Last Day of School

**This post immediately follows The Balkan Sprint post from July 28th. I recommend reading that post first for the full context of this one.**

After driving through the night in the “Balkan Sprint,” I arrived at my apartment utterly exhausted. Having just picked up my apartment keys from my mentor Valentin, I was excited to get a couple hours of sleep before heading into school a short while later. However, less than a minute after my head hit the pillow, my doorbell broke the silence with two quick bursts–“Krassy,” I thought to myself as I hopped up to get the door; he must have heard me come in.

“How are you my friend?,” Krassy inquired in his usual, fatherly tone. His damp hair and perky attitude signaled he’d just gotten out of the shower, and already had at least one morning coffee.

“I’m tired, Krassy. I want to sleep,” I replied in Bulgarian.

“Yea, Valentin called me and said that you drove here last night. You’re crazy,” he said with a smirk. Then immediately back to business: “Do you want to come over for dinner tonight?”

I couldn’t help but laugh a little at his invitation. I was so tired, I could hardly keep my eyes open, much less make dinner plans. “We’ll talk later, Krassy, but tomorrow night might be better for me.”

“Okay. Nadia and I just need to know, so we know when to buy the lamb.”

“Let’s plan on tomorrow then,” I said as I started closing the door.

A “sleep well,” slipped through the crack of the door just before the latch clicked.

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I awoke to my alarm after what felt like two minutes. A quick glance at my watch confirmed that it had actually been closer to two hours. I rolled out of bed and willed myself into the shower. As I thought about the last day of school, my energy started to return; pure adrenaline would get me through the day.

Running on fumes, I decided to treat myself to a taxi. Before long, I’d be back in the U.S. where a 5 minute taxi ride would cost me $20 instead of 3 leva (less than $2)…might as well take advantage.

As I stepped into the taxi, my phone started ringing. “Where are you?” my mentor Valentin asked.

“I’m on my way!,” I replied. “I thought you said 10:00.”

“I did, but some students are here waiting for you.”

“I’ll be there shortly.”

“I’m going to miss him,” I thought to myself as I hung up the phone. “Always looking out for me.”

After hurriedly paying my cab driver, I rushed up the front stairs. Before I could even collect myself, I was ushered into a first-floor classroom where I found my entire 8A and 9A class waiting for me. Standing in a semi-circle with me in the middle, they started singing “Happy” by Pharell Williams. It was an obvious reference to one of my favorite lessons where we discussed what it meant to be truly happy (along with many synonyms and antonyms of the word). Eva, one of my stellar 9th grade students and an excellent singer was leading the group with a big smile on her face.

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Eva leading the class in song

After the second chorus, the music suddenly stopped. Dayana, one of the best English speakers in my class was standing at the tip of the semi-circle, and addressed me on behalf of the class. She thanked me for being not just a teacher, but also a friend and an inspiration. Before the last word had escaped her lips, Nikolai, standing on the left side of the semi-circle spoke about one of our favorite lessons together, and how it had moved him. Then Ellie, off on the right side, thanked me for coaching her on our debate team, and giving her a newfound confidence. Everything after that was a blur as I felt my eyes start to well up. My eyes darted around the semi-circle from student to student as each shared a memory, triumph, or lesson learned during our time together. Somehow, they did it in a manner that seemed both random and well-orchestrated at the same time.

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8A and 9A – Love these kids

Even as I type this, my eyes start to water up as I think back on the moment. That’s how much these kids mean to me. I like to think that it was the lack of sleep that made me more emotional than usual, but if I’m being honest, there was probably more to it than that.

Once the last student had shared, I was presented with several gifts: A t-shirt, calendar, and magnet from Silistra, and a Bulgaria coffee mug. I’ve worn the t-shirt proudly several times since then, and I can’t think of a way I’d rather start my morning than by drinking coffee from a Bulgaria mug and reflecting on this very moment. 9A also gave me a big thank you card on poster board with messages from each student and 8A wrote me a nice post card expressing their gratitude.

