All through last week, known formally as Friendship Week, students at Rosa Parks Elementary had a simple goal: raise as much money as possible for The Guatemala Friendship School, which currently serves 75 students free of charge in the Guatemalan village of Momostenango.
Students raised funds through coin drives and the sale of authentic Guatemalan friendship bracelets and t-shirts bearing the school’s logo during lunch.
On Friday May 16, Friendship Week ended with a dance and silent auction in the Rosa Parks Elementary commons. Students and families from Rosa Parks, as well as nearby Explorer and Emily Dickinson Elementary Schools, were invited to share in a charitable and fun-filled evening. Total funds raised by the end of the week came to about $10,000.
Auction items at the event included handmade goods such as table runners, jewelry, textiles, carved masks purchased from Guatemala and other Latin American countries. While parents surveyed the auction items, students socialized and rocked out to upbeat tunes on a cleared dance floor.
Doug Johnson, currently Vice Principal at Margaret Mead Elementary in Sammamish and President/Founder of the Guatemala Friendship School Foundation, was in attendance and served as a DJ for the dance.
In 1998, Johnson, then a teacher at Emily Dickinson Elementary, inspired Redmond elementary students to raise more than $7,500 to build a schoolhouse for a Guatemalan village he had visited. Today, four Eastside elementary schools continue to raise money to run the school, pay for teacher salaries, and ensure that students, who range from 7 to 48 years of age, receive an education through the ninth grade. An astounding 98 percent of students pursue higher education post-graduation.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Johnson explained, “because without our school none of these kids would have a chance to go to school.”
Johnson was recently honored for his efforts in the April 2008 issue of ParentMap magazine.
Rosa Parks Elementary, dubbed by Johnson as the “home community” of his foundation’s efforts for the past two years, and surrounding communities were truly inspired by Johnson and his cause. At the dance, Johnson, decked out in a fun wig, pumped up the crowd and in a spirited exchange with the kids asked, “Who makes dreams come true?” In response, the kids shouted, “We do!”
Kendall Campbell, a fourth-grade student at Explorer Elementary who previously had “Mr. J” as a teacher, attended the Friday night dance and auction and explained her own initiative in the effort to raise money for the school.
“We have this big bucket of change at my house and we just find a whole bunch of change and we just put it in that bucket and then I take that bucket and I just dump it. I just take all of my loose change and donate.”
In addition to raising money, all students at Rosa Parks had the opportunity in the classroom to write letters to students in Guatemala. In response, students in Guatemala would write back to the Redmond students and get to know each other in this way. Emily, a student in Ms. Smith’s third-grade class wrote via e-mail, “I have learned more Spanish words than before, and I have learned how I can be friends with someone even if they speak a different language.”
“I think it’s that personal touch that’s really important,” said Johnson about the letter writing. “That they really feel a personal connection and that they know that they’re making dreams come true.”
This personal connection has clearly left its mark on many, including Christine Drollinger, who is currently a student at Central Washington University. She still comes back to support Johnson and the foundation several years after she first met him as a fourth-grade student at Emily Dickinson Elementary.
Volunteering at the concession counter during the Friday night dance and auction, she laughed when asked what kept her coming back all these years.
“Are you kidding? Have you met Doug? Have you met Amy (Doug’s wife)? Have you met all these people that we work with?”
She, like many of the current elementary students, continues to be proud of the success of the Guatemala Friendship School.
For more information or to get involved, visit www.gfsf.org.