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College of Education > News and Publications > 2017: 04-06 news > Student teacher's kindergarten class collects, sends 1,300 books to school in Africa

Student teacher's kindergarten class collects, sends 1,300 books to school in Africa

Ericka Sinicrope completed her Professional Development School program by overseeing African Library Book Project that will benefit underserved students in Malawi, Africa.

Teachers are charged with helping students learn, and allowing those students to provide others in need with methods to learn is high on the priority list.

Student teacher Ericka Sinicrope views the handiwork of her kindergarten class that helped her pack 1,300 books in 21 boxes to be shipped to Malawi, Africa.
The African Library Book Project fits into that category – with an asterisk that you're never too young to start lending a helping hand. Ericka Sinicrope's kindergarten students can vouch for that.

Sinicrope just completed her Professional Development School program at Ferguson Township Elementary School in the State College Area School District. Her students recently helped collect, package and send 21 boxes filled with 1,300 books to a school library in Malawi, Africa.

Sinicrope used the project as her inquiry topic on empathy that she presented at the April 29 PDS Inquiry Conference. She noticed at the beginning of the school year "a great kindness and willingness to give" within her classroom. And from that, she developed the topic of "Empathy from Room 15 to Malawi, Africa."

Sinicrope pushed forward with help from her Ferguson Township classroom mentor, Mary Macalus, as well as her Professional Development Associate Mary Higgins, school principal Charlotte Zmyslo and teachers Lori McGarry and Laurie Pagnotto.

"Laurie Pagnotto and Lori McGarry were coming in to talk to us about combining inquiry with service learning, and when I heard that a service learning project could be done I got really excited," Sinicrope said. "I love giving back to the community and world.

"When I was a senior in high school, I had to complete a senior project. I held a car wash and raised about $500 and put together about 30 amenity bags for The Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. I have been going to that hospital since I was 2 years old and I am still going there today (for treatment for juvenile rheumatoid arthritis/juvenile idiopathic arthritis).

"It was time for me to give back, and that was exactly what I did and will continue to do. I knew this project was going to be a little tricky to handle at first, but I was ready to take on that challenge with my students and my support team behind me," she said.

MJ Kitt, assistant professor in the College of Education and a PDS program Professional Development Associate, said the "perseverance, grit and leadership skills" shown in completing this project are "characteristics often found in PDS interns."

"Not only did (Ericka) take individual responsibility to make this happen, but (she) clearly demonstrated the power of collaborating with colleagues to be of service to others," Kitt said.

Here is a look at some of the questions Ericka Sinicrope's kindergarten students asked her about the African Library Book Project.
Learning about empathy was a successful venture, according to Sinicrope.

"We did several mini-lessons about empathy and we read different books to help them learn what it is and how to show it," Sinicrope said. "They were then showing empathy inside of the classroom toward their peers.

She said that by combining the students' love for helping others with her own passion for service learning that she encouraged her students to show more empathy toward each other and toward others from a different country.

"Another unit I taught was 'Me and My World.' We learned about the world we live in and the transportation we use to move around. We also learned about Africa and my students came up with wonderings that we answered through read-alouds. We also talked about how our books would be traveling from State College to New Orleans to Malawi, Africa, and they were able to come up with several different ways they could travel," Sinicrope said.

But it was the looks on the students' faces when well over 1,000 books were stacked in the classroom, she said.

"They could not believe that we had that many books and that we were going to send them over to the kids," Sinicrope said. When they handed me the books, they did it with a huge smile on their face. They helped pack up the books and I could see a sense of pride in themselves.

"They knew they were doing something good and I was so proud of them for all of their hard work and dedication."

Sinicrope began collecting books in March by contacting libraries in State College, Pittsburgh and Brigantine, New Jersey (where her boyfriend is from), and she went to a book sale. Once she gets her own classroom, she plans to conduct more service learning projects. "I have to live life to its fullest and I will take on any challenge that I can find," Sinicrope said. "With my family and students behind me, we can do anything to change the world."

Sinicrope opted to pursue a master's degree in special education and will enter graduate school prior to starting her journey as an elementary school teacher. "There is a world of possibilities out there and I am sure I will find my classroom and make it my own," she said.

Jim Carlson (June 2017)