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Poster board from 9A

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Poster board from 9A

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Post card from 8A

As I scanned the classroom, my watery eyes met several dozen other pairs of watery eyes as I thanked the students from 8A and 9A for an amazing year and a transformative experience. I thought the best way to express how much they meant to me was to tell them the story of my past 24 hours. I told them about my overwhelming sadness when I was all but certain I would miss the last day of school, and hoped that the story of my overnight “sprint” to make it back in time would adequately communicate how much they meant to me.

After our time together, we went out to the front of the school where we took the below picture. You can see my brand new Silistra shirt front and center!

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8A and 9A and co-teachers Valentin, Kremena,Margarita, and Ani

After a number of individual goodbyes with students, I went back inside and collapsed on the bean bag in our school lobby, not sure exactly how I should be feeling. At right about the same time, I noticed the students of 10A all starting to trickle into nearby Room 103. “What were they up to?,” I wondered.

Shortly thereafter, the door to the room swung open, and I heard Frozen’s “Let it Go” blasting from the classroom speakers. It was at this point I determined that perhaps sleep deprivation had gotten the best of me, and that I was really losing it. But sure enough, the unmistakable sound of Elsa’s voice emanated from the classroom mixed with the voices of twenty-six 10th graders. Several students came over and shepherded me into the classroom where all of 10A was waiting. The song selection was of course the result of my less-than-stellar rendition of “Let it Go” at our fundraising talent show a couple of months prior. Despite my tendency to butcher that song, I couldn’t help but sing along.

With Elsa’s final words still reverberating in our ears, Miriyana and Mariella stepped forward and presented me with a beautiful flower. While the flower was a heartfelt gesture, what they presented me with next was 1,000 times more meaningful, and will be the souvenir I go back to again and again. It was a notebook with a personal entry from every student in the class reflecting on our time together. Not surprisingly, most of the entries focused on our fundraising project that successfully raised $28,500 to build a school in Ghana–I don’t think anyone who was involved will ever forget it! I included a picture of the message from Meli. She is very artistic and creative, and always has an interesting way of expressing herself–calling me an “alien” was no exception!

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Flower from 10A

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“To Michael from 10A”

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Message from Meli

I told 10A how proud I was of them for raising such an impressive amount of money for the greater good, and promised to keep sending along updates about the progress of our school. Those kids are destined for greatness, and I can’t wait to hear about all the amazing things they will undoubtedly accomplish in the upcoming years.

After our group goodbye, I had a number of individual conversations with students who came up for a final (for now) few words or to take a picture. Conversations with Christian and Dorotea, two of my B.E.S.T. competitors, stand out in particular. They each made a special effort to get me one-on-one to share what they learned and express thanks. Ask any teacher–that means a lot. Christian is the one who wrote and performed a rap song as part of our school build campaign; I am so proud of how much he has grown and matured this year. Dorotea was one of the top students in my class, and really impressed me both inside the classroom and as part of my speech & debate team.

After an emotionally exhausting day, I walked home and fell fast asleep for several hours. When I woke up that evening, I continued the long packing process. Despite the long nap, I went to bed early that night, still drained from the previous 36 hours. I had a final meeting with my school principal the next day, as well as another round of emotional goodbyes with Krassy, Nadia, and Valentin. More on that next time!

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Pencils of Promise: School Update!

Many of you followed my 10A class’s fundraising campaign to raise $25,000 in 25 school days with the goal of building a school in partnership with Pencils of Promise. At the conclusion of that campaign, we had raised $28,501, which we pledged towards building a school in Adaklu Torda, a community located in Ghana’s Volta region.

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In case you missed it last time, below you will find a couple images of the current learning environment in Adaklu Torda. According to Hannah, one of my contacts from Pencils of Promise: “Kindergarten students [here] currently do not have a classroom of their own. The students attend classes under a tree and this makes the learning process very difficult. When the build is complete, there will be a 3 unit classroom that will replace the tree where the the kindergarten students currently learn. The community is friendly and the students are eager to learn. As a direct result of your support, Pencils of Promise now has the capacity to change the community and build a school for these students.”

