One School, One Book, One Powerful Day

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St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School’s JK-12 Welcomed Author at Innovation Celebration

By Mandi Sapp, SSSAS Communications Coordinator

 Head of School Kirsten Adams, Library Department Chair Alicia Blowers, Author William Kamkwamba, and Middle School Religion Teacher Rebecca Cooper. (Courtesy photo.)

Head of School Kirsten Adams, Library Department Chair Alicia Blowers, Author William Kamkwamba, and Middle School Religion Teacher Rebecca Cooper. (Courtesy photo.)

It was a special day at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School on September 16, as the SSSAS JK-12 community joined together for the school’s inaugural Innovation Celebration with special guest William Kamkwamba, author of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. The memoir was selected as the ‘all-school read’ this summer because its themes—innovation and experimentation, sustainability, diversity, and overcoming adversity—provide numerous opportunities for connection with the SSSAS JK-12 curriculum, mission, and values.

An engineer, entrepreneur, and author from Africa, Kamkwamba shared his powerful and inspiring true story of ingenuity and grit with the students. When a crippling famine forced Kamkwamba to drop out of school, he was unable to return because his family could not afford the tuition. In a desperate attempt to retain his education, Kamkwamba began to frequently visit the school library. It was there that Kamkwamba discovered his true love for electronics after reading a book called Using Energy, which inspired him, at age 14, to design and build a windmill to bring electricity and water to his village.

Author William Kamkwamba fascinated the students with this story of perseverance and triumph. (Courtesy photo.)
Author William Kamkwamba fascinated the students with this story of perseverance and triumph. (Courtesy photo.)

Kamkwamba shared with the students how he overcame crippling adversity to build his windmill and advised them to always persevere. “In anything that we do in life we will face some challenges, but don’t allow those challenges to take away from your dreams,” Kamkwamba said. “All the people who are successful today, if you ask them, at some point faced some challenges, but they didn’t allow those challenges to take away their dreams. Anything is possible.”

The all-school read was the brainchild of Alicia Blowers, SSSAS Library Department Chair, and Middle School Librarian, who said, “It was such a blessing to have Kamkwamba here with us and for members of our community to hear him speak and meet him face-to-face after reading his story.”

It was also an exciting opportunity for our students to ask the author questions about the book and his life. “I learned not to lose hope when you mess up,” said sixth-grade student Myles Sandy. “You have to keep trying and eventually you will succeed. I also learned not to allow people to discourage you from your goals and dreams, and to think outside-of-the-box because your idea could change the world!”

Students and faculty combined forces to build innovative solutions to assigned tasks using random parts like a chef's mystery basket. (Courtesy photo.)
Students and faculty combined forces to build innovative solutions to assigned tasks using random parts like a chef’s mystery basket. (Courtesy photo.)

Kamkwamba’s amazing story inspired the school to tackle a special challenge. Students and faculty partnered in cross-divisional groups to engage in design challenges on Draper Track. Each group had to collaborate, build, and create using only the resources given to them such as cardboard, balloons, and paper in order to accomplish various challenges. Excitement and energy filled Moss Field as students worked together, shared ideas, built prototypes, and tested their creations.

“One of the challenges of the design-thinking activity was having to build something essentially out of nothing,” said senior James Wilusz. “We were given straws, an empty yogurt container, and glow sticks and told to build a shelter. My first thought when we looked over everything we had was ‘there’s no way we can make anything out of all this.’ However, one of the Middle School students in our group just started grabbing things and our fifth graders started shouting ideas and the fun began. The other senior and myself eventually gathered all the ideas together and we started to make something out of nothing. It was one of the most creative things I have ever participated in.”