Shipping container 'dream' school wins student international award

ROBERT WILLIAMS | Telegraph-Journal
May 25, 2018

ROTHESAY • Heather Chisholm was in math class when she found out her idea to ship a school to an island devastated by last year's Hurricane Maria had earned her an international award.

Chisholm, a Grade 10 student at Rothesay Netherwood School, has been awarded the prestigious Round Square Kurt Hahn Prize, awarded annually to one of 120,000 students in the organization's network, stretching six continents, 50 countries and 180 schools.

"I didn't even know the award existed," she said. "I had no idea."

Chisholm's teacher and mentor on the project, Tia Saley, said she was looking at the criteria for the award and started thinking, "check, check, check," and put together the application without telling her student.

The aim of the award, to be presented to Chisholm at a ceremony in Montreal in September, is to "acknowledge individual student achievement whilst furthering a lasting spirit of unity."

She will also be presenting her project at the conference to students and faculty from around the world.

A school in a box

Chisholm's idea for a school in a container is now close to a year in the making. RNS got on board in September, and originally planned to have a shippable school ready to go to the Kalinago Territory of Dominica by the end of the school year.

Now, the goal is to have the shipping container on the RNS campus by September, after doing all the metal work at First Choice Ventilation in the summer. The students will then continue to work on the project throughout the year, with a shipping date scheduled for April 2019.

Chisholm has set up five committees to help streamline the preparation, but said she has learned that taking on a project of this size comes with unforeseen challenges.

"When I initially started, I guess it was really more of a dream. I wanted it to happen, but I wasn't expecting it to fall into place," she said.

"So many people have stepped forward and made it happen, but there's been a lot of things we never thought about."
The school will service the Dominica community primarily as a preschool, but Saley describes it as a multifunctional "flex space." In the evenings, it will be used for workshops, teacher training and community building events like sewing and other alternative income initiatives.

The shipping containers have been secured from the father of one of the students at the school, but the original plan of two 40-foot containers has been altered to four 20-foot containers to increase durability - one of the many punches Chisholm has learned to roll with.

Raising funds and supplies

Donations will be critical, Chisholm said, but that doesn't just mean financial support. If a company could donate toilets or shelves or electrical work, she said all would be welcome.

"The more money we have, the better we can make it," said Chisholm. "Little bits here and there really makes a difference."

On Sunday, the school is hosting its Broadway Revue, a show where students and teachers will perform some of their favourite Broadway hits. All proceeds will go toward the project, which has now raised $7,000 of the necessary $20,000 of funds.