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I’m excited to report that some great progress has been made! A representative from Pencils of Promise recently sent me the below two sets of pictures of our school. The first three photos show the school’s foundation while the second three show that some significant progress has been made on the frame and structure as well! One thing that I love about this organization is that they select communities that are “deeply committed to their children’s education,” and are willing to demonstrate that commitment by contributing 20% of the build efforts through labor and materials. That’s right, community members not only collect materials, they also actually help build the school. This is a great way to instill a sense of community pride and ownership.

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Foundation #2

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Starting to look like a school!

Looking good!

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Soon to be: Adaklu Torda Pre-School and Primary School

Thank you to the many readers who donated money and/or helped spread the word about this project! Thanks to you and the hard work of my 10A class, 78 students and 10 teachers in Ghana will have a place to learn and teach. I will share more pictures and updates as I receive them!

Celebrating Success and a Personal Message from Adam Braun

I was running a little late on Tuesday morning. Instead of my normal, relaxing routine sipping coffee and watching The Daily Show, I was scrambling to pack my things for school and get out the front door. While jamming my things in my backpack with one hand, I dialed Vasko–my favorite taxi driver who I call in a pinch–with the other.

“I’ll be there in five minutes,” he said in Bulgarian.

Normally, I only bring a backpack or small bag to school, but today I was also lugging a big cardboard box and my weekend duffel bag. Today’s lesson with 10A was going to be a special one, but I needed some extra baggage to make it happen. These were the reasons for my frantic call to Vasko more so than the hot weather or the fact that I was running a bit late.

Before the end of the school year, I wanted to have another lesson with 10A to both reemphasize the lessons we had learned from our fundraising efforts and celebrate our success. We started the lesson by watching a short interview with Adam Braun, founder of Pencils of Promise, pausing after each key point to discuss.

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An attentive 10A

Next, I asked the question: “What did you learn from this project?” I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear students bring up things like “Empathy,” “Teamwork,” “Thinking big,” and “Believing in the impossible and in ourselves,” all without any prompting from me. Since this lesson, I have also had the tremendous pleasure of reading their essays detailing the personal growth they experienced during the project. I hope to get permission from them to share some of these essays, because they are incredibly moving, and indicate maturity and growth on multiple levels.

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Great list of lessons learned

After that, things got really fun. A couple days before, I had received an e-mail from Pencils of Promise unveiling the specific community where our school will be constructed. I hadn’t told the class yet because I wanted it to be a surprise. I was excited to learn that the $28,451 we raised would go towards building Adaklu Torda Pre-School and Primary School in Ghana. Here’s an excerpt from the e-mail I received that I shared with 10A:

“Kindergarten students [here] currently do not have a classroom of their own. The students attend classes under a tree and this makes the learning process very difficult. When the build is complete, there will be a 3 unit classroom that will replace the tree where the the kindergarten students currently learn. The community is friendly and the students are eager to learn. As a direct result of your support, Pencils of Promise now has the capacity to change the community and build a school for these students.”
Along with the e-mail were two pictures of the location where our school was to be built. It was exciting to see the actual setting for our school and the faces of the kids we would be helping.
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The future home of Adaklu Torda Pre-School and Primary School

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The future home of Adaklu Torda Pre-School and Primary School (2)

After a fun conversation speculating how life would change for these students once our school was built, it was time to share the contents of the bags I had brought to school. First of all, Brittany, our partner from Pencils of Promise, had generously sent a package with a pencil and bracelet for every student. Additionally, I gave every student a copy of The Promise of a Pencil each with a short message expressing how proud of them I was. This was the same book my grandparents gave me that inspired the entire project. The kids were all smiles as they came up one by one to receive their gifts!
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That’s a lot of books!

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Passing out the books

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Krisiyana already read my copy, but now she has one of her own!      

