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Date: 2010-01-11

‘Team in Africa’ program connects students a continent apart

Rwanda and Kenya might as well be on another planet for most middle-school students. But not at Team Academy in Newark, New Jersey. Students in the school's 'Team in Africa' program probably know more about the continent than most adults. And the students aren't just learning, they're finding ways to help African school children in need.

"These kids will turn out to be better people than I ever will be," said Ali Nagle, reading teacher and 'Team in Africa' instructor. "Their first thought was not about themselves but about helping somebody else achieve that dream as well."

Nagle's students have selected to help two schools, Kyandili Primary School near Machackos, Kenya and Kabwende Primary School located in Kinigi, Rwanda.

Through various fundraising efforts, such as cupcake sales and simply bringing in loose change, Team Academy has raised roughly $7,000 for the school in Kenya.

And they're partnering with students at Indiana University to raise money and provide books for the Rwandan school.

Nakayla Griffin missed her chance to sign up for the program when she was in sixth-grade. The Team Academy seventh-grader is now one of 'Team in Africa's' busiest members.

"I'm a blogger and I write about the different issues affecting the different countries [in Africa]," said Griffin, whose articles and updates appear on the group's Facebook page. "I mean, I could be outside playing with my friends...but I chose to be in here because I know it'll make a difference in somebody's life."

A peace grant helped some of the program's students make the trip to Rwanda this past summer. The students were able to deliver items like books in person.

"When I was handing out the books, I felt like I was doing something that was bigger than me," eighth-grader Zahnik Underdue said. "What we're doing is bigger than a book. I felt like I was doing something that would help hundreds of people."

Students suggested the 'Team in Africa' concept to Nagle several years ago after she showed her students a documentary on Oprah opening up a school for girls in South Africa. They meet Wednesday afternoons at Team Academy.

The other 3 schools in Newark's Team Network, also contribute to the fundraising efforts at Team Academy.

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