Last year at this time, Dale Peterson’s bold vision for building and equipping a new classroom and then shipping it overseas seemed like an impossibly complex undertaking. But thanks to a willingly conscripted army of both local and districtwide students, a brightly painted two-story structure wired for electricity and solar power will be trucked out of Niwot on Dec. 8, bound for its new home at the Mwebaza School in Kyengera,Uganda.
“I’m feeling overjoyed that we could have so many kids involved,” Peterson said at the closing ceremony for the Cougars/CDC Creating Classrooms project at Niwot High on Nov. 29 . “When we went and asked groups to participate, they just jumped in. Niwot High School, Sunset Middle, Niwot Elementary, CDC; people found a way to help. I love it that so many found ways that made sense to them.”
The idea for the project took seed in Peterson’s first grade class at Niwot Elementary and then bloomed from there. Within weeks of first proposing the project, the Mwebaza Foundation had pledges of help, not just from neighboring schools, but also from students at the Career Development Center, who come from all over the St. Vrain Valley.
Each level of the local feeder system played a crucial role. All told, Peterson estimates that more than 1,000 people contributed to the project, the majority of them students. The elementary school raised half of the funds via their annual jog-a-thon and book sale, while Alex Armstrong’s design students at Sunset Middle School took Peterson’s vision and devised the construction plans for it.
Students at Niwot High and the CDC did most of the hands-on work, from painting, to framing walls, to more advanced metal work for the upper part of the building. Nearly every Cougar club or team showed up on a Saturday to learn more about power tools and how to make blueprints come to life.
On hand at the ceremony was Bart Wear, president of the Louisville-based Homes for Living Hope, the charitable organization that supplied the containers and will help handle the logistics of sending them overseas. Wear presented two awards, one to Niwot High and one to the CDC, for their students’ contributions to the project and the willingness of the system as a whole to band together for a good cause. “This is an amazing community you have here at St. Vrain Valley Schools,” he said during his speech.
Accepting the award on behalf of Niwot was junior James Bolon, who was active with the school’s Mwebaza Club throughout the project. Bolon was one of Peterson’s most reliable aides-de-camp, and was on hand most workdays. He estimates that he spent more than 20 hours as a “worker bee” on tasks such as installing insulation, drywall and tile.
“I’ve never seen anything like it ever before,” Bolon said of what drew him to the ambitious project. “It was such a great movement and it was right outside Niwot’s front steps. I saw the containers every bus ride and it helped keep me motivated and I kept coming back.”
Mead High senior Aaron Zrubeck accepted the award on behalf of the CDC, saying, “The welding program has taught me about teamwork and how crucial it is to getting the job done on time. I feel privileged to be a part of this project and I will keep these memories throughout my lifetime.”
After the ceremony, Niwot High principal Eric Rauschkolb offered “huge kudos” to Peterson for providing area students with a chance to help those less fortunate and build bonds within their own communities.
“Not only did it help the students of Niwot High School, it really helped bring our feeder together,” he said. “It was an opportunity for all feeder students to work together, and see a great project come together because of their labor. We really hope the Mwebaza Foundation does something and lets us participate again.”