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Christian and Miriyana show off their new books

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Mariella receiving her book, pencil, and bracelet

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Raiya with her new book

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Vicky excited for a new read!

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Inna with her new book, pencil, and bracelet

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Deni reaches for her new book

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Koko will have to return my copy now that he has his own!

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Ivana is all smiles…per usual!

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Sesi with some new reading material

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Maria cheesin’

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Mecho checking out his new book

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Meli showing off The Promise of a Pencil

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Of course my partner in crime Kremena gets a book too!

Now with five minutes left in class, I had one last surprise up my sleeve. You might recall from a previous post that I wrote an e-mail to Adam Braun telling him more about my class and the amazing work they had done. Despite being incredibly busy, Adam took the time to send 10A a personalized video thanking my students for their fundraising efforts!

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The fact that Adam took the time to recognize our work demonstrates the type of leader he is, and is part of why I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. I had every intention of filming my students’ reaction to the video, but I was caught up in the moment as much as the kids were. I managed to whip out the video camera partway through, and was able to catch a few moments of them taking in Adam’s message.

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10A Group shot!

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Showing off some PoP swag

Best Day Ever?

I’ve been fortunate to have a tremendous amount of support here in Bulgaria–from an incredibly helpful Fulbright staff, to a teacher mentor determined to make me feel at home, to a hilarious neighbor who has adopted me as his own son, to eager and welcoming students, to a steady stream of visitors from the states, and to enthusiastic Fulbright peers happy to discuss the many highs and occasional low of our experiences. All in all, that’s helped me avoid feeling much in the way of homesickness. This past weekend was a bit of an exception. It marked my five year Duke reunion in Durham, and I was thousands of miles away.

My Gmail inbox filled up with Duke friends coordinating hotel and transportation arrangements. My Facebook and Twitter feeds exploded with pictures from events on campus that I longed to be a part of (BEER PONG IN CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM…ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?!). Groups of friends sent pictures that I should have been in. My jealousy only grew as I thought back to the Duke Community that I love so much.

Senior housemates minus me

Senior housemates minus me

Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to stop feeling sorry for myself, because Tuesday night just might have been the best night ever. It was the night of my students’ charity concert and for many reasons, it’s a night I will never forget.

In the days and weeks leading up to the show, we broke a lot of rules. Typically when my school organizes an event like this, it is several weeks or even months in the making. Scripts are carefully written and edited, performers rehearse multiple times, marketing efforts start early, venues are booked well in advance, and directors, sound technicians, and lighting experts are contacted ahead of time.

We didn’t do any of that. Three of my students in 10A wrote our script the week before the show. Being well-rehearsed was out of the question as our set list wasn’t even finalized until a few days ago. We lucked into a director after our first choice refused to work with us because we were getting such a late start. The only reason we had lights was the individual efforts of one of my amazing ninth graders and her connections with a local theater. Our marketing effort could best be described as a last-minute scramble, and our first full rehearsal ended an hour before the show started. But when you set out to accomplish big things and give yourself an aggressive deadline ($25K in 25 school days), sometimes moving quickly is more important than being perfect…somehow my students figured out a way to do both!

I loved the idea that we were breaking the rules. Since arriving in Bulgaria, I’ve constantly heard “this is not possible” or “this is not the way.” We were trying to prove that, as the saying goes, when there’s a will, there’s a way. That also meant that a lot was on the line; and we were behind.

To be honest, when the curtains opened last night, I didn’t know what to expect. Things had been moving quickly in the days leading up to the show (they had to), and I wasn’t exactly sure how it would go. It wasn’t that I doubted my students or their abilities; I just knew how fast we had been moving!

But then, the next couple of hours happened…and they were truly magical. 10A and some key support partners had stepped up to the plate, and the result was brilliant. Unfortunately, our photographer and videographer need a few days to process content from the show, so I’m going to save the play-by-play for my next post. That being said, I want to share some of the highlights as they are moments that moved me greatly and that I will never forget.

