BY Paul Groessel
Sun POST Newspapers
Why not swing through Arizona to meet pen-pals before heading to Mexico?
Based on essay submissions, one fifth-grader from six District 279 elementary schools was chosen to travel to Arizona to meet their pen-pals before entering Mexico to drop off school supplies.
Before the six-day trip in late April and early May, the students met weekly and organized a fundraising effort, which involved enough friendly competition among classrooms to exceeded a $10,000 goal by more than $1,000.
This marks the seventh year that Osseo School Board Member Tammie Epley and a principal have brought fifth-grade students to Arizona and then Sasabe, Sonora, Mexico. The program is called Students Connecting Through International Service.
“If we want to teach our students to be successful and contributing global citizens, we need to give them more real-life, real-world experiences,” Epley wrote in a summary of the program. “As they are forming life-long values, they need to interact with people of other cultures and countries, and learn to appreciate different perspectives and ways of life.”
On Epley’s first trip to Mexico, one of four she made before bringing students, only 30 percent of students in Sasabe were attending school because families had to provide children with their own school supplies, and most were unable to purchase them, Epley said.
These investments led to greater school funding from the government, she said, so now there are “consistent salaries for the teachers, new textbooks for several grade levels and even some computers,” she said.
This year, they are bringing school supplies one might find on an Osseo teachers’ list, according to Epley.
In Mexico’s heat, some material selections require climate considerations.
“If you don’t get the right kind of crayons they melt into a big blob the first day,” Epley said.
They are also providing other materials that are often considered as basics or an alternative to the basics, such as hand sanitizer.
“They don’t have running water right now,” Epley said.
Other materials Epley listed:
• More than 2,000 toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes
• Vision testing materials
• Tennis shoes
• Lunch trays, silverware, cups, pots, skillets, a blender and a microwave
• A digital camera and computer projector
• Gym mats and a basketball backboard, hoop and net
And then there are the new wheels.
“In June, I’m going to buy the Mexican school a small (Type A) bus and drive it down to them, carrying donated computers.,” Epley wrote.
But it doesn’t have to be the big things that show how the Osseo students’ contributions make a difference. The Osseo students will see the benefit of their fundraising and donations, which is not the case for most charitable efforts, some of the fifth-grade students said.
“You (usually) don’t really know where it’s going or who it’s going to, so it’s kind of fun to like see people’s reaction,” said Izzy Dahn, an Edinbrook Elementary student.
Meeting a pen-pal on the other side of the stamp is not always an option, either.
“I’m looking forward to meeting her,” said Rebecca Baley, a Park Brook Elementary student. “We have a lot in common.”
The students also made scrapbooks and designed T-shirts. After some negotiations, they settled on the color safety orange for the shirts. The boys in Mexico may not warm up to pink, Epley said, since they’ll be wearing them, too.
After the students meet their pen-pals in Arizona, they will visit students in Sasabe, Epley said. Then, six of the Mexican students will tour Tuscan, Ariz., with some help from the bilingual pen-pals.
“They find out firsthand that their individual efforts can make a real difference in the world, and they will share this knowledge, through pictures and stories, with each of their schools, and their communities,” Epley said.
Contact Paul Groessel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow the Sun Post on Twitter @ECMSunPost