Chautauqua staff, students are going global with projects and programs

Sometimes, it’s the littlest drops that make the biggest splash.

And you might be surprised to learn that right now on Vashon, it’s not a resistance movement, an arts event or even drag-queen bingo making ripples that are traveling far — it’s the students and staff at Chautauqua Elementary School.

Between four different student-, staff- and school-led activities and programs, Chautauqua is going global this fall with connections to four different countries and one U.S. territory: Uganda, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Spain and Colombia.

“It’s so great to see the school reaching out and gaining this understanding of other places and cultures … the world outside of Vashon,” Chautauqua Principal Rebecca Goertzel said.

School-led programs have so far connected Chautauqua students to Uganda, Spain and Colombia through two outside organizations: Sister Schools and The Amity Institute.

Sister Schools is an organization that connects students from “donor schools” here in Washington with children in need in Uganda, East Africa. An initial presentation is given to the donor school, showing the students what life is like for children in the schools and orphanages in that part of the world. The donor school then collects donations of school supplies, some sports items and even gently-used clothing and toiletries, and Sister Schools delivers the supplies directly to the Ugandan kids who need them.

“They (Sister Schools) began by showing that there are kids out in the world who need our help. They don’t have what we have and that can really be an eye-opener for our young students,” Goerzel said.

One aspect of this particular partnership that makes a significant impact is that photos are taken of individual students on this end, each holding a donated item, and a photo of a Ugandan child holding that same item once it has reached them is also taken — and Sister Schools returns to its donor schools in the spring to give a second presentation, this time a slide show of the photo pairs, side-by-side.

“It’s wonderful for the kids to be able to see the impact that their donations made,” Goertzel said. “So often you don’t get that feedback.”

The Amity Institute’s intern program has brought the world to the school in a way, in the form of Spanish-speaking teaching interns for the past three years. These interns live with local families for the school year, and serve as informal ambassadors for their countries while they gain some teaching experience. This year, there are three at the elementary school: two from Spain and one from Colombia.

“Not only does it add to the diversity of our teaching staff and community, but it is fabulous for our native Spanish-speaking students to have caring and fluent adults around to help with any subject,” Goertzel explained of the program, “particularly for our kids who are still developing their English skills. And for our English-speaking students, it really helps expand their global perspective as the interns often teach songs, dances and games from their home countries.”

And perspective is something that Sally Adam, Family Support Worker for Mi Escuelita Preschool and Latino Family Advocate/Spanish-English Interpreter at Chautauqua, has to spare from her years of visiting disadvantaged children at Casa Hogar, Nacidos para Triunfar, a shelter in Guadalajara, Mexico. Adam, who has been making the trip to the shelter for about 14 years, last year took letters written by Chautauqua students to the children there — many of whom suffer from extreme poverty, parental mistreatment or their parents are in jail or deceased. This year, Adam has students in art and Spanish classes making self-portraits to exchange, as she will bring some back that the children at the shelter have made. Other Chautauqua staff have joined the project and are putting together donations for Adam to take as well.

“The children at the shelter are always amazed that kids on Vashon continue to care about them,” she said. “It’s so wonderful, it’s a gift to have that relationship continue over so many years. I love the the school’s leadership has embraced this idea that we are part of a bigger world.”

Adam will travel to Nacidos para Triunfar on Dec. 15 and will stay at the shelter through the 22nd.

And finally, one third-grader’s drive to help and be challenged, has led to a school-wide fundraising effort for the victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

“I was looking for something to do, and at first I was thinking about doing something for Texas, but then Maria happened,” Neko Rogneby, a third-grade student at Chautauqua said. “My teacher said I should do some research. And I found out that there is no power on the whole island. And they are low on water and the airports only just opened recently. So it’s been really hard for them to get anything.”

Rogneby said that she came across pictures of the devastation that showed a supermarket with its roof ripped off, and she wondered, given that and the fact that there was no power to keep anything refrigerated, how the people had any food?

Rogneby’s teacher, Glenda Berliner, who described her student as a “really bright, humanitarian kid,” said that Rogneby took what she learned and her desire to “do something” to the fourth- and fifth-grade leadership team.

“When I met with the leadership team, they shared some fundraising ideas, they were all really good,” Rogneby said. “A giving tree was what was decided — For every $10 donated, a heart is put on the tree, and the class that donates the most wins a holiday karaoke party.”

Neko Rogneby with a display for Chautauqua’s Puerto Rico fundraiser. (Courtesy Photo)

Neko Rogneby with a display for Chautauqua’s Puerto Rico fundraiser. (Courtesy Photo)

To spread the word, Rogneby put together a Power Point presentation with the help of staff member Andy James, which she shared with her third-grade peers, who in turn presented it to the rest of the school’s students.

The fundraiser ends today, Wednesday, and is strictly monetary, as it was decided that would be the best way to help. And, as Rogneby noted, getting items to Puerto Rico is difficult right now.

The money raised will go to an organization called Direct Relief, a nonprofit that provides humanitarian and medical aid to victims of poverty and disasters.

Rogneby said she is hoping the effort brings in $1,000. She also said that she would definitely do something like this again, adding:

“It might seem like a big thing, but it’s really just being kind.”

Chautauqua Student Support Specialist, Lance Morgan, also contributed to this story.