In no particular order…

  • Going into the show, our hope was to raise 900 leva ($497). We were thrilled to exceed our goal, raising 967 leva (~$532), which was a huge success! Even more exciting for the campaign is that we had two donors willing to match our charity concert fundraising efforts. Becky and Roger Tuuk, extremely generous friends of my family from back when we lived in Michigan, posted a $500 match, and an anonymous donor opted to match the entire $532 amount. For those keeping score at home, that’s over $1,500 in one night!
  • A few minutes before the show started, a couple of ladies I had never met came up to me and presented me with a rose. “This is from the mothers of 10A,” they said. “Thank you for what you’re doing for our children.”
From the mothers of 10A

From the mothers of 10A

  • The performances of my students were fantastic. There are so many good stories here, and I promise to elaborate more once I have the photos and videos to do them a bit more justice. In the meantime, I included a few pictures below to whet your appetite. Suffice it to say that I’m unbelievably proud of all the performers and the amazing acts they put on.
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Some youngsters joined us for the show, and they definitely stole the hearts of the audience. I was amazed by their voices and stage presence!

Desi dance group

Dancing group

Meli Mecho

Two of my stud musicians from 10A

One of my 8th graders KILLED IT with his beat boxing

One of my 8th graders KILLED IT with his beat boxing

  • As an additional motivator, I agreed to sing a karaoke song at the concert if we raised 300 leva on top of ticket sales in a box labelled “Embarrass Michael.” A few acts into the show, some of my students passed me a note letting me know that the box had 420 leva in it (later updated to 484 leva), and my fate was sealed in the form of Frozen’s “Let it Go.” In my three and a half minutes of fame, I made just about every mistake possible: I forgot the words, I was out of tune, and I’m pretty sure my voice cracked at least once in an ambitious pursuit of the high notes. Needless to say the crowd loved it. My students unexpectedly rushed on stage to sing and dance along and the song ended in a huge group hug. It felt magical in ways that I’m sure not even Elsa has experienced.
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The Elsa wig I made just before the show left something to be desired.

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Happy to have some support on stage!

Group hug

  • The concert ended with a big group singing of Michael Jackson’s “We are the World.” An extremely talented vocal group, Do Re Mi, got us started, but inevitably all the performers once again flocked to the stage to sing along. There was so much joy and energy in the room!
  • After the show, I joined about 10 of my students at the local pizza joint. As I devoured a large pizza (pre-show prep had caused me to skip a couple of meals), we celebrated the progress we’d made towards our fundraising goal and hypothesized where our school might one day be located and how the kids would benefit. It was fun to hear my students admit that when I first issued the challenge, they were excited, but didn’t believe that it was possible (that’s actually reason I wanted to do this project in the first place). With over $21K raised, it’s safe to say that nobody feels that way anymore!
  • Krassy rang my doorbell shortly before I left for the show, and gave me 4 leva–the price of two tickets–even though he and his wife Nadia could not attend. Shortly after that, he came back with dinner, knowing that I was busy preparing for the show and might not have time to eat. I’m going to miss that man so much.

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  • Many of my teacher colleagues and the principal from Peyo Yavorov Foreign Languages High School came out to support the cause! Regardless of whether they came to see me humiliated or to help build a school, I was extremely appreciative of their attendance. I was especially moved when the school’s chemistry teacher–a favorite of many students–thanked me for challenging our students to tackle something monumental and pursuing such a worthy cause.

In conclusion, despite feeling down about missing out on time with many of my best friends at my reunion, Tuesday night solidified that I was exactly where I was supposed to be this week.

Wooooooah, we’re halfway there!!

I was in a pretty good mood when I left school yesterday. That kind of good mood when you can’t help but smile even though nobody else is around. The warm sun encouraged me to shed my jacket and what I’m told are colorful blossoms (yup, still colorblind) were starting to bud on the trees in our schoolyard. Normally I would walk home on such a beautiful day, but I was eager to get home and out on my porch overlooking the Danube River as quickly as possible. Looking at the pictures below, can you blame me?

