Education


St Rose Of Lima Graduate Returns To Share Story Of Starting A Preschool Program In Uganda

Published: April 07, 2018 at 12:00 am

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Grace Anne Herrick shared stories with St Rose of Lima School students recently about her work to create a nonprofit, called Grace's Promise Incorporated, which focuses on providing preschool education to impoverished communities in third-world countries. A Sandy Hook resident, Grace is a freshman at the University of Connecticut-Storrs, where she is in the honors program.

For Grace the March 14 visit meant returning to her former school.

"It was really fun and exciting," Grace said, explaining that she spoke with fourth graders at the school about her nonprofit. She also, she said, spent time reading and completing a project with St Rose preschoolers.

After visiting the school, Grace explained that since efforts on her nonprofit began roughly two years ago, a lot has happened. Grace's Promise began as a Girl Scout Gold Award project in 2016. After visiting Uganda, Grace was inspired to develop a preschool program with retired early childhood educator Joan Bybee for the Nakaseke district in Uganda.

At the time Grace was a senior at The Gunnery, a college preparatory school in Washington (Conn.). In December 2017, Grace said, the first preschool class graduated from the program, which is operating out of the African Community Center for Social Sustainability (ACCESS) nursing school.

As a student at UConn, Grace said she has created her own major and is studying global health.

St Rose of Lima School, Grace said, has held fundraisers recently to help support the Nakaseke preschool. When speaking with the fourth graders, Grace said she shared that St Rose gave her the foundation of giving back to the community, which in turn helped her to be able to create her nonprofit organization.

"It was really amazing being back there," Grace said, adding it was her first visit to the school since she graduated. "It was very emotional. I was very happy to see so many familiar teachers' faces, [Principal Sister Colleen Therese Smith], and [Sister Thaddeus Rajca]. It was really nice to be back."

For the last two years, Grace explained, the nonprofit has been sustained by donations primarily from family and friends, "but I need larger donors to make it truly sustainable. We not only need funds to run the preschool program, hire a driver to pick up the children and their guardians from their villages, money for food, but also money to train the parents in income-generating jobs that will allow them to earn money to send their children to kindergarten and beyond kindergarten. Tuition is free in Uganda but the fees are over $800 a year and the average income in a rural village is only $275 a year."

Grace said her program is also seeking to reduce the dropout rate in Uganda, where roughly 71 percent of students drop out of school in second grade.

"Most children drop out of school in the second grade because they lack basic preparation skills," she said via e-mail. "My program seeks to change that. When I started researching literacy rates worldwide in 2015, I found out there were over 250 million children who couldn't read or write in the world. Today, that number has increased to 300 million. This is so sad and heartbreaking. Most of the children are girls and that really breaks my heart."

An important part of the Nakaseke preschool program, Grace explained, is its four-pronged approach to education and support. The program provides food for students, a culturally relevant preschool STEM-based (science, technology, engineering, and math) curriculum, it involves the caregiver or parent in the program, and it teaches children to self-learn.

"That is really important because you are putting the education in the hands of the children," Grace said.

According to the nonprofit's website (gracespromise.com), next steps to the Uganda preschool include building a proper school. It also plans to expand the preschool program to other areas of the world, with help from donors.

Grace's Promise is also trying to raise money to send each of the school's recent preschool graduates to primary school, according to Grace.

More information about the organization and its efforts is available on its website, gracespromise.com.

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