“Yes!” yelled the two hundred schoolkids in the audience.
“I asked,” hollered Chairman Moses Kawkaw with a grin, “ARE YOU HAPPY?”
“YES!” sang Sogakope’s youth at the top of their lungs, “YES!”
Today’s Grand Quiz was brilliant on about ten different levels, which became clearer and clearer as the day went on.
At first, however, I didn’t really understand the concept. I did know that Bright Star Vision USA funded Youth Creating Change to put on twenty different youth competitions across Sogakope schools using questions from novels that had been donated to the town, and now it all came down to this: two teams facing off at the Grand Quiz.
But I didn’t understand why memorizing small details from young adult books was so important. I also didn’t understand why YCC’s Director, John, had been shuttling all around Ghana in tro tros bargaining for and buying backpacks, notebooks, and even two inexpensive used computers as the prizes. What was going on here, and what was it all for?
But after seeing the magic that was today, I get it: the Grand Quiz of YCC, Sogakope is about something far, far bigger than book details and backpacks. It is about concretely teaching students to value education and reading as the lifeline to success.
When Dan and I arrived at nine in the morning, the rented conference hall was a-flutter with blue chairs, rainbow balloons, and streamers, and the YCC staff and students were bustling around on the final touches.
“We have not slept at all this night,” said Wisdom with a sleepy smile as he curled a red and gold ribbon bow. Last week, Wisdom had raised his hand to take full responsibility of the Grand Quiz project, and he stood by his promise with passion.
A shadow loomed at the door and suddenly students from the other schools began to pour in. Yellow and green uniforms! Blue and white! Purple!
One by one, each student gaped in awe at the prize table at the far end of the room. A computer and printer for schools that had none?! A small bicycle for kids used to walking miles?! This competition was serious!
The program began, closely following the neatly typed agenda. First came a lovely opening prayer by Seth, then the introduction of the guest Chairman, Mr. Moses Kawkaw: the respected and eloquent District Officer of Social Welfare.
It seems that having a Chairman for events is a Ghanaian tradition, and I like it! It adds an air of pomp and importance to proceedings, and makes you realize that the event is not just about your small group.
John gave a powerful opening speech, and did an unbelievable job of masking the fact that he’d only slept two hours the previous night. (“I overslept today,” he confessed later. “I went to bed at four am and was supposed to wake up at five, but I woke up at six instead!”)
Bright Star Vision had specifically suggested that YCC invite Ghanaian media sources to the Grand Quiz to spread the message about reading paying off, and the reporters were there in force: Graphic Communication, The Ghanaian Times, Junior Graphic Corporation, Tongu Radio, and The Ghanaian Information Service Department. It was exciting to see these important people there, and made everyone walk a little taller.
And then came a stroke of genius in the Grand Quiz program: the DANCING INTERMISSION.
The Sogakope DJs pumped up an exuberant Ghanaian tune, and the students leaped out of their seats, swirling and twirling euphorically, raising their arms and waving handkerchiefs.
You know the one time they got yelled at the whole Grand Quiz? Because they weren’t dancing energetically enough! Adopt this practice now, America, because it works.
Wisdom quieted the music, the skirts fluttered into chairs, and then Dan and I gave our speeches, fancy American visitors that we are. Dan read a lovely message from his mother, Mighty Marla. Marla directed: “Students, keep going to school and keep reading, because it will pay off! And thanks to YCC and its director John for all they have done for Ghana.”
Me, I told students a fact I’d learned in BPS professional development: a child who reads twenty adult-sized books in a year reads ONE MILLION words– thus increasing her vocabulary and world knowledge exponentially. So hooray for the Grand Quiz for pushing students to read!
Another dance intermission. This one was really awesome (in fact, the beauty brought tears to my eyes): it was a dance-off between all the five schools!
Each school had exactly two minutes to weave and sway, turning in gorgeous circles of skirts and arms and smiles. The winner got a prize! By the end of this mini-competition, the students plopped back in their seats breathless, revitalized, and happy.
And then (TUM TUM TUUUM) the Quiz proceedings began! After TWENTY completions all over Sogakope over the past many months, the tournament had narrowed to just two groups: Total Child International School, versus Youth Creating Change.
The three contestants on each side solemnly took their seats at the center tables. The two Quizmasters (who, by the way, did the most fabulous, dramatic job possible) cleared their throats and read the detailed rules.
