Bexley schools extend invitation to Andros islanders

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For years, Bexley students have traveled to Andros Island in the Bahamas to study marine biology and, most recently, to establish school libraries.

Next spring, students from Andros and their parents, who are also artists, will visit Bexley, the school board was told Nov. 19.

"Although Bexley is more than a thousand miles away" from Andros, "we will have a personal connection with them, and and they will have a personal connection with us," offered Bexley Middle School teacher Rose Blanchard, who has been one of the driving forces behind the library projects.

That effort was launched in 2003 in memory of Bexley High graduate Jenny Nicol, who was lost during a diving expedition off the island during her college studies.

She had been part of groups who had studied on the island and had enjoyed working with the children there.

With donations of more than 37,000 books, along with other materials, money and volunteer labor from the Bexley community, 10 school libraries have been established, with a contingent arriving during spring break to get things up and running.

The libraries will be completed by spring, but the relationship will continue, Montrose Elementary School teacher Nancy Prater said.

The Andros students, ranging in ages from kindergarten to high school students, along with their parents, will arrive in May and stay for two weeks.

"Some of them have never been off the island," Prater said.

They will share with Bexley students information about their culture, history and language.

And the parents will have the opportunity to share their talents, as well. The group includes a sculptor, a basket weaver, a cook, and jewelry and clothing makers.

While most of the activities will center around Montrose, students from other schools will have the opportunity to learn from the visitors, as well, the organizers explained.

Blanchard expects that the high school-age students will want to interact with their peers.

In addition to providing materials, the libraries have changed attitudes about the importance of reading, Blanchard pointed out.

She was told recently that a group of Andros children had spotted a portly, bearded man they believed was Santa Claus. They began to offer their Christmas wish lists, which in the past included toys or skates.

"This year they asked for books," Blanchard was informed.

Board President Diane Peterson praised the collaborative effort that she noted has been undertaken in addition to the educators’ teaching time.

"It’s teaching our students a lot about the greater world picture," Peterson said.

Board Vice President Andy Sutter admitted that, initially, he had viewed the library project "as almost quaint," but now acknowledges it has become "a remarkable achievement."

A trip to celebrate the achievements on Andros is being planned for June 21-28, including a book fair, reading workshops, and an assessment of future needs, along with snorkeling and other tropical activities.

And even with the schools on Andros well-supplied, there is still a need in impoverished areas.

Blanchard was asked by the secretary of education in Nassau, the Bahamas, to keep the project going, and that there were many other schools on the country’s 29 other islands that need help.

Anyone who would like to donate books, or wants information on the June trip, can contact Blanchard at AndrosRose@aol.com or 891-9085.

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