Student Authors’ Hearts are in the “Write” Place

Mrs. Hendershott's 6th grade class collaborates to write books for students in Kenya.

In a part of the world too poor for schools to have a library or even books, the children of one Kenyan school will soon have literature at their fingertips, written and prepared by student authors at Bowie 6th.

Writing a book is quite an undertaking for anyone, much less a group of sixth graders. But, teacher Destini Hendershott says as her students began to learn the details of life in the Kenyan village of Mweiga, they weren’t intimated by the project. They were inspired to do something.

“Their schools don’t have electricity. They have dirt floors. Our students were really shocked there are schools like that in the world because we have so much here in America,” says Destini. “Our students are just so kind and generous and really began to show their compassionate side.”

The catalyst for the concept of creating books from scratch was prompted by the travels of a fellow Bowie 6th educator, digital learning leader Mindy Montano. Several years ago, as Mindy fulfilled a personal dream of running a half-marathon on all seven continents, a new dream began to take shape. “I was out walking around in a village and realized how poor everyone was,” says Mindy. “So I came back, contacted an attorney and started a non-profit. Now I raise funds to send the children of that community to school.”

The non-profit, Kids of Kenya and Kieni West, was born, and today Mindy makes bi-annual visits to Africa to check on “her” kids. As she travels to Mwiega during spring break, Mindy will take with her a suitcase full of books for children who have none, created by her other kids, the scholars of Bowie 6th.

“It’s very hard to take books over there because books are very heavy. So our students are making books that are light and easy to travel,” says Mindy. “The books will go to Mwiega Primary School, where the orphans I help take care of attend. We’re also going to give each one of the orphans a book to keep, to make it a little more personal for our kids here and very personal for the children in Mwiega, as well.”

 

“They’re putting a lot of time, effort and thought into these books. They really want the kids in Mwiega to be able to connect through the literature they’re writing.”

 

To corral a massive project like this, educators worked to define the process step-by-step. “We’re reading a book called Schooled, right now. Schooled is about a boy who lived on a commune and is transitioning into a normal society,” says Destini. “It’s written from multiple characters’ points of view. We are using that as a model for our students to choose one event that their story will focus on and each of them is writing that same event from a different perspective.”

The Bowie 6th team also wanted the project to align with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) objectives, which are the state’s curriculum for students. Project based learning (PBL) activities like this one are particularly effective, says Destini, in the mastery of thinking, communicating, collaborating and contributing. “The cool thing about PBL is you hit so many TEKS at once and students don’t even realize how hard they’re working and they’re really engaged.”

 

 

Though separated by nearly 9,000 miles of geography, these Bowie sixth graders and their Kenyan counterparts are now forever linked.  The budding Bowie authors have come to realize while their living and learning environments may differ drastically, children, no matter where in the world they live, are all very similar.

“They love soccer and volleyball. They love to shoot hoops. They love to toss the football, but of course, they call it rugby. They love ninjas and WWE,” says Mindy. “They basically eat the same foods we do and they take the same courses in school that we do here, so there are a lot of similarities when it comes to children around the world.”  Making the bond even stronger, both groups of students share a language. Children in Mwiega speak both English and Swahili.

There are a lot of similarities and shared interests and now, shared hearts, says Mindy. “I love being involved with projects like this because it brings out the best in our children. They’re putting a lot of time, effort and thought into these books. They really want the kids in Mwiega to be able to connect through the literature they’re writing. I’m super proud of these children.”

 

For more information on the non-profit Kids of Kenya and Kieni West, visit http://www.helpingkidsofkenya.org/

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