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Former Squannacook teacher hopes institute helps students think globally

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Conclusion of a 2-part story

By M.E. Jones

Correspondent

FITCHBURG — During his three decades at Squannacook Elementary School, retired teacher Fred Goldberg was known for innovative classroom projects that ranged from genealogical storytelling to pen-pal projects in which his fourth-graders corresponded with counterparts in Afghanistan and Africa, exchanging letters, pictures and biopics.

The latter projects included special events such as Peace Night, which involved the larger Townsend community and brought visitors into the classroom who were doing things that made a difference in their native lands, such as starting schools and youth programs.

Goldberg’s projects helped his students learn about other nations’ geography, history and ethnic heritage and sharpened curriculum-related skills, such as writing and math. Favoring the Socratic method, which employs a colloquy of thought-provoking questions versus one-sided lectures, he encouraged students to “think outside the box.” And they did. Bridging dramatic cultural gaps, they found common ground with children their age.

A believer in global awareness, peace and a one-world identity that economic equity can help create, Goldberg practices what he preaches. That’s what the Other World Leadership Institute is about.

Goldberg is a founding member of the nonprofit organization and its ambassador.

Recent globe-trotting — including an upcoming second visit to Africa this month — continues a lifelong learning curve, but he’s no random traveler. His post-retirement itinerary, focused on Africa, is a vehicle for forging worldwide partnerships and spreading the word about the institute.

A stop close to home was the North Central Essential Charter School in Fitchburg, where Goldberg and his partner, Paul Waithaka, a native of Kenya who lives in Greater Boston, met with a group of high-school juniors and seniors and their guidance counselor to discuss a new community-service club that will also be an OWLI partner.

Waithaka, the team videographer, is editor and publisher of a newspaper called The Kenya Monitor. It targets issues important to Kenyan immigrants, he said.

“Young people like you in Africa don’t have clout. This will be empowering for them,” Goldberg told the students. As part of the OWLI network, they can update each other on community service projects they’re working on, share strategies and form friendships. They are also pioneers.

“This is all new,” he said of the OWLI clubs initiative.

The pilot program aims to develop two or three clubs in the United States this year and four or five in Africa, he said.

These kids got it, totally.

“This is a good idea for our school,” said Krystal Dawson, who orchestrated the club’s formation and has an organizational plan and five community service projects lined up, including Habitat for Humanity, a city-based food pantry and the Harvard Council on Aging. She also has a roster of 90 students signed up and an open call out for the first meeting.

The students envisioned career inroads under the OWLI umbrella.

Myfy Jensen wants to be an “entrepreneur” and go to Africa, she said, maybe as a doctor. The OWLI connection, with its community-service component, is a “great opportunity for kids to get global perspective,” she said.

Goldberg agreed. Possibilities could be “limitless,” he said.

“You can all be leaders,” said Brianna Bremato.

Meredith Brown said the partnership was a good fit for students at the charter school.

“I love this school because we learn how to learn independently,” she said.

Alicia Harrington also favored the OWLI club connection. “It sounds like it combines things I majorly want to do,” she said. That is, travel and help people.

The students agreed they want to make a difference, and the club is a good way to start.

Dawson, who is contemplating a future in broadcasting, credited her inspiration for the detailed action plan she has worked out to a HOBY seminar she attended six months ago. Founded by former TV star Hugh O’Brien, the organization has a life-changing track record. The session included goal-setting. “This was mine,” she said.

Guidance counselor Sara Fernandez is the new club’s advisor. She called the partnership “an awesome opportunity” for the students and the school, which educates students in grades 7-12, and — like OWLI — has a “unique mission.”

“This will be an amazing learning experience,” Fernandez concluded. “We’re very excited!”

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