As summer fades into fall, some students may feel that they experienced lackluster summer vacations. But for 12 Albany High students, the summer of 2014 was life-changing. These students belong to the buildOn club, one small chapter in a national organization that raises money to build schools in developing countries.
During the 2013-2014 school year, the Albany buildOn students raised more than $40,000 to build a primary school in Nicaragua. Twelve students, who worked countless hours at weekend bake sales for the majority of the school year, saw their efforts rewarded with a trek to the village in which the school was to be built. Once there, they helped to build the foundation of the school, both a symbolic and pragmatic process.
Senior Cassia Artanegara, who did not go on trek, said, “It’s pretty cool to see a whole community literally build themselves a school with their own hands when many people here, if asked, ‘Do you want to build a school?’ wouldn’t lift a finger.”
The most important parts of the trip, however, were the cultural exchange and the exposure to new ideas about education. Sophomore Julia Greensfelder said, “I feel like I appreciate everything I have much more now and I don’t take things for granted, like water pressure or a variety of food, and I realize the need for volunteer work and service,” which is another aspect of the buildOn organization.
For Greensfelder, the main difference between the American and Nicaraguan education systems lies in the resources “towards learning and pursuing careers and higher education.” With many more college options to choose from, Americans from all social and political standings have access to higher education.
Senior Legeng Liu, who went on trek to Haiti instead of to Nicaragua due to scheduling difficulties, explained: “opportunities for a college education are much scarcer [in Haiti than in the U.S.], as they don’t have many universities. And these universities have very limited space and can only admit a very small percentage of high school graduates. So for the students in Haiti, studying and getting into college is a much bigger priority in their lives.”
Juliet Radford, an English teacher and buildOn faculty sponsor, identified the disparity among the two cultures: “Here, we tend to see education as something we have to do – have to wake up, have to get to class, have to follow the bells, have to do our homework. There, education is a privilege – get to wake up, get to go to class, get to learn. It’s amazing how when we lose something we take for granted that it suddenly becomes precious.”
As Albany residents, we may feel that the relatively poor education systems in other some countries do not apply to us. But America is not impervious to the trend. In fact, the United States K-12 education system lags behind of those of other industrialized countries. Yet, recent years have seen a decrease in American state education spending. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, per-student government spending was reduced 17.3% between 2008 and 2012. Granted, the economy was in a recession, but is education the right place to make cuts? If the youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow, don’t we want to invest in our students to lead us into a more prosperous future?
Greensfelder sees it as a social issue more than a political one. She feels that some American students (including herself before the trek) “take their education for granted” and should “learn the importance of school.”
Radford added that if American students adopted this attitude, “school would likely sound super-appealing.” Welcome back to school, everyone. Let’s be grateful for the education that we receive and have one heck of a humbling year.