L-R: Debbi Christiansen, Lisa Waters, Tameri Mcmullin, and Carolyn Johnson with students of the Copey Learning Center. | Courtesy Debbi Christiansen

Students at Meadow Elementary in Lehi learned the true meaning of Helen Keller’s quote, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much,” as they collected school supplies for an English learning center in Copey, Costa Rica.

Last fall, assistant school secretary, Tamarie McMullin, was traveling with staff from the school on a trip when she sat next to Arthur Broady, a man on an airplane who initiated a conversation with her, which proved to change her life. Broady shared how he helps fund an English learning center in Copey, Costa Rica, population 900. McMullin was drawn to Broady’s generosity and enthusiasm for the program and wanted to know how she could do more. This is where Meadow Elementary’s “house system” came into play.

Meadow Elementary organizes a “house system” (like Harry Potter) where students gather together every Friday for lessons and activities to promote character education. Each house stands for a different trait, such as responsibility, friendliness, respect, and trust. Students are encouraged to not only show their own house character, but to build on them all. McMullin wanted to use the house system as a vehicle to help The Learning Center in Costa Rica. She approached principal Carolyn Johnson with the idea, and after getting approval, she set to the task.

McMullin and students presented an assembly to the school explaining that they all can be responsible for not only themselves, but the world around them. They then showed a short slideshow of the Copey Learning Center and sent home a flyer with the items needed for the donation. Meadow parents and staff came through, and in two short weeks, they gathered over 400 pounds of school supplies for the Copey Learning Center.

“I started the house system so students could be connected to other students and be part of something bigger than themselves. It has given students a vehicle not only to practice positive values, but to think about our community as well. They went above and beyond to help our neighbors in Costa Rica,” said Principal Johnson.

After collecting all the items, McMullin and Johnson then faced the dilemma of how to deliver the supplies to the school. Mailing would have been an easy option, but didn’t feel right to them. A first-grade teacher, Lisa Watters and a house parent volunteer, Debbi Christiansen, joined McMullin and Johnson and made the trip to Costa Rica to deliver the school supplies in person.

Two large suitcases filled with donated school supplies for the students of the Costa Rica Copey Learning Center.

The Copey Learning Center is a center where children come for English classes before or after their regular school day. English speaking volunteers help teach classes. While in Copey, the team from Meadow was able to meet the board of directors and spend time volunteering in the classroom. They were taken into the community and treated like family. The team from Meadow also donated supplies to the public primary school and secondary school, as well as met with their administration and toured their campus. Sixth-grade students at Meadow were even able to skype and speak with some of the 5th-grade students in Costa Rica.

“We fell in love with the people – both the students and the adults. We met people who will remain our forever friends. We laughed until we cried, and we cried because of tender moments and good-byes, my life is changed,” Watters said of the trip. She added, “look for ways to help those around you, pay it forward. There is no better feeling than to serve your family, friends, neighbors, or complete strangers.”

The team from Meadow returned changed and hopes to share their experiences with the students and staff at Meadow in a future assembly. Many Meadow students sent letters to their new friends in Copey and are anxiously awaiting responses from their new pen pals.

For more information on the Copey Learning Center please visit: http://www.copeylearningcenter.org/ or https://friendsofcopey.com/

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