Remarkable Student Life Experiences
In mid-April, hundreds of Middle School students intentionally arrived to school without their backpacks. It was all part of No Backpack Day, a service project dreamed up, championed, and organized by eighth graders Cameron Grainger and Sophie Spada to help create empathy and support for children in Cameroon, who face many struggles to get an education.
The service project they created not only speaks volumes to their big imaginations, but also to the stellar World Geography course that got them thinking about global problems in the first place.
“Country Day’s social studies curriculum allows seventh graders to examine specific problems impacting a particular country by following current events and conducting interviews with cultural liaisons,” explains Jessica Demeter. “It’s so much better to examine the day-to-day culture, the customs, and the way of life first-hand from someone who has lived/lives in a particular country as opposed to reading a textbook.”
The lessons of problem-solving made a lasting impression on Cameron and Sophie. In fact, long after completing their Global Village project on the country of Cameroon, the girls felt a continued calling to help tackle the problem of illiteracy in the African country. They just couldn’t shake the memories of lunch meetings with their adult liaison, Abong Fankam, who raised their awareness about the savage inequalities in education that are facing the children of Cameroon.
“We wanted to create a ‘backpack drive’ at Country Day to benefit an organization called A Place of Hope because too many students in Cameroon walk several miles to school and have no backpacks to carry their supplies,” explains Cameron. “We are so fortunate to go to Country Day. If our backpack rips, we can get a new one, and we take this for granted. We decided to ask Country Day students to donate a new or gently used backpack along with basic school supplies to our cause and also go without their real backpack for a day so that they could see how hard it was.”
“I really like working with kids and connecting with them,” adds Sophie. “I just thought to myself, ‘How cool would it be to connect with less-fortunate kids who are across the ocean from us by doing a service project in their honor?’”
Ms. Demeter is all smiles when she talks about the efforts of her former students. “Cameron and Sophie took the initiative to create something far beyond the expectations of our seventh-grade geography curriculum,” she says. “They rose to the challenge of taking their cause to National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) and to Mr. Sepkowitz and received permission to create No Backpack Day at Middle School.”
Making a Difference with a Little Help from Your Friends
Cameron and Sophie were beyond thrilled when NJHS offered to help support No Backpack Day—now the girls had 50 more sets of helping hands. “Not having a backpack for school is a serious issue that doesn’t always get a lot of the world’s attention,” notes NJHS Secretary Philip Schemer. “I feel like more attention gets put on a country’s current events than on their more long-lasting problems such as having no backpacks. Having a backpack can also really boost confidence for kids if their books are in better condition.”
“That’s just not a healthy way to live,” says Christopher Manzano, president of NJHS. “Having a backpack can be the foundation for a good education, so that’s why we wanted to help.”
The eighth graders got to work. Web sites were researched. Four logistical meetings took place. Posters were created and displayed throughout the campus. An informative video about No Backpack Day was created and shown during Town Meeting to introduce everyone to the problem and generate interest. Meanwhile, the promise of a Dress-Down Day to the grade with the greatest participation helped to ignite school spirit.
Cameron, Sophie, and the NJHS officers got to school early on Friday, April 15, grabbed their iPads, and ran to the Middle School bus stop. There, they filmed everyone disembarking from the buses. Loud cheers and shouts of praise greeted the happy, non-backpack-wearing students. In the end, more than 150 backpacks were collected on No Backpack Day.
The impact of No Backpack Day will be far-reaching, not only in Cameroon, but also here at Country Day. “No Backpack Day made me realize how hard my life would be without my backpack,” affirmed eighth grader McAuley Millen.