DUNEDIN — The Rotary Club of Dunedin made a deal with Academie Da Vinci students: Do 500 hours of reading in eight weeks and we'll donate $500 to a charity in your name.
The Dunedin charter school's 116 students did the Rotary one better: They completed the task in 11 days.
Their prize will go to Heifer International's "Read to Feed" program, which teaches impoverished villagers about sustainability, then ships them pregnant farm animals. The goal is to encourage self-reliance and sharing.
Academie Da Vinci's $500 donation will send a total of four animals — llamas and goats — to Nepal, Haiti and Malawi.
"I learned how easy it is to help other countries," said fifth-grader Joseph Veimau, 10.
In addition to promoting reading, the project taught students lessons in world geography and civics, said Academie Da Vinci principal Susan Ray.
Two representatives each from kindergarten through fifth grade formed the school's first-ever student council. The council members took information back to their classmates, who then used a democratic voting process to determine which animals to ship and to which countries.
"It was a great civics lesson on representation, voting and putting aside your own feelings to be the voice of the people," Ray said. "And they can carry that into middle and high school with a better depth than kids who haven't had that experience."
Students recounted how they studied the globe and discussed which animals function best under which climates or diets. They researched the poorest countries and wrote essays from the perspective of villagers who would receive the donations.
Fifth-grader and student council president Carly Bredal was most surprised to learn "how people could just barely survive without anything and how one animal could do so much."
"We're really lucky," said Joseph, also a council member.
Kindergarten student council member Alex Johnson deemed Africa's Zimbabwe the "coolest" country that students studied.
The 6-year-old already has his mind set on visiting the country someday. For now, he's content knowing that a little piece of himself and his classmates will soon be roaming another continent.
"I just felt proud," Alex said.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4153.