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Afternoon view from my balcony

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Sunset from my balcony

I made small talk with my taxi driver, never passing up on the opportunity to practice my Bulgarian. As if he sensed my good mood, he rolled down the windows, cranked up the music, and insisted on serenading me in Russian. He actually had a fantastic voice, and I expressed my frustration that I didn’t know the words to sing along. I think he was enjoying himself too because what is normally a three minute taxi ride took closer to ten as we crawled along at less than half the speed limit. My driver didn’t seem to care that cars were honking and passing him, as he slowed down even more every couple of blocks to wave at a friend.

While climbing the eight flights of stairs to my apartment, I reflected on the day. Today was special because it marked the halfway point of 10A’s fundraising campaign. The reason for my good mood was that we had already passed the halfway point of our $25,000 goal, and appeared right on track to raise the entire amount to build a school in partnership with Pencils of Promise. As I write this today, we have raised $14,571 with donations from 171 different contributors. I’ve been especially pleased with the number of Bulgarian contributions, as members of the community seem inspired by my students and supportive of our cause. Engaging the local community was one of my personal goals for this project, so watching that come to life has been especially rewarding.

In class today, we continued planning our big fundraising concert scheduled for next Tuesday, 4/21. This event is important because it will give my students the opportunity to use their talents to directly impact our campaign. It will include a combination of band performances, ballet, folk singing, rapping, and if we raise enough money, I’ve even offered to embarrass myself in front of the entire audience.

Tomorrow afternoon, we are holding a press conference at the school to give an update about our project, announce our concert, and answer questions from the media. I’ll give a brief overview of what we are aiming to accomplish while my students translate my words into Bulgarian. After that, I’m excited to watch my students in action as they’ll be the ones responding to questions from the dozen or so media outlets we have invited. We are hopeful that the press conference will both increase the attendance at Tuesday’s concert and add even more fuel to the media engine that’s been helping spread our cause here in Bulgaria. I’ve included a couple of examples below in case you want to practice your Bulgarian!

And finally…an exciting update! Starting NOW (11 a.m. EST on Thursday, 4/16), an anonymous donor will be matching the next $1,000 worth of donations. That means your donation will essentially double–$50 turns into $100! But don’t wait, because this opportunity will expire in exactly 48 hours!

A HUGE thank you to the many blog followers who have already contributed. Your support has played a big role in helping inspire a generation of Bulgarian youngsters that monumental change is possible if you work hard and have a vision. Not to mention…YOU ARE HELPING BUILD A SCHOOL FOR KIDS WHO DON’T HAVE ONE!

LAUNCH DAY!

Written yesterday, 3/31.

After almost 6 weeks of preparation, my class launched our campaign to raise $25,000 in 25 School Days (3/30 – 5/1) through the Pencils of Promise organization. Regardless of how much money we make (though I’m confident it will be BIG), watching my students come together to create something impactful and that we are proud of has been such a joy. In previous posts, I expressed my desire to teach my students that they have the capacity to make a mark on the world, and though we still have a long way to go in the campaign, I’m already starting to see signs of that happening. Each of our four working groups (Marketing, Production, Incentives, and Fundraising) can already boast a long list of accomplishments and optimism is high. A more specific example came in the form of a Facebook message from Mariella that was like music to my ears (notice her flawless English).

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Mission Accomplished!

When I walked into class today–day two of our campaign–students were already gathering around the computer to pull up our fundraising page. The borderline obsessive page refreshers were eager to show their classmates the most recent couple of donations that had come in that morning. I smiled contentedly as they quickly decided who would respond with a punctual “thank you” post. Before the bell had rung to indicate the start of class, our generous donors had already been thanked. If you haven’t already, you can check out our fundraising page and YouTube video here: https://fundraise.pencilsofpromise.org/buildthemaschool

As I write this, our fundraising balance reads $3,272 which represents 13% of our goal! While we’ve jumped out to a quick start, the students are far from sitting back on their heels and getting comfortable.

