Viroqua Middle School students used their reading abilities to raise money for Heifer International through the organization’s Read to Feed program.

Students obtained sponsors who donated money based on the amount of reading they did during the month of November. The students ended up raising more than $6,000. Anything over $5,000 donated to Heifer International qualifies to purchase a Gift Ark. The library staff made a large ark to help demonstrate the students’ efforts.

A wrap-up assembly that focused on the reading aspect of the project was held in the middle school gym Tuesday afternoon.

At the assembly, Principal John Schneider praised the students’ efforts.

“Reading is a key to opening doors,” Schneider said. “Never underestimate the power of reading and don’t underestimate the power of helping others.”

Seventh-grade teacher Kari Hanson, who suggested the project, told the students what they had accomplished “was amazing.”

“We didn’t know what to expect,” Hanson said. “You surpassed our expectations.”

She told the students they are the ones who benefit whenever they pick up a book or magazine.

“There are many benefits of reading,” Hanson said. “Reading reduces stress; six minutes of silent reading slows the heart rate and (reduces) muscle tension. Reading makes you more interesting… It’s no fun to have a conversation with someone when there is nothing to talk about; you can fill awkward silent moment with tidbits from books.”

Nine students took center stage and shared why they read. The reasons ranged from reading for college to getting lost in a book. They closed by saying, “We all read to be.”

The top four student fundraisers were also recognized, as were the classes. The fifth-graders raised $1,458, sixth-graders $1,062, seventh-graders $1,535 and eighth-graders $1,989. The grand total was $6,046.

Sixth-grade teacher Julie Fergot said the “ark” is about “hope and renewal.”

“Heifer International passes on the chain of giving,” Fergot said. “You’ve created a rainbow of hope for those in need.”

According to the Heifer International website, a Gift Ark includes two water buffalos, two cows, two sheep and two goats, along with bees, chicks, rabbits and more. Heifer International works with communities to strengthen local economies.

Speakers share experiences

To reinforce the philanthropic side of the activity, school staff brought in guest speakers. Chuck and Mary Mulvaney-Kemp of Viroqua came to the school library Jan. 24 to talk with fifth- and sixth-graders about the four years they lived in Pakistan and the seven they were in Indonesia. The couple taught English at international schools.

The Mulvaney-Kemps congratulated the students for their fundraising efforts.

“We have to remember that people everywhere need help, including right here in the United States,” Mary said.

Mary said when they taught in Indonesia there were 50 nationalities in attendance at the school, and they celebrated United Nations Day.

“It was the coolest day ever because the kids came in their native costumes and you could try food from around the world,” Mary said.

One fifth-grader asked about the languages of the countries where they lived.

“At both schools the kids were required to speak English,” Mary said. “We had kids in class that could speak five languages fluently.”

Chuck told the students if they ever have an opportunity to visit a foreign country they should dress like they do and learn a few words of their language, such as please and thank you.

“Get to know their food,” Chuck said. “Look, listen and learn. They are like the host; remember we are their guest.”

Mary said they learned to like curry because of their experiences in Pakistan and Indonesia. “We learned that because we embraced (those cultures) and we ate what they ate.”

The Mulvaney-Kemps showed slides featuring scenes from Pakistan and Indonesia. One of the slide was of a market stall in Indonesia filled with bananas.

“There were 50 kinds of bananas,” Mary said. “I started liking bananas because they were so fresh.”

The Mulvaney-Kemps also taught the students a few words in the languages of Pakistan and Indonesia, and talked about the clothing worn in those countries and some of the customs.

The couple said their daughters were with them while they taught overseas and attended school there. One daughter was born in the States and the other in Singapore.

“It was a great experience,” Mary said. “It gave our kids a global perspective. I think it was a really great experience as parents to give our kids – to have a world perspective.”

Chuck asked the students if they liked food, having a place to live, being healthy and being loved.

“These are things everyone values…,” Chuck said. “Wherever you go you are more like the other person. Sometimes we forget that or don’t know.”

Christophe Gilbertson talked with seventh- and eighth-graders Tuesday afternoon about his overseas experiences.

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Vernon County Broadcaster editor

Angie Cina is editor of the Vernon County Broadcaster. Contact her at 608-637-5616.

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