A group of Elgin Area School District U-46 elementary school teachers will visit Ghana over winter break to train educators there how to use storybooks and computers in their classrooms.
The effort is part of the Books for Ghana project by sixth-grade gifted students at Sycamore Trails Elementary School in Bartlett.
Last school year, students collected more than $800 through a fundraiser for their Ghanaian pen pals. Students and members of the First Baptist Church of Elgin also collected more than 7,000 books for students in Ghana. The books and six computers were sent over earlier this year to the Ministry of Education in the Cape Coast region of Ghana.
"The teachers don't quite know how to use these (storybooks)," said Jim Reed, sixth-grade gifted program teacher at Sycamore Trails, who led the project.
Schools in Ghana typically only provide government-issued workbooks that students often must share.
"They have never had the opportunity or access to books like this," Reed said. "We're going to be sending a team of teachers to Ghana ... and we're going to be working with the teachers there ... train them how to use storybooks to increase reading interest, reading comprehension. This is a long-term commitment. Our goal is to have these ongoing relationships. We never do anything that is just one shot and leave."
Reed said about six U-46 teachers will make the trip, using money they collected through individual fundraising efforts. The anticipated travel cost for each teacher is about $2,400.
Reed has been doing volunteer work in Ghana for a few years, working with schools in the Cape Coast region, and has partnered with several area churches.
Sycamore Trails students also are supporting another project in Ghana by Two Pennies Ministry, led by Reed.
The charity is building an orphanage in the Cape Coast region for a Ghanaian couple who are taking care of nine orphaned children by themselves.
"We have been supporting this orphanage since 2011," Reed said. "It was just a run down place and they were doing the best they could to serve these kids."
First Baptist Church raised roughly $6,000 for all the fixtures (plumbing, toilet, sinks, stoves) for the orphanage, and a sixth-grade gifted classroom at Sycamore Trails raised nearly $700, Reed said.
But what really launched the project was an anonymous donation of $100,000 received last summer by Two Pennies Ministry. The funds largely will be used for the orphanage project, Reed said.
Construction of the orphanage began in late April and is expected to be completed by September.
"These kids will have electricity and running water for the first time," Reed said. "They will have a nice big space for bedrooms."