Arcata Teacher Sponsors Young African Authors – October 10, 2012

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Benjamin Price, right, with his Union Street Charter School third grade class, with Greg Gaeira at left. Photo by Jessica Callahan | Eye

Jessica Callahan

Eye Correspondent

HUMBOLDT – Benjamin Price is adding the finishing touches on his non-profit website. With his credential program complete and student teaching coming to an end, Price shifts his focus back to his 501(c)3 non-profit, The Lesotho Young Authors Program. His non-profit started before he entered the credential program at Humboldt State University, but it is the reason he got his credential in the first place.

In 2008, Price had just graduated from college with a degree in Photography and a minor in Early Childhood Education. He went to visit his brother working in the Peace Corps in the country of Lesotho. Officially the Kingdom of Lesotho, it is a mountainous nation located in the Republic of South Africa. For Price, this wasn’t a two-month trip just to visit his brother and see another country – he wanted to do something.

He brought colored pencils and 50 blank books. He had no idea what he was going to do with them. While in the Thaba-Tseka region of Lesotho, Price made friends with a local elementary school teacher. He started working in a school and found that the students needed books.

“Accessible children’s literature is rare in Lesotho,” Price said. “Most books, when available, tend to be inappropriate for local children both linguistically and culturally. The books they had were from the United States or United Kingdom and are written in English, only the local children could not relate to the stories.”

He learned that school children are taught in both their native language, Sesotho, and English. Children are taught in Sesotho in kindergarten and first grade, then switch to being taught in English in second grade and above. The idea came to have older children create bilingual books for students in younger grades. “I wanted the students to have local literature, books written and illustrated by local children for local children, in both English and Sesotho,” Price said.

Benjamin Price with students at Katlehong Primary School in the village of Thaba-Tseka, May, 2011. Tholong, the 4th grader in the photo, is reading his book to a classroom of younger peers. Photo by Jessica Callahan | Eye

The first project was a success, students were proud of the books they created and the teachers were happy to have books for the younger students. The books were not created quickly. Students learned how to write stories, multiple drafts were created on scratch paper, the stories were edited, illustrated and finally copied in the blank books. Each author would read their book to a younger class and that classroom would keep the book.

The project was so successful that Price continued and the project “morphed.” Working with teachers and even some volunteers from the U.S. Peace Corps they held more workshops and more students created books. Students wrote creatively or wrote non-fiction. While each student was learning to write and illustrate new books, the schools were getting new books for students to read.

Price put more than $8,000 of his own money in the project. He returned to the United States to get a job and raise funds for more books. He got a job as a photographer for candidate Meg Whitman during her gubernatorial campaign. He continued to send boxes of of blank books over for local teachers to continue the project.

When Whitman lost, she gave Price some money to make another trip to Lesotho to continue his work. He made this second trip with lots of blank books and colored pencils. This time students would make two books, one for another classroom and one for them to keep. More teachers were trained and more students up through grade 12, participated.

High school students wrote personal stories from teen parenting to AIDS. When it comes to AIDS, Lesotho is one of the world’s hardest hit countries in the world. Nearly one out of every three people in Lesotho has either HIV or AIDS. ”The thing I like about project is that it can be adapted to fit any age and any subject.” Over 250 books were created by young authors in Lesotho as part of the project.

His worked inspired him to go back to school. In 2011, Ben entered the credential program at Humboldt State University. He felt the teacher training would help him build on the writing program. He was placed as a student teacher in the third grade classroom at Union Street Charter School, under the direction of Greg Gaeira.

“When it comes to teaching writing, especially poetry, my mentor teacher Greg Gaeira has been a wonderful example to learn from,” Price said. “Greg’s love for teaching poetry is contagious, and although teaching poetry can be tricky because many kids aren’t into it at first, he somehow somehow pulls it off in a way where every one of his students ends up loving it. My experience in his classroom has definitely made me want to incorporate more poetry into the next series of LYAP workshops in 2013.”

Comparing the teaching experience in Arcata to Lesotho, Price said that students have many of the same struggles when it comes to learning how to read and write.  But children in Lesotho are forced to overcome additional challenges that most kids here do not. “For example,” he said, “the number of students in U.S. classrooms is a lot smaller than in Lesotho, where a class of 60 children isn’t unusual. This makes the chance of receiving a quality education decrease for each child, simply because of the sheer number of students. This challenge, on top of high poverty and HIV, is what kids in Lesotho have to deal with everyday.”

Price plans to go back over in 2013. Until then, he continues to send boxes over to Lesotho for teachers to continue the project. Each student gets two blank books, colored pencils, an eraser, a pencil sharpener and a writing pack. The average cost of materials per child including shipping is $5. Currently the project is run completely on donations. Ideally, Price would like for the project to be completely a Lesotho run non-profit.

“The goal is not to send Americans over there, it is to find and train passionate teachers in Lesotho and give them the materials so they can teach the students,” Price said.

He wants to be a teacher, and plans to have his students write. “No matter what grade I end up teaching, I will definitely have my future students create books. Creating original literature for kids isn’t new thing, it just needs to be done more.”

As he searches for teaching jobs, he also looks to raise more funds for the project. His website now has a donation link through Paypal.

The website includes a beautiful video filmed and created by Price that explains the project. The video shows happy children creating and reading their books. Copies of many of the books are available to view on the website.

To find out more about the Lesotho Young Authors Program or to make a donation, visit lesothoyoungauthors.com.


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