Some Voorheesville Central School District students have a new appreciation for how fortunate they are to have both a school to attend and the resources they need to succeed. Now, they are taking action and getting their classmates involved to help teens at Karanda Mixed Secondary School in Kisumu, Kenya.
Juniors Felicity Heckler, Julieta Gil-Marin, Paige Layman, Kali Munro and Madeleine Reilly learned about Karanda from Lavonia Mallory, president of H2O for Africa Equals Life. Mallory told the students about their mission to provide resources for 10 girls to attend school. Voorheesville students became astounded at the economic barriers their counterparts encountered, from tuition and the price of school supplies to a lack of access to computers. The idea of teens helping teens appealed to the VCSD group.
“They are the same demographic as us,” Munro said. “We have a lot of privileges that they don’t have, so we are contributing to our peers in a different county.”
At the same time, the VCSD students were participating in the relatively new Seal of Civic Readiness program offered by the New York State Education Department (NYSED). NYSED created the program as a formal recognition for students showing advanced work in civic knowledge, skills, mindset and experiences.
Working with Mallory, the Voorheesville students decided they could help by raising funds and collecting school supplies for the students at Karanda. Each of the five teens hoped to raise $100. They exceeded that goal by collecting $700 in total.
Next, they organized a drive to collect school supplies. They put up posters in the hallways at the middle and high schools asking for donations of gently-used school supplies. As their classmates emptied their lockers at the end of the 2022-23 school year, the donation bins filled with notebooks, pencils, pens and other school supplies. H2O for Africa Equals Life will coordinate volunteers to bring the supplies to Karanda in October.
Social Studies Department Chair Tom Gladd has been the advisor on this project. He says helping the students at Karanda has awoken a new point of view for the students.
“It really does help to open up their eyes to the world around them,” said Gladd. “I think they’re more conscious of the fact that there are people who want the same things they have and take for granted. There are people who have to struggle for basic supplies.”
Pursuing the Seal of Civic Readiness has inspired another Voorheesville student to take action. While the five juniors worked on fund-raising and donations, senior Chloe Kirgan began working with Leon “Lonnie” Spath in the Voorheesville Tech Department to refurbish some Chrome laptops that will be donated to Karanda.
Seal of Civic Readiness: Books for Tunisia
Turning to another place on the globe, senior Mariem Sayahi has started Books for Tunisia, a nonprofit organization she runs with help from her father. It donates books to high schools in need in Tunisia. Sayahi has collected books that are no longer needed at Voorheesville Public Library and used some of her own funds to purchase books at the Guilderland Public Library book sale. To fulfill her mission, Sayahi had to meet with Tunisian officials at the regional office of the Ministry of Education to get the donated books approved. Some of those books are making it to the shelves of the library at the high school that her father attended.
“I printed labels that said ‘Books for Tunisia’ and the email address of the program and placed them on the inside of every book cover to serve as identification as well as a method for those who would like to reach out to me,” Sayahi said. “It is my hope that one day I will hear from a student who read one of the books I donated.”
Seal of Civic Readiness: Blackbird Paradise
VCSD students are also contemplating unmet needs in their own communities. Senior Julia Young discovered a need for volunteers at the Blackbird Paradise garden. Young has responded by taking responsibility for planting and maintaining four 4′ x 16″ garden beds. Although Young has recently graduated, she will still be working the beds this summer and her project will continue into the future.
“This project will help start an environmental club at Voorheesville High School.” Young said.
The herbs and vegetables she grows this summer will be used for the Good Eats program and the school lunch program.