Strawberry Park Elementary adopts Filipino school torn by November typhoon

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— When Guido Costantini approached Strawberry Park Elementary School Principal Tracy Stoddard with the prospect of adopting a Sister School in the Philippines through his nonprofit Better Schools, Better World, the second-year principal had some questions.

A November typhoon ripped through the Philippines, killing thousands of people and destroying towns and the schools serving Filipino children.

Could Strawberry Park really help?

One of those schools was Ivisan Elementary, a school of about 1,500 students, and its Hub Library, which served more than 126,000 children in the Capiz province.

Costantini explained to Stoddard Better Schools, Better World’s vision of connecting current and future generations of young Americans and foreigners, especially in times of devastation. More importantly than building a connection, Costantini said, is sustaining it.

Stoddard jumped on board.

“We approached Tracy, and she was our first bite,” Costantini said. “She decided this would be a great thing to bring to this school, this worldly project so kids can get involved in a better understanding of how poverty and natural disasters can affect a community. Beyond that is how to continue that relationship.”

The relationship began taking form about four months ago, and for the past two months, Strawberry Park Elementary has adopted Ivisan Elementary as Better Schools, Better World’s first Sister School project.

But the project between Strawberry Park and Ivisan has meaning on another level, as well. Sister Schools are nothing new to Strawberry Park librarian Sherry Holland, Stoddard said. After 14 years with the school, Holland is set to retire in June, so a branch of parents from the school’s Parent Information Committee banded together to do something in honor of the longtime librarian in conjunction with its newfound partnership in restoring Ivisan Elementary.

Holland has been busy in the back half of the school year holding on-campus fundraisers to go directly toward Ivisan Elementary’s restoration and the rebuilding of its Hub Library. Events such as book drives to collect materials for the soon-to-be-built library and student change donations have been held. Everything helps, Stoddard said, and many children are emptying their piggy banks from home to help.

“All the children when you walk around, they all know about Ivisan,” Stoddard said. “And they can talk about it and how important it is to them. This project with Sherry is very, very important as well because they adore Mrs. Holland.”

The week of June 2 to 6, Ivisan Elementary’s principal and a teacher will be at Strawberry Park to give presentations about the November devastation and lead a different grade each day in instruction. Costantini is hoping their presence on campus will spark something bigger — something more than one Steamboat campus helping another overseas.

“This goes beyond Strawberry Park,” Costantini said. “This is a community effort, and here is Tracy, who agreed to this Sister School process, but not to just do something cute. In this case, we want to add a human aspect to it.”

The week after Ivisan’s visit to Steamboat, Strawberry Park second-grade teacher Susan Ogden will visit the Philippines as a guest instructor. There, she’ll share teaching styles with other Ivisan teachers and give class instruction for her Filipino peers to observe.

Later this summer, Stoddard said Holland plans to visit the Hub Library when it has been built to work with the school’s media specialists in getting it up and running.

It’s the start of a human connection Costantini hopes Better Schools, Better World can develop with students in the community from a young age. And the more that word spreads, he’s hoping the more Steamboat students and their families outside Strawberry Park work to get engaged.

“We won’t say goodbye to them,” Costantini said about Strawberry Park's Sister School. “We want to remain with you, and in many ways, it’s spiritually and through friendship. I would love to see these little kiddos as teenagers sending each other an email telling them, ‘I had my first kiss,’ or ‘I’m going on my first date.’”

But Costantini realizes that Better Schools, Better World’s vision — which he said is grand in its initial stages — won’t become a reality without the proper fundraising.

From now through May 31, donations of any amount can be dropped off at Strawberry Park or the Bud Werner Memorial Library, or on www.betterschoolsbetterworld.com.

"We're not going there to give them iPads, iPhones and computers," Costantini said. "We want them to teach the same way they've been teaching, but we want to give them an environment."

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll

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