G-A second-graders help students in Peru

Emily Trace and her second-grade class are sending children's books, written in Spanish, to a poverty-stricken community in Peru. Nathanael Mummert, third from right in middle row, sent a letter to the Echo Pilot announcing the project. He wrote, "Hello! Would you like to hear something? Mrs. Trace's class is donating books so that a school in Peru can have a library. And during April, we'll be helping Mrs. Trace get some books for Peru's new school library. Mrs. Trace will be going to Peru in June. Hope you will write this article in your paper. Love Nathanael."

A tiny non-profit organization received big help from some little people. Project Open Arms, created by Greencastle-Antrim Primary School teacher Emily Trace and her friend Stephanie Cramer two years ago, was one beneficiary of a service learning grant the school district received through Pennsylvania Learn and Serve.

And Trace's second-graders were eager to assist in the cause, to provide materials for an elementary school in Cuzco, Peru. They presented the concept to principal Angela Singer, who agreed the mission met the grant focus of giving students the opportunity to apply their learning to real-life situations. They used the $1,000 to purchase over 300 books for Yanamanchi School, which enrolls students from kindergarten through sixth-grade. For many of them, it is the only formal education they will ever receive.

While a student at Shippensburg University, Trace spent four months in the South American country. She was impacted by the poverty and determined to do something to make life a little bit better for the people, especially the children. She and Cramer went back and toured a large district. They selected Yanamanchi because the school and much of the mountain village had been destroyed by a mudslide in 2008. It had yet to recover. Many families still live in plastic- and tarp tents.

The new school is simple — desks, chairs, a blackboard. There are no textbooks and few supplies. Project Open Arms, funded solely by money the two young women raise, already has donated puzzles, books and sporting goods. They wanted to start a library for the youngsters.

Trace, 23, introduced her classroom to life in Peru. They studied the culture and viewed pictures of the people in their rural community. They learned phrases in Spanish. When the books arrived, the students became librarians. They created the pockets and cards for the back of the books, in the foreign language, and pasted a photo of themselves on the back of the front cover. They wrote letters to their faraway friends. High school Spanish students of Nicole Paci-Funk translated them from English. When Trace returns to Peru after school is out, this time accompanied by her cousin Ben Shenk, a senior at Shippensburg Area High School, she will deliver the books and the letters.

The service learning grant was achieved through the efforts of Ellen Kirkner, high school social studies teacher and project manager. Several other initiatives are underway in the district, as students of all ages learn how to help others through specific actions.

Trace was grateful for the opportunity to share her story and for the support of so many people.

"I want the community to know how thankful we are," she said. "We had a blast. The kids love talking about what we did!"