Day 2 Campaign Selfie!

Day 2 Campaign Selfie!

  • Our fundraising team is planning local events including a talent show and potentially a pie booth. This will be incredibly important as we aim to engage the local community! We have also had a couple of donors match local fundraising efforts. Let me know if you’d be interested in joining that group!
  • A member of our production team has recorded a Bulgarian/English rap video about the importance of education and is working on editing the video. I’m so excited to see the final product and share it with those of you following our story.
  • The incentives team just completed a “donation thermometer” to hang in front of our school so that everyone is aware of the progress we are making. They are also making handwritten Thank You cards for local donors.
Build them a School Thermometer!

Thermometer to share our progress! Excited about the $2,907 at the time we snapped the photo!

  • And last but not least, the marketing team is posting blog updates on our fundraising page, contacting local media outlets, and helping us tell the story through social media (Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter; entering your e-mail when you make a donation will also alert you to my class’s blog updates). I also just found out that a representative from bTV, a national news outlet in Bulgaria will be coming to our class tomorrow to do a story on our project. Last but not least, Adam Braun–founder of Pencils of Promise–has now acknowledged our specific campaign twice! That’s caused lots of excitement in class!
Recognition from PoP Founder Adam Braun

Recognition from PoP Founder Adam Braun

As much fun as I’m having being a part of this campaign, it’s unfortunate that I’ll likely end up in jail afterwards for not filing my taxes. Speaking of which…I’m outta here! But before I go, here’s something to leave you with. We watched this video in class and discussed the meaning of the word “promise” as more than just a commitment, but as a an indication of future excellence…something that we all possess.

**Note: If you are interested in making a larger donation ($500 or greater) to this campaign, please send me an e-mail at michael.j.pelehach@gmail.com to talk about matching opportunities**

Quick Progress Check

The flu hit Silistra this week. And it hit hard. On a typical day, 10A has twenty six students. Today, we had seven. Just walking around school, It was clear that other classes hadn’t fared much better. I’ve been fortunate to stay healthy so far, but three of my English teaching colleagues at school have been absent. That means I’m on substitute duty this week.

Luckily, before getting steamrolled by the flu, 10A made a lot of progress on our school build project. In my last blog post, I walked you through the objectives and responsibilities of our four teams. In just a couple of classes, we’ve made considerable progress against our goals. Here’s a quick look at the accomplishments of each team:

Fundraising team

  • Set up our fundraising page on the Pencils of Promise website (link will be shared at launch)
  • Wrote an introductory paragraph to our page
  • Set up bios complete with photos and fun facts for every student

Incentives team

  • Created a list of incentives and dollar/leva (Bulgarian currency) thresholds so we can appropriately thank our donors, both locally and through our online fundraising page
  • Created special group incentives for key milestones in our campaign ($1K, $5K, $10K, $25K)

Production team

  • Written and edited YouTube video script
  • Cast the roles of video
  • Took pictures and recorded audio for first few scenes of video…and it looks GREAT!

Marketing team

  • Created Instagram, Facebook, Twitter accounts
  • Created campaign slogan
  • Working on strategy to communicate directly with donors (you will hear more from this group soon!)

While we accomplished a lot last week, student absences are definitely proving to be a big hurdle. The small group of us who have remained healthy continue pushing forward, but we are certainly missing the help of the rest of our team. The initial plan was to launch our fundraising page on Monday, March 23rd, though depending on when my students get healthy, we may need to reevaluate. I head to Berlin for 9 days on Friday, and while I know my kids will continue checking things off our list, I’m a little wary of scheduling the launch for the day after I return. I’ll certainly keep this group updated with where we land.

In the meantime, I wanted to share some photos from our video shoot. I don’t want to ruin the surprise, so I’m not going to share too much, but I’m really proud of what we’ve come up with so far!

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I would love to answer any questions you have about this project! New readers can get an overview here, and everyone feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you!