kenya-africa-map_web.jpgPALM BEACH GARDENS – Students at Palm Beach Gardens High School are collaborating with children from Kenya in Africa on a year-long long-distance reading project.

The 10th and 11th grade students are participating in a unique Global Student Summit and Reading Exchange program. Two of the school’s outstanding English teachers, Meredith Caro and Susan Roberts, are working with the Mwituha Secondary School in Bunyore, Kenya, in the innovative learning opportunity for students on the two continents.

The local students and their Kenyan counterparts will read the same four books and afterwards will communicate with one another through Skype and video chats to discuss what they’ve learned. Roberts says it’s a once-in-a lifetime opportunity for her students to interact with children on another continent. “One of the most important aspects of this project is the exchange of cultures and ideas,” Roberts said. “I was lucky enough to live in the International House in college, therefore, I know first-hand how much learning about other cultures can impact one’s outlook on life. 

“It is my goal for the Palm Beach Gardens students to not only share their daily lives with the Kenyan students but also to learn what comprises the typical Kenyan student’s day.  Most of my students have not been outside Palm Beach County and have little to no real knowledge of the world outside their community.  “Through reading common literature, researching a common problem and interaction with the Kenyan students, it is my goal to broaden their understanding of the world.”

The reading project is the brainchild of Jim Cummings, a long-time educator. He founded the Kijana Educational Empowerment Initiative, a non-profit organization that builds schools in Kenya. His organization helped to establish the The Mwituha Secondary School.

Cummings started the exchange program while he was at his former school, The Benjamin School, in North Palm Beach.  Asked if there are similarities in the students on the two continents, he said both groups love sports, they both want to grow up and get good jobs and they dress similarly. 

But there are also vast differences in their way of life, he added, including poverty in Kenya and lack of electricity. “Their families live on $2 to $3 a day. They are quite poor,” said Cummings, who left his teaching job to concentrate on helping schools on the African continent.  “We’re getting them some electricity in the school.”

For the reading exchange, the Kenyan students will use Skype on a borrowed laptop for communicating with their Palm Beach Gardens counterparts, according to Deb Svec, the Palm Beach Gardens High media specialist and facilitator of the collaboration at the school. 

The library at the Kenyan school is up to par, said Cummings. “They have a large supply of books. We shipped about 5,000 books there last year,” he said.

One of the authors of the books the students will read donated some of her books to the Kenyan students, said Svec. Sharon Draper, who wrote the book, Copper Sun, took special interest in the reading exchange program and wanted to help, said Svec. Draper visited Palm Beach Gardens High for the school’s annual “April is for Authors” program.    “One of the [other] novels we will be reading is Running For My Life, the autobiography of Lopez Lomong, who spent 10 years in a Kenyan refugee camp,” Roberts said. “Previous students have been deeply moved by his story of determination and triumph, as well as amazed by the details of his life in Africa. 

“They were able to understand not only the differences between the cultures but also see the similarities that people from all around the world share.  This is important to learn, as the world around them grows exponentially each day.  It is vital that they are able to begin the process of thinking globally – and forging relationships with teens on the other side of the world is a great place to start.”

The other two books the students will read are Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and Orange Houses by Paul Griffin.

Daphne Taylor may be reached at