Cambrian: Opinion

Trees, garlands help lay foundation for learning in Cambria

Santa Lucia Middle school students try to get an idea of what it must be like for Sundanese girls to spend days walking for water.
Santa Lucia Middle school students try to get an idea of what it must be like for Sundanese girls to spend days walking for water.

If you’re like me when you empty out your mail receptacle, you toss half of it into the recycle bin, maybe pick at a catalogue or two and grudgingly retrieve your electric bill that accidentally stuck to the glossy computer sale circular.

But, occasionally, your Cambria neighbors invite you via that same mailbox to find out what is going on right here at your own doorstep. The Cambria Education Foundation is one of those I think you should look for.

One of my favorite T-shirts back in the ’70s stated: “It will be a great day when schools have all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale.” Sadly, it is as facetious today as it was then. In part because of the countless volunteer hours and dedication of a handful of Cambrians, our schools have access to dollars for projects that will not only further educate but enlighten and inspire our children beyond rote calculations and testing preparedness.

Gardening projects, Physics Day, college tours, Star Gazing, Battle of the Books are but a glance into the wonderful opportunities our teachers and staff are applying to the Foundation to support. Check out their website for much, much more (

I went to the Santa Lucia Middle School library and spoke with librarian Suzanne Kennedy, who was very excited about a recent visit to the school from author and illustrator, Jim Averbeck. Not only had the foundation paid for his visit but, it bought each child at the school a copy of “A Long Walk to Water” by Linda Sue Park, to which he had contributed.

Why do that? “To create a common language amongst the students, the teachers, everyone! It could then be integrated into science, history, language arts, even P.E!” said Kennedy. How? “The story has two storylines: the true story of Salva, an 11-year-old boy separated from his family during the war in South Sudan, becoming one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, traversing Africa in search of safety, food and water and hopefully, a place to belong. Eventually he is able to come to America, where he finds his father and starts a group to build wells in Sudan,” she continued.

“Nya is a fictional character who, as in truth girls in Sudan do, walks eight hours a day to fetch water. The two stories combine as a well is built in her village. What can you do when you don’t have to spend your day fetching water?”

“Go to school!” added one of the Santa Lucia school students passing through the library the day I was there.

How did the entire school incorporate such a book?

Back to Jim Averbeck, who was a civil engineer, a Peace Corps volunteer working on a water sanitation project and on the Guinea Worm Project, which all got the attention of author Park. Averbeck came to talk about his work and the life these two characters represented. The classes were engaged in several hands-on projects to drive the message home about the struggle this population suffers.

Along with paper bead making, they did water relays, drew their own book covers and, most impressively, ran a relay race carrying 40-pound jerry cans of water. Nothing like a little sweat and imagination to try to experience what dodging lions, climbing hills and other dangers for life-giving water. The school will soon be holding a fundraising effort of its own to help send to the Sudan well efforts.

I believe it is the connectedness that a small town offers that makes us reel all the more from the loss of loved ones here. We all want to do “something.” Flowers shrivel up, but a donation, a legacy in someone’s honor, are an extremely thoughtful way to keep their memory alive. This book project was made possible by the “John Rivera Memorial Book Fund” — John was an avid reader, so donations are being made to the foundation in his name. Everybody is blessed.

So, careful with your mail in the next week or so! Take a look at what the Cambria Education Foundation is about and the difference it is making right here at home. Make a donation, volunteer, buy a Christmas tree or garland (the foundation is having its sale starting this month!) … your choice.

And, imagine what our kids can imagine!

Dianne Brooke’s column appears weekly and is special to The Cambrian. Visit her website at Email her at