The Quizmaster paused for a moment after the rules and very sincerely said to the audience: “Children, you must appreciate this day, because when I was a child there were no rewards for reading. This is a special, special event.” Students nodded and clapped in agreement.
The assistants raised their stopwatches, and the Grand Quiz began!
Example: “Who was the sixth person the gingerbread man ran away from? a) Duck, b) Little old man, c) Hen, d) Cow.”
Huh? But get this: both the YCC kids and TCI nailed eighty-five percent of the questions.
It was evident that these young superstars had been studying their tails off, and it was impressive as heck.
Round Two: True or False.
Example: In “The Conversation Club,” Naomi is responsible for ghost stories. True or False? (Answer: False.) Once again, the studious students aced more than three fourths of the questions, and the crowd went wild.
Round Three: Expressions (also known as Open Response)
Example: “Why was DW not paying attention when grandma was correcting her to say “taught” and not “teached” in the book “Arthur’s Christmas”?” (Answer: Because she was busy watching television.) Whoa!
Round Four: Spelling. Graciously, at this point, the Quizmaster added: “As Madame Lillie pointed out, reading is not just about stories. It is about knowledge, and it is also about vocabulary. To be a respected member of society, you must know what words mean, and you must know how to spell them.”
The students scored about eighty percent accuracy on: “potential”, “submerge”, “magistrate”, “soot” (this was particularly difficult with a Ghanaian accent, which pronounces “soothe,” “suit”, and “soot” exactly the same), “egocentric”, “delusion”, “sediment”, “physique”, and (“I don’t mean to insult you with this word,” laughed the Quizmaster as he gave it) “imbecile“.
Those students could spell! (Incidentally– apparently I cannot. Spellcheck just called me an imbecile for spelling the word “imbecile” wrong.)
So here came the next stroke of genius: as the final scores were tallied, while the students were still raptly staring at the stage, two amazing and inspirational public officials took to the microphone to send home some vital messages.
From the honored head of Ghana Educational Services: “You must read, and you must digest what you read! Make effective use your leisure time, and do not waste your hours on bad acts. And YCC: we need more wonderful programs like this!”
From Assembly Member and District Member of Millennium Challenge Account, Madam Essie Vandyke-Owusu: “Read! I know we have no district library, and I am working with our government to get one soon, because you need to read to succeed! You must have an “I can do it attitude. Learn, be respectful, get involved in your community, and be good citizens for Mother Ghana.”
And then the prizes were passed out: AMAZING, thrilling, educational prizes. First, individuals from all five schools who had shown leadership were honored with certificates and backpacks full of school supplies. Next, the schools were called up in the order they placed in the Grand Quiz: from fifth to first.
The most beautiful part of it all was John’s declaration: “Because YCC is a combination of students from all Sogakope schools, this prize is actually a prize for ALL the youth of Sogakope. YCC is open to each and every one of you, so come on by next week and use the computer and notebooks and soccer balls!”
The students cheered.
Another inspirational point: YCC could have just used Bright Star Vision’s donations to throw supplies impersonally at random schools around Ghana: “Here– have a backpack and printer. Goodbye.” But instead, YCC came up with the Grand Quiz to ingeniously distribute these much-needed educational aids in a manner that would impel youth to study, learn, and compete for educational rewards that these young scholars would ultimately feel they had EARNED through their brains. Again: brilliant.
They made WONDERFUL points, but among them were these: “Go home and show the prizes you earn today to your families and friends. Many of your parents did not attend school, and so they need to be shown that education pays off. Now, after they see your gifts, maybe they will give you permission to go to a youth center or library the next time you ask!”
The speaker continued, very seriously. “Everyone is investing in you, because you are our future. If you want to be an achiever, you must have goals, and you must be disciplined. You must be there when you say you will be somewhere, and you must do what you are supposed to do. In fifteen years, where do you want to be? In fifteen years, will you rejoice or regret?”
At this point, the speaker brought me close to tears for the second time in the day.
Now get this, American teachers: at this moment, all two hundred students in the audience lifted their sweet little pointer fingers, pointed at their hearts just as the speaker demonstrated, and sang in unison: “WHAT DO I WANT TO BE IN THE FUTURE?”
“The greatest investment you can make in your future is education,” responded the speaker, “so congratulations on your hard work today, and if you were in fifth place this year, read those books and come in first place next year!”
YCC’s Grand Quiz is about youth ACHIEVING their full potential, and thus achieving the potential of Ghana.
Well done, