School idea blossoms in Ghana
A project launched by a Seattle woman to provide a free school for children in Ghana has grown with the help of private donors and the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
Seattle Times staff columnist
In Kasoa, Ghana, 260 children attend a free school started by a Seattle woman who believes the right kind of education will produce leaders that country needs.
And Janet Jones Preston's project has gotten a big boost from the Bellevue alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, a sorority with a long history of social engagement.
Jones Preston's story begins with her son, Akili Secka, a Garfield High School grad like his mother. Secka got a political-science degree from the University of the District of Columbia and worked briefly for Seattle Public Schools before moving to Ghana.
"He decided he didn't want to live in the United States because of issues of racism," Jones Preston told me. He chose Ghana because he thought it would be a safe, stable place to raise children.
Secka traveled back and forth in the 1990s and settled down permanently in 1999.
When Jones Preston visited her son in 2000, "I noticed there were a lot of young kids selling (food) on the streets and not going to school."
Impoverished families needed the money and often didn't have enough income to pay school fees. Even when they could pay, Jones Preston said, nearby schools weren't up to the standards she is used to here.
Jones Preston works for the Seattle Public Schools helping children from poor families get food, clothing and other support they need to do well in school. She's been doing that for 30 years, the past 10 as supervisor of the district's family-service workers.
In Kasoa, less than 20 miles west of the capital, Accra, her son ran a restaurant, but on weekends he held Saturday school for local children — those not attending school as well as others.
Jones Preston kept visiting, and "each time I went," she said, "I tried to do something to contribute." In 2002 she had a two-room structure built to house a family that was struggling to send its oldest son to boarding school. The parents had five other children. Jones Preston provided a place for them to live.
In 2004 she bought the land next to the house. "I refinanced my home and got a loan to build the school." When it opened in 2006, The People's School for Positive Education had just three classrooms and three grades: second, third and fourth.
"Sometimes God has a plan that is far beyond our thinking," Jones Preston said.
"Somebody I knew called me in December 2005 and said they had had a good year and wanted to contribute $5,000."
Early in 2006, the donor, who wants to remain anonymous, called again and said she and her husband wanted to contribute every month. Jones Preston said they have provided stability for the school.
Then the Deltas joined her effort. One of the members, Jones Preston's boss, Thelma Payne, had gone to Ghana for the school opening, and in 2009, when the chapter was looking for a way to celebrate its 20th anniversary, Pauline Hill, the international awareness and involvement committee chair chairwoman, suggested helping the school. Hill was education director for Seattle Public Schools for a decade before she retired in 2006. She said of Jones Preston, "as diligently as she works for the students in Seattle, she works for the students there."
The Deltas agreed to three years of support, and though Bellevue is a small chapter, never more than 40 women, it has raised about $30,000 and sent $5,000 more in supplies to the school.
The Bellevue chapter may be small, but the Deltas, who'll celebrate their centennial next year, are the nation's largest black sorority. One of the founders, Bertha Pitts Campbell, moved west to Seattle in 1923 and started a Seattle chapter.
Sunday, at Mount Zion Baptist Church's annual Africa service, the Deltas will present the last of the money they've raised to Jones Preston. That marks the end of the three-year promise, but Hill said they'll likely stay involved.
The Deltas started by adding kindergarten and first-grade classrooms. Now there are nine classrooms, kindergarten through ninth grade, and Jones Preston wants the school to grow to 12 grades.
She started a nonprofit, Projects for Our People, P.O. Box 24551, Seattle, WA 98124, which has an account with Chase Bank.
She said, "When you go there and see the poverty and how hard people work over there and how little return there is," you are driven to help. Jones Preston said she found that schools there teach using repetition and memorization. Hers emphasizes thinking skills. "We teach them to analyze to synthesize and to evaluate."
She sees the school's role as building leaders who can change the nation and make it possible for more Ghanians to thrive.
Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter @jerrylarge
About Jerry Large
I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
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