By Nance Ebert, Contributing Writer
Westborough – After attending a special program in October, called The Power of Hope, with guest speaker Gabriel Bol Deng, several students from the Mill Pond School approached their teachers to see if there was anything they could do to help. Principal Peter Guellnitz decided to make it into a bit of a competition between the grades and Challenge for Change was born.
“Gabriel Bol Deng overcame much hardship and fled violence throughout his childhood and received a life-changing opportunity to come to the United States in 2001,” said Reading Specialist Kathy Ferrecchia. “He was one of the original ‘Lost Boys’ from South Sudan. The students and teachers were so moved by his presentation that we could not wait to get started with our challenge.”
“Grades four, five and six have been putting change or bills into the bins. One penny equals a point; a dime equals 10 points and dollar bills mean minus 100 points. For some reason, there are a lot of five-dollar bills in the fifth-grade bins. I think the other grades don’t want us to win because we were the winners of the food drive. The winning grade will get an extra recess,” said fifth-grader Lilah Brackett.
The final amount, $1,500, will be donated to Gabriel’s foundation called Hope for Ariang, which provides inclusive access to education in South Sudan. The Mill Pond students hope to help provide schools, lunch money, uniforms, sponsor a student, send teachers to training camp, access to clean water and so much more to the organization. The five Mill Pond students who are on the committee include: Sam Wickline and Garima Chauhan, both in sixth grade, Lilah Brackett, and Atharv Joshi and Shriyaa Madanlal, both in fourth grade. They will all help decide how to allocate the funds.
“Through Westborough Connects, Gabriel was invited to speak at an evening presentation titled, ‘The Power of Hope.’ Guellnitz thought that it would be powerful to get him to come to Mill Pond and speak directly to the students. The Mill Pond Parent Group sponsored this program which really seems to have had a positive impact on all who saw it,” said Ferrecchia.
“I feel really good being a part of this committee because we are helping people that are less fortunate and it’s a really good cause,” said Sam.
“This is especially important for the young girls,” Lilah said. “They typically have to take long walks to get fresh water and then do not have time to attend school. Having accessible clean water is really important.”
The program has woven its way into other aspects of the curriculum. Back in her classroom, Lilah changed her “Genius Hour” over to a slide show to help kids in Sudan.
“The sixth-graders are talking about global issues, human migration, refugees, healthcare and more. They took the presentation and are adding it to their curriculum,” said Ferrecchia.
She also mentioned how proud the parents of the committee members are of their children to take action for people who are less fortunate.
“Participation was big. Sometimes there would be lines of kids waiting to put their money in the bins. We have great kids here and I think this just proves in another way how much kids care about what they are learning and they are doing something with it, which we are super proud of,” said Assistant Principal Jeff Smolski.
Bol Deng lives with his wife and two daughters back in Sudan. He expressed his gratitude to the Westborough community.
For more information, visit www.HopeForAriang.org.