Students at Gomadubu Primary School in Botswana — a country in southern Africa — hold up the books authored by fourth graders at Dublin Elementary School.

Students at Gomadubu Primary School in Botswana — a country in southern Africa — hold up the books authored by fourth graders at Dublin Elementary School.

Photo provided by Mark Edwards


Dublin Elementary students write, send books to kids in Botswana

By: Andy Kozlowski | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published August 1, 2019

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WHITE LAKE — Right now on the other side of the world, elementary school students in Africa are reading books authored by fourth graders from Dublin Elementary School in White Lake.

The students in the class of teacher Michele McKendry created the books and donated them to the Botswana Book Project, a group that collects materials to help primary schools in Botswana start their own libraries.

Normally, the Botswana Book Project only accepts books by professional authors, but when McKendry reached out asking to get her students involved, the group agreed.

“I asked if they would take the books we write if I can get my students to write the best and most pristine books I can get fourth graders to write, and they said yes,” McKendry said.

She happened upon the Botswana Book Project while researching ideas for a project-based learning lesson. McKendry attended a conference on the subject in Ohio about a year ago, and she came back feeling inspired. When she learned about the Botswana Book Project, she saw it as the perfect opportunity to teach her students how to write, peer edit and publish their own stories, while also learning about a different country, culture and way of life.

The work began last fall with classroom discussions about writing realistic fiction. The books were completed by February and were delivered to Africa in June. Each of the 26 students wrote their own story, sharing drafts with students in other grades at Dublin Elementary, who in turn provided constructive criticism on how to improve the stories.

“I think that my students learned that a book is much harder to write than they thought. To write an effective book, they needed to have a strong beginning that engages the reader right away, and then an ending that makes sense with their story. They had to create a problem and a solution, and bring the characters to life, adding details so the reader can picture it,” McKendry said.

“I warned them about the feedback they’d receive (from their peers),” she said. “They took it in stride better than I thought they would. They learned perseverance and problem solving — how to deal with criticism in a positive way, and also how to give feedback in a way that’s appropriate.”

The books were designed and printed through bookemon.com, and they were shipped to a contact in New Mexico, who then delivered the books to the students at Gomadubu Primary School in Botswana. Several copies were printed of each book. A grant secured by Dublin Elementary’s PTA helped pay for both the printing and shipping costs. At one point, the class also spoke with author Carly West via Skype to learn more about the process of writing and publishing a book.

The stories are set in America and cover such universal topics as feeling left out, being scared, trying something new and losing a parent. One story, for example, is about a girl who grows jealous of her friend and learns to communicate her feelings.

The students took care to describe elements that may not be familiar to kids in Botswana, where life is quite different — the students arrive at school by foot and donkey cart.

Botswana is a small, landlocked country in southern Africa, framed by the Kalahari Desert and the Okavango Delta, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The sprawling Central Kalahari Game Reserve is there, and the country also has the largest elephant population on the continent.

Originally one of the poorest countries in Africa, Botswana is now among the richest after gaining independence from Britain in 1966. A democracy, its economy was the third-fastest growing in the world by per capita gross domestic product between 1966 and 2014, trailing only China and South Korea. Its growth was fueled in part by the diamond trade. The country’s population currently numbers around 2 million, and its official languages are English and Tswana.

Once the delivery was completed, the school in Botswana sent a video to McKendry’s class that showed students receiving the books.

“I’m just so glad my students got to experience that, seeing the kids (in Africa) holding their books and being so excited. And I’m glad I was able to give them the tools they needed to create these books,” McKendry said. “I told my kids: ‘Your book, your name, is now in Africa forever!’ It was just something I wanted to do to engage my kids and get them excited about reading and writing, but it grew into something much more powerful.”

Jeffrey Drewno, the principal of Dublin Elementary, said that he is proud of McKendry’s work. Dublin Elementary is located on Farnsworth Road in White Lake, part of the Walled Lake Consolidated School district, and serves nearly 600 kids in grades K-5, preschool and early childhood special education.

“The students learned how to become better writers and how to communicate information with someone else while using technology to bridge that gap between two very faraway countries,” Drewno said. “Michele (McKendry) has been one of our teachers who always wants to try something new and innovative. She’s a technology leader in our building, and I always support her in that. She is always looking for the newest way of reaching kids, and this is just the latest example.”

For more information about Dublin Elementary, call the school at (248) 956-3800. To learn more about the Botswana Book Project, visit botswanabookproject.org.

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