EAST MANATEE -- Haile Middle School students raised more than $6,000 to improve literacy rates in Ethiopia and have books delivered to rural villages, all while sitting under shade trees, sipping Starbucks and reading books.
This is the first year Haile Middle School has held a fundraising read-a-thon, and Ashlie Fulmer, a language arts teacher, said the event Friday well exceeded her expectations.
The school's goal was to have 100 students participate in the read-a-thon to raise $1,200 for Ethiopia Reads, an organization dedicated to providing books in the African nation. Instead, the school had 450 participants and raised about $6,000.
All students spent their last day before the Christmas break reading, but a $15 donation bought them time in the event's reading cafe, a whimsical set-up in the school's courtyard with refreshments. It also bought children in rural villages of Ethiopia the chance to read a book with a storyteller.
Fulmer said Ethiopia Reads is in need of "donkey libraries," donkeys that cart books to areas that do not have the
economic means to have a library. Fulmer became interested in the program when she adopted her son from Ethiopia three years ago.
"Before the read-a-thon, the students watched videos about Ethiopia so they could see the need there for books and education," Fulmer said.
Students who made a donation for Ethiopia Reads got to join their friends at picnic tables, or lay out in the courtyard on beach towels, to read their favorite books and enjoy the provided Smoothie King, Starbucks iced coffee, cookies from Publix and popcorn.
Sixth-grader Gabe Avendano said he became interested in donating when we heard about suffering literacy rates.
"We learned that Ethiopia's literacy rates are worse than half the world's," Avendano said.
Dana Mills, a sixth-grade teacher at Haile Middle School, said students have been learning about world-wide literacy rates in preparation for the read-a-thon. She said the opportunity to give back, not just the snacks, provided incentive for the students to participate.
"They were excited all week long and have been asking detailed questions about the event," Mills said.
Sixth-grader Mason Ingallinera, who was reading Lost Hero from the Heroes of Olympus series, said Fulmer inspired her to learn more about Ethiopia for her history fair project last week.
"Mrs. Fulmer told me about it, so I wanted to do research," Ingallinera said.
Fulmer said she will be travelling to Ethiopia next year to visit a library in Ethiopia's captial Addis Ababa and to see the donkey library to witness Haile Middle School students' impact. She is also in the process of adopting a daughter from Ethiopia.
"I hope to repeat this," Fulmer said. "I am excited to see the school take a passion. Having an international mindset and a global understanding is powerful for the kids."
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.