Johnson Co. elementary problem solving team comes up with a solution and funding to help light up an orphanage on the other side of the world; project now part of international competition

Paintsville Herald, March 29, 2017

Central Elementary CmPS help power Kenyan orphanage
By Elaine Belcher

The Central Elementary School (CES) junior Community Problem Solving (CmPS) Team has reached beyond academic competition to make a life-changing difference to 50 orphans in Africa.

The team, composed of Waylon Bayes, Loren Blair, Isaiah Rowland, Madison Rowland, Chloe Dyer, Darren Fairchild, Travon Johnson, Brenan Ward, Heather Lyons, Sara Perry, Kara Ward, Allie Thornsberry, Nicholas Hardin and Jacob Rubado, decided to reach out and help an orphanage in Kenya after hearing a presentation from Claudia O’Neil, founder of Seed to Trees Ministries on a project to build an orphanage in the poverty-stricken region.

“The team used the CmPS problem-solving steps to come up with a project,” said Tonya Mullins, Central teacher and CmPS coach. “I’ve been a teacher for 27 years, and this is my first year coaching CmPS. I honestly just stood back and let them go.”

Thus was born JCES CmPS Project: PluggedIn.

The orphanage, built in 2012, was a simple mud and stick hut with a tin roof in the village of Bogisebo, Kenya. Residents have no electricity and are forced to walk 35 minutes each way to the nearest water source. Students decided to explore options to bring electricity to the area for several reasons.

“With power, they could light the orphanage, but also have the ability to use devices, such as a computer to educate themselves on further improvements, such as a water pump, health and medicine and so much more,” said Mullins.

They next had to take a hard look at the area to figure out the best method. Students reviewed maps to calculate how far it is to the nearest power source, and reviewed methods of energy production.

“They were first looking at something like a windmill, but ultimately, after consulting with an expert and learning more, decided on solar power,” said Mullins.

It was at this point that the students took what was a simple academic exercise and turned it into much more.

“We weren’t sure how we could pay for something like this, so we started to pray and money started coming in,” said Mullins.

The CmPS team held school-wide fundraisers, such as “Kiss the Pig” and “Kiss the Goat”, with the good-natured support of Mullins and Central Elementary Principal Thom Cochran.

“I had to kiss a pig, and Mr. Cochran had to kiss a goat,” laughed Mullins. “But the students raised almost $500 with that event” While holding local area fund-raisers such as a craft fair and Valentine’s Day dance, they were also approaching local business leaders for their support as well.

“We went to Paul. B. Hall Regional Medical Center to speak with Debbie Trimble and the board, and they gave us $1,000. Bob Hutchison of McDonalds gave us $1,000, former Governor Brereton Jones promised us $1,000, Hutch Chevrolet, and so many more all contributed to help us make this happen,” said Mullins. All together, student raised nearly $5,000.

Next, students calculated the exchange rate to Kenyan shilling and wired funds to the village to install wiring in the building.

“Claudia O’Neil will be heading to Kenya next week to oversee the final installation of the solar panels,” said Mullins. “They are due on April 10, and will power up for the first time sometime that week. We are hoping to Skype and meet them for the first time.”

Meanwhile, the CES CmPS team was named runner-up at the State Future Problem Solvers International Competition in Louisville on March 11 for Project: Plugged In, and will be advancing to compete at
the Future Problem Solvers International Competition on June 7 through June 11 in LaCrosse, Wisc.

“Their main focus really wasn’t on the competition though,” said Mullins. “They are far more interested in making a realworld difference to kids their age. The trophy is secondary.”

“I never imagined that they could go this far,” said Mullins. “CmPS has taught them so much more than I ever could in a classroom. They have so much potential and this project is giving them a taste of what they can do. I can’t wait to see how they can change the world.”

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