Service, culture part of lessons Academy students collect funds for Zimbabwe water system as part of project

Richard Mullins’ eighth-grade English class at Charleston Develpoment Academy, is reading about child soldiers. The class is raising money for a nonprofit to benefit Zimbabwe.

Richard Mullins’ goal is not just to help his students get to the next grade level, it’s to prepare them for college.

This year, the Charleston Development Academy English teacher decided to tie in a service project to his curriculum for his sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students.

“The beautiful thing about being a literature teacher is it gives me the freedom to incorporate a lot of events and nonfiction into my curriculum,” he said.

The students are collecting spare change for Action Against Hunger, an international nonprofit that aims to find sustainable solutions to ending world hunger. The students have raised about $122 so far and have a goal of $400 by December.

Eighth-grader Alonzo Gray said the change will help develop Zimbabwe’s water system so they don’t have to travel far distances for water and so communities can become self-sufficient.

They also have written business letters to Zimbabwe’s ambassador to the United Nations, Action Against Hunger and President Barack Obama.

“Thank you for all you do to help. ... It’s devastating how many lives are being taken. I’m glad there’s people like you working there,” eighth-grader Ke’anta Cooks wrote in her letter to Action Against Hunger.

Mullins also assigns readings about the country so the students learn about the people they are helping. His eighth-grade students are reading “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier” written by Ishmael Beah.

“They put themselves in their shoes because they are the same age,” Mullins said about his students’ reaction to the book.

Even though some of the topics can be heavy for young people, Mullins said you can pull life lessons from them and tailor them to specific age groups. He said it is never too early to teach about other cultures.

“For our boys and girls to be exposed to new levels is fantastic. They’ll never be the same again,” said Principal Cecelia Gordon Rogers.

Rogers said Mullins’ lessons are right in line with the school district’s global and common core curriculum. She said it teaches students how to look beyond their own issues and will make them more self-sufficient in the end.

Eighth-grader Vashti Gathers said the most shocking thing to her was learning about the low life expectancy in Zimbabwe.

“Their president hasn’t given them anything to survive. In the U.S., we can just go to the store,” said sixth-grader Jamison Bennekin.

The students said they have learned a lot of life lessons by reading about Zimbabwe and share them with friends and family. They said it made them more appreciative of what they have in America, such as clean food and water, clothes, schools, shelter, health care and protection.

“People are dying every day because they’re drinking dirty water,” said seventh-grader Tayana Winns.

“Instead of wasting stuff, save it for later,” added classmate Janelle Johnson.

Mullins, originally from Michigan, has been teaching for nine years, four of those years at Charleston Development. He got the idea to raise money for Action Against Hunger from a magazine article he found over the summer.

“I love going out and getting different types of materials for my students. It helps expand their minds so they want to go out and learn on their own,” he said.

He said this style of teaching, as opposed to “cut-and-dry” lessons, helps students develop life skills. He said he wants them to be able to compete with others when applying to colleges.

“I wanted to give them an opportunity to see and experience other cultures and the international community so they’re aware of what’s happening in the world,” he said.

Incorporating stories about other cultures is not new for Mullins. Last year, his students learned about the Arab Spring. He said he does this because the curriculum sometimes lacks diversity, especially lessons on Africa.

Charles Carter Jr. said his favorite part about the project is learning about ways a place can transform into a thriving community with the help of others.

A few students even raised their hands when asked if they would like to visit Zimbabwe one day. When asked what he expects to find if he visits the country, Dominik Smith responded: “Hope.”

Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560 or jmcduffie@postand