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‘They have a need; we have excess that we can share’

Teacher hopes for reciprocal partnership

Grandville — More than 2,100 textbooks are en route to schools in Liberia, ready for a second life in education, thanks to the generosity of the Grandville High School community. 

Representing high school subjects including chemistry, psychology, math and foreign languages, the textbooks are recent editions in good condition that hadn’t been seeing much use lately in Grandville. They’ll now be used by students attending three different schools in Paynesville, Liberia, a suburb near Monrovia. 

Chemistry and physics teacher Chad Bridle had noticed that changes in available classroom technology, like one-to-one devices, as well as shifts in instructional practices, had left many paper resources going unused.

“Textbooks are no longer a primary tool for instruction in many classes at GHS,” Bridle said. “Just in my room, we probably had 200 extra chemistry books that we just didn’t need anymore — mostly because we had transitioned how we teach the class to being a more hands-on, lab-based class. Textbooks just weren’t part of the course anymore. … And most schools in the area are in the same boat, having these print resources that they don’t really use.”

That’s when Bridle’s pastor, who is originally from Africa, connected him with Messiah Mission for Africa, a Paynesville-based nonprofit providing education, job training and other services throughout West Africa. With more limited resources there, print textbooks remain the primary tool for instruction.

Given confirmation that the Paynesville schools would be “thrilled to take any books (GHS) has to give,” Bridle said, he reached out to his teacher colleagues to see if anyone else wanted to donate books.

He ended up with nearly 10,000 pounds of textbooks.

“I’m looking at close to 2,200 textbooks, going, ‘How do we get those to Liberia?’” Bridle said with a laugh. “But I’d already asked the question, so then it was like, ‘We’re going to figure this out.’ We’ve been gifted so much in terms of resources that it didn’t feel right for this resource to go to waste. They have a need; we have excess that we can share. That kept us pushing forward.”

Group Effort for a Monumental Task

Since last spring, the GHS community has been steadily working on the monumental task of prepping the books for their overseas move. Neighboring schools and local companies donated boxes and pallets that could ship internationally. Students volunteered their time after school, before school or on weekends to tape boxes, stack and pack books and move the boxes onto pallets for shipping. 

The GHS student body also raised $2,500 during its 2022 Senior Survivor event to help cover transportation costs. And as the final piece of the puzzle, a recently retired truck driver — who happens to be the brother of chemistry teacher Ann LaRoche — volunteered to drive the goods to North Carolina, where Messiah Mission shipped them out. 

Senior Ella Connelly spent about 10  hours between last spring and this fall volunteering to package books and transport full boxes on carts from classrooms to the high school loading dock. As the project came together, she said she grew to realize how big a gift the Grandville community was putting together for people they’d never met.

“I think it says a lot that our teachers are willing to give away their books and help others instead of just throwing them away,” she said. “It’s cool that somebody does want (the textbooks) and will actually use them, so that’s why we wanted to help raise the money to transport them. And it felt great having all the people who donated their time and seeing all the boxes on the truck at the end, ready to go.”

Giving & Receiving

Now that the books are on a cargo ship on their way to Liberia, Bridle says the project has made him curious about what other opportunities for partnership may be out there for Grandville and Liberian students and educators. He’s envisioned everything from digital “pen pals” to serving as a resource for science teachers in Paynesville.

“It’s easy for us to view this as us providing them help, that it’s a one-way street — that we’re the only ones with things to offer and not vice versa,” Bridle said. “But I think possibilities are there to connect our communities and help both sides better understand people who are different from themselves. 

“I think there’s so much value in learning from people and experiences that are vastly different from your own. I understand science education in the United States, but what does that look like in Liberia? What kind of connections might our foreign language students make with students in Liberia, who are fluent in many languages? … I think it would be so cool for us to explore that beyond just this initial exchange of books.”

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Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell is associate editor, reporter and copy editor. She is an award-winning journalist who got her professional start as the education reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. A Calvin University graduate and proud former Chimes editor, she later returned to Calvin to help manage its national writing festival. Beth has also written for The Grand Rapids Press and several West Michigan businesses and nonprofits. She is fascinated by the nuances of language, loves to travel and has strong feelings about the Oxford comma. Read Beth's full bio


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