make it an annual event.  It didn’t happen.  I was also a little disappointed with the fact that the kids raised a bunch of money, presented Atta with a check and then had nothing else to do with the project.  The students had participated in the fundraising, but did not build a real connection with the project itself. We had done some good, the money raised was used to refurbish computers, but I felt like we could do better. We needed a way to better connect our students with Community Eleven School Complex.

I had a student teacher and therefore a little time on my hands so I started looking into grants for technology to use in my classroom.  I wanted iPads for my students to use and I was searching for ways to make it happen.  I found two grants that I thought might fit my needs and came up with the idea to include a connection with Community Eleven.  I presented the idea to Mr. Atta and he said sure.  I\’m not sure that what I was proposing was really clear, or I explained it all that well, but it was all still hypothetical.

I wrote the grants pitching the idea that we would purchase 6 iPads and 6 FlipVideo cameras to be split between our two schools.  Students would use the technology to create videos about their daily lives, school and communities that we would then share via the internet.  It worked.  My idea was funded by both the NEA Foundation and the Lego Children\’s Fund.  With both of the grants I recieved almost $10,000 for the project.  Game on!

Once we had the funding, Mr. Atta and I started talking seriously about how to implement the project.  We ran into a roadblock right away. CESC didn\’t have internet access much less wireless.  I hadn\’t even considered this as a possible problem as I was developing my initial plan.  I figured we would order the iPads and have them shipped to CESC and we\’d be exchanging videos in a few weeks.  I was quickly introduced to reality.

Obviously our plans changed.  We began to focus on providing CESC with enough desktop computers to develop a computer lab.  Mr. Atta began purchasing used computers at UNCG\’s surplus sales and we asked our students and staff to donate their old computers as well.  We found a local computer repair service that offered to refurbish the computers at a discounted price and we managed to buy 3 new desktops along the way.  In the end we added 2 laptops and 2 printers as well.
It took us an entire year to collect the computers, monitors, keyboards, and other accessories and be certain that everything was in working order.  At times it seemed like we would never get everything organized and ready to go.  Thanks to Alliance Computers and the UNCG Computer Science department we finally had enough refurbished computers that were ready to ship.  Enter the next roadblock…
To be continued…

The Beginning

I’ll have to recreate this the best I can.  This project has been several years in the making and just now gotten to a point where I feel like I should start writing about it.  I wish I had kept a little better record of events as we were putting things together, but I had no idea what this would turn into.  So, to the best of my recollections this is our story…
I met Mr Kweku Atta in my first years at Mendenhall.  Somewhere around 2006 I guess.  He was (and still is) the custodian on my hall, so we would strike up conversations from time to time as he worked in the afternoons.  Eventually I learned that he was from Ghana and we tried, somewhat successfully to set up something where he would share with the students about his home since we studied the Africa and the Eastern Hemisphere.
When UNCG ran this story in January of 2010 it opened the door for the beginnings of our project.  It started with my wife and I making a small donation to Mr. Atta to help with shipping costs and turned into Ghana Days later that year.  Students in the 7th grade were assigned to create a project about a specific time period in Ghana\’s history.  We then came together as an entire grade level for two days of presentations and sharing about the history and culture of Ghana.

The final aspect of Ghana days was an afternoon Survivor tournament among the grade level. Students created teams of their friends and donated a small entry fee to play one of their favorite Physical Education
games.  Students who decided not to play were asked to make small donations to come out and watch.  In the end, no student was excluded and we had an excellent afternoon of games and socializing.  We were able to present Mr. Atta with a check for $550
To be continued…

Kweku Atta was instrumental in the building of Community Eleven School Complex before he immigrated to the United States.  He is currently a custodian at Mendenhall Middle School and Building and Environmental Technician at UNCG.  He has been the link and inspiration to create this project.

The Project

Mendenhall Middle School (MMS) of Greensboro, North Carolina is working to create a cultural exchange program with Community Eleven School Complex (CESC) in Tema, Ghana.  Students at Mendenhall are engaging in service learning projects that will benefit the needs of CESC and increase their own global perspectives.  It is our hope that through this exchange both communities will learn from one another while gaining a better understanding of their similarities and differences.

The project entered it’s second phase the first week of December 2012 when Ryan Harwood, Kweku Atta and Robyn Harwood visited CESC to celebrate the official opening of the computer lab and discuss the future of our relationship. Many things were accomplished and celebrated that week and new goals were established.  

Current project initiatives, future initiatives and accomplishments:

  • 15 computers, 2 printers shipped to CESC for establishing computer lab (summer 2012)
    • The computer lab was officially opened during a ceremony we attended on 12.3.12
  • Environmental Club founded at CESC (fall 2012)
    • The Environmental club performed an original skit about the importance of trees during our vist to CESC (12.3.12)
  • Mendenhall and CESC students writing Pivotal Moment essays to exchange and compare (fall 2012)
  • Working with Joyner Elementary (one of our feeder schools) to get them involved in the project (fall 2012)
    • 5th graders from Joyner sent worksheets they completed describing their likes and dislikes.  CESC students will complete their own copies and return them with Mr. Atta.(12.3.12)
  • Obtaining soccer equipment from Soccer.com’s Passback program for distribution at CESC (fall 2012)
    • We successfully delivered three sets of uniforms to CESC along with about 20 balls (12.3.12)
    • We were able to leave over 20 more balls to be distributed by contacts and friends in Accra as areas of need are identified (12.3.12)
  • Working to establish the involvement of Lincoln Community School of Accra, Ghana (fall 2012)
    • Representatives of Lincoln accompanied us on our visit to CESC and shared a lot of good ideas on how they can hopefully get their staff and students involved. (12.3.12)
  • Walling in the school property to protect from encroachment of builders and ensure student safety
    • Committee established to begin investigating the process of walling in the school property (December 2012)
  • Cafeteria area for students to sit and have lunch
  • Internet connection and air conditioning of computer lab
    • The computer lab was networked and connected to the internet in January of 2014.  A very special thanks to my new friend Habeeb and his team at ITFoundationGhana for his tireless work to get the school connected.
  • Educational toys for the kindergarten classes

A Brief History

This project came about from the relationship I’ve established with Mr. Kweku Atta over the past 6 years I’ve spent at Mendenhall Middle School. It has turned into an exciting opportunity to help Community Eleven School Complex.  In December of 2012 we will visit to see the fruits of our labors so far and to plant the seeds for this project to grow.

Hopefully the students of Mendenhall Middle and Community Eleven School Complex will continue to grow through learning and service. Please see the blog entries titled, “The Beginnings” for more details of how this project developed.