Wilde Lake students adopt Nicaraguan school

March 03, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

They live in the United States, but seventh-graders at Wilde Lake Middle School soon will get a glimpse of what it's like to be a student in a Third World country: Nicaragua.

Later this month, the Columbia school becomes the first in Maryland to take part in a sister school program sponsored by Libros para Ninos, a nonprofit organization that raises education funds for first- through sixth-graders in Nicaragua.

Mary Jo Amani, founder and executive director for Libros para Ninos, will discuss the partnership in a visit to the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center at 7:30 p.m. tonight. She lives in Nicaragua with her husband and three children.

About a dozen American schools are involved in Libros para Ninos' sister school program, in which the students raise about $1,500 to pay for a 130-book classroom library and for teacher training at a Nicaraguan school.

Emily Aubin, a Spanish teacher at Wilde Lake Middle, said about 200 seventh-graders will participate in the program and help raise money for their sister school, Escuela Esquipulas, near Managua, the capital.

"It's important in that it will help students realize that other students aren't as lucky as we are in the United States," the teacher said.

The students raise money through car washes, bake sales and through a read-a-thon, which also encourages American students to read. The middle school students will be able to use the project to fulfill the state's community service requirement for high school graduation.

Participating students also learn some Spanish and some Nicaraguan history, geography and culture and even exchange letters with Nicaraguan students.

"I think they'll get a good sense of what life is like in the Third World," said Lynn Yellott, an assistant coordinator for Howard County Friends of Central America, which is co-sponsoring tonight's program. "It underscores the multicultural objectives that the county's curriculum is following because of diversity."

Nicaragua, which has 3.7 million people and is the largest of the Central American republics, has been hard hit by civil war, debt, inflation, poverty and unemployment.

Mrs. Amani started the pilot program in January 1993 at 17 Nicaraguan schools to help students and help train teachers in the country, where only 22 percent of the first-graders complete sixth grade. Mrs. Amani wanted to send her children to public schools in that country and "was quite appalled" by the conditions, Mrs. Yellott said. "A lot of children don't even have desks."

In September 1993, the program expanded to include the sister school program, linking American and Nicaraguan students. This year, organizers expect 30 schools in Nicaragua to be involved.

During its brief history, 3,500 Nicaraguan students and 120 teachers have taken part in the program, said Mark Mullenbach, an aide to U.S. Rep. Timothy J. Penny, a Democrat from Minnesota, from whom Mrs. Amani sought support.

Mr. Penny introduced a resolution in January 1993 to have the United States provide developmental aid to Nicaraguans.

It failed to pass.

"There's very little education after sixth grade in Nicaragua," said Mr. Mullenbach, who will attend tonight's program, weather permitting.

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