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If You Build It...




Hazard lights, mirrors, fire extinguisher. Of all the safety equipment on her school bus, North Carolina driver Jeffreys never thought she'd rely on a squeegee as a potential lifesaver.

But one morning, a 10-year-old girl on Jeffreys' East Wake High School bus route was trying to save an even younger neighbor from an attacking pit bull when the driver came upon the scene. Minutes earlier, the pit bull had attacked the 5-year-old boy. As the girl grabbed its collar and tugged at the 40-pound dog, it bit her repeatedly on the arms.

"To be honest, I thought the dog and little girl were playing," Jeffreys says, recalling what had started as a routine morning. But, as she got closer, she realized that the young girl was being attacked. "When I heard the girl scream, that's when I stopped the bus. I said to myself, 'Oh Lord, it's a pit bull,' and I knew I couldn't let that girl get hurt," she says.

Jeffreys told her students to remain seated and picked up the sturdiest item she could find: the thin, two-foot-long, squeegee.

Jeffreys ran out of the bus and used the squeegee to distract the dog by pounding the tool over and over on the ground. "I kept doing it, and eventually the little girl got loose," Jeffreys says.

Then she gave the dog a knock to keep him away. Her aim was so accurate that she dented the handle of her trusty squeegee.

Jeffreys succeeded in saving the young girl, and her act of bravery turned her into a celebrity on local TV stations and in area newspapers. The mother of the young girl also personally thanked Jeffreys. "She gave me a great big hug," says

Jeffreys, "That was very nice."

RITU SHARMA

If You Build It...

Children at one Peruvian school lacked the basics.

Keri Bristow's solution? Build them a new one.

During a trip to Peru last year, Bristow, a Spanish teacher in Woodstock, Vermont, included a school visit among the other more traditional sightseeing ventures scheduled. After hiking Machu Pichu and visiting Lake Titicaca, she came to the beleaguered school in the jungle. With dirt floors, a few tattered books, and no bathrooms, it was a world away from her own Woodstock Union High School. Bristow vowed to build an entire new school that would serve as a clean, safe environment for the students and benefit the impoverished community as a whole.

Back home, Bristow recruited volunteers to help. Twenty-three high school students and 12 parents, contractors, and laborers mustered to plan and build the school. The projected budget? A daunting $25,000. A year of raffles, dinners, and plant sales brought the group enough money to construct the school and pay for medical supplies and fresh water for the community.

In February, they flew to Peru and picked up on the work begun weeks earlier by laborers in the community. Bristow and her volunteers worked for two weeks through blistering heat and torrential rain, digging trenches, mixing cement, and painting. When they were done, a new elementary school complete with a floor, roof, ventilation, and indoor plumbing stood tall. Inside were several thousand dollars' worth of school supplies and 50 new library books in Spanish, donated by students.

Bristow hopes to return to Peru in 2007. Her goal? Build a school in a neighboring community.

MEGHA RAJAGOPALAN

Think Globally, Act (Very) Locally

Washington State teacher Val Schroeder makes a difference one day, and one backyard, at a time.

Schroeder plays a double role in her daily life. During the school day, she teaches creative writing and English at Stanwood High School. Just about every other minute of the day, she serves as the coordinator of the Camano Island Community Project.

Camano Island—a picturesque town located about 70 miles from the United States-Canadian border—recently became the 10th residential community in the country to be certified as a wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.

The community wildlife habitat program allows neighborhoods to exist in harmony with nature. Residents benefit from landscapes designed to keep water and air resources clean, require little use of pesticides and fertilizers, and pack a powerful aesthetic punch. Mother Nature benefits from a restored and enhanced wildlife corridor. 

"We're trying to keep things natural," says Schroeder.

Under her guidance, the Camano Island project has grown to include 534 homes, businesses, community areas, and a school, all certified as backyard wildlife habitats. The areas provide food, water, and shelter where wildlife can raise their young.

Schroeder involves her students in her passion, having them construct bird houses and sign posts. Some students collect supplies and donations for a wildlife rehabilitation center on the island. Schroeder also advises the high school environmental group, which participated in the project by removing noxious weeds from an area slated to become a demonstration garden.

Schroeder says that as a teacher she was elated to have her students and the community involved in such a beneficial project. "I care deeply about the environment and this was my action step," she says, before joking, "It keeps me sane."

R.S.

Globetrotter

A Tennessee retiree kicks up his heels worldwide to educate folks about folklife.

Every June, the country town of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, opens its arms to visitors from around the globe in a celebration of culture and music. Nearly 6,000 people attend the International Folkfest, and it's all due to retired educator Steve Cates.

A member of the Tennessee Education Association-Retired, Cates started with an appreciation for his own town's cultural tradition. To introduce the ways of the past to new generations, he founded the Cripple Creek Cloggers dance troupe in 1967, boasting colorful costumes and fast fiddling reminiscent of the barn-raising parties of the early 1800s. With the Cloggers, Cates has attended more than 100 folk festivals in nations throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America.

Exploring cobblestoned villages in Austria and performing in Puerto Rico, Cates developed an insatiable thirst for travel. And he's done his share of hosting travelers from abroad. The weeklong celebration in Murfreesboro began in 1982 and is still going strong. This year, Cates welcomed troupes from Peru, Jordan, and England.

This is more than a mere hobby. During his 40-year career, Cates frequently used his travel and research in his work. "Teaching social sciences, I was able to talk about the places I have been and people I have met," he says. "The worst sort of teacher is one who has no life experience to add to the classroom."

DANIEL MOISE

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Do you have an interesting story idea? Contact section editor Cynthia Kopkowski at mailto:ckopkowski@nea.org.%0CMONEY

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21-Jan-06