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Local middle schoolers work to improve literacy both locally and around the globe 

Hannah Bourgault completes a tiny library for elementary students

Hannah Bourgault completes a tiny library for elementary students.

–Prior to the start of distance learning, seventh-graders at Almond Acres Charter Academy in San Miguel were asking the question, “How does literacy, and understanding literature, change the world?” The students learned about the negative impact of being illiterate and the United Nations’ push for literacy.

As part of their study, students personally took on the responsibility of promoting literacy. They brainstormed ways they could help, investigated needs, and used real-life skills to help expand literacy in a variety of ways.

Some of the students chose to improve literacy within their own schools. Seventh graders, Kenichi Parkhurst and Libby Higgins tutored kindergarteners, giving up their own recess to work with the younger students on sight words and reading, as well as providing fun, kinesthetic ways to perform word work (e.g. forming spelling words with playdough). Hannah Bourgault and TJ Dawson built and stocked a tiny share library to be installed between the kindergarten and first-grade classrooms.

Moving beyond the Almond Acres campus, students Olivia Heinbach and Summer Colegrove, labeled snack cups at the Kennedy Club Fitness Children’s Center. The customized cups allowed children to review and practice sight words while enjoying a snack during their parents’ workout. Lucas Slawson built a tiny free library for his neighborhood. Lucas Vertrees filled a need by reading to younger students living at the homeless shelter.

Brandon McWilliams makes strawberry jam to raise money for students in Uganda.

Brandon McWilliams makes strawberry jam to raise money for students in Uganda.

Going well beyond our school and community, Brandon McWilliams focused on a nonprofit across the globe in Arua, Uganda. A school needed support for its literacy program. Zozu Project, the nonprofit Brandon collaborated with, celebrated him with an article titled “Our Favorite Fundraiser of the Year- By a 7th Grader!”

An excerpt from the post written by Elsie Soderberg reads:

Last month we got a surprise email from a young man. His name is Brandon, and for a 7th-grade class project he was studying global literacy. They were learning about how learning the simple abilities of reading and writing can change someone’s life, and in his words “As part of our study, I want to help improve literacy in the world.”

He wondered if students at Solid Rock Christian School could use books, pencils, pens, and paper to improve their literacy. If he raised money to provide those supplies, he asked, would the students be able to benefit? “Absolutely yes!” Elsie [our Director of Communications] emailed back.

So, Brandon put on his own fundraiser making jam in his family’s kitchen and selling it at school. It wasn’t fancy. All he needed was some glass jars, strawberries and sugar, and a folding table to put them on. Amazingly, by this small act of love, he raised enough for pens, paper, and English textbooks for an entire classroom!

This material outcome is a great blessing, but there’s more. Brandon is in 7th grade– the exact same age as the students who will benefit from his work. He realized that he could do something, didn’t need it to be big and glamorous, and wasn’t daunted by fear of failure. Maybe he’s teaching us- what standard do we think we need to meet before we can do something?


“It brings me so much joy to see our kids learning and serving at the same time,” said Brandon’s mom, Melanie McWilliams. “They’re using creative thinking to come up with project ideas. They’re using their writing skills to email resources. They’re using their technology skills to research. They’re even using mathematics and science when they make jam or a small wooden library. Most importantly, they’re using their heart to make our schools, community, and world a better place.”

Submitted by Almond Acres Charter Academy


About the author: News Staff

News staff of the Paso Robles Daily News wrote and edited this story from local contributors and press releases. Scott Brennan is the publisher of this newspaper and founder of Access Publishing. Connect with him on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, or follow his blog. He can be reached at