This month, students from St. Bonaventure University’s Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) program will outfit every elementary school on the island of Grand Bahama with computer labs.
The students are on Grand Bahama Island Jan. 5-15 to continue what they’ve dubbed “Operation Boot-up,” a project task force for which the students gathered donations of 250 computers and coordinated free shipping of the units with TransPrep, Topical Shipping and the Grand Bahama Port Authority.
The St. Bonaventure chapter of SIFE, an international student service organization focusing on economic empowerment, was established eight years ago.
Abhi Aggarwal, a junior pre-med student from Leesburg, Va., spearheaded Operation Boot-up, along with senior finance major Kevin Keating, a Buffalo, N.Y. native, and senior history major Patrick O’Connor, from Hyde Park, N.Y. Their efforts have ensured all 10 elementary (grades kindergarten to sixth grade) schools in Grand Bahama, most of which have few or no computers, will soon house a functioning computer lab, with computers donated by IBM and CUTCO.
“For years we have installed computers in small schools throughout the country, but we knew that a piecemeal approach would never make a real difference,” Aggarwal said. “So we approached them with a grand idea—let’s give every elementary school child in the Bahamas access to a computer. Let’s train their teachers. Let’s connect them to U.S. schools. Let’s wire an island.”
When SIFE visits in January, Olean-area educators and St. Bonaventure students will train Bahamian teachers to teach technology to their students.
“What is unique about this program is not merely the number of units we are sending down, but also the extensive training we are providing,” said Todd Palmer, SIFE advisor and professor of management science at St. Bonaventure University. “As a result, we have become a major catalyst of technology empowerment in the Bahamas.”
SIFE has made annual service trips to the Bahamas since 2003. While Operation Boot-up will be the main focus of this year’s trip, the 49 students, three St. Bonaventure faculty members, three Olean-area teachers and two guest computer science majors traveling to Grand Bahama Island will undertake several other projects:
- Transition St. Bonaventure student teachers who will spend seven weeks working in Bahamian schools after the rest of the group returns home.
- Enhance distance learning programs between Olean and Grand Bahamian schools. For these programs, SIFE partners with BOCES and Olean elementary schools to enable their students to participate in collaborative projects with other students from around the world.
- Distribute eight pallets of readers (a series of literacy books) and provide training in the use of the series.
- Introduce Special Olympics soccer with a clinic and mini-tournament.
- Work with a school for children with severe learning disabilities to introduce soccer to their P.E. curriculum.
- Teach entrepreneurship and economics in nine elementary schools.
- Offer web building services to local businesses.
- Offer evening business seminars for about 200 people.
- Assist local children in creating their Junkanoo costumes and floats for Junior Junkanoo (a major part of the country’s heritage).
- Assist in the construction of a halfway house for recently released prisoners.
SIFE volunteers will install 32 computers at Freeport Primary, a large urban school with no computer labs, much to the joy of administrators.
“In one week (SIFE) has the potential for transforming the lives of all the children at Freeport Primary by moving us 10 years into the future,” said Barbara Thompson, principal of Freeport Primary.
Tanya Wildgoose, principal of Bishop Michael Eldon Elementary School, has been working with SIFE for four years. “St. Bonaventure brings much more than people and technology,” she said. “They bring excitement and ideas that are having an impact on the way we teach our students.”
St. Bonaventure’s SIFE chapter also runs other international service and economic development programs in Uganda and Laos. In Grand Bahama alone, SIFE works with 10 schools, has involved hundreds of St. Bonaventure students, and its activities have touched 1,500 to 2,000 children and 30 to 40 businesses.
For more information, visit www.bonabubble.com or http://www.operationbootup.com.
About the University: St. Bonaventure is ranked 29th in U.S.News & World Report’s 2011 ranking of Northern universities that offer master’s degrees. It has a history of accomplishment and service that extends back more than 150 years. At the heart of St. Bonaventure is the Franciscan affirmation of the dignity and worth of the entire created order. Fundamental to this vision is an awareness that it is within relationships and community that individuals discover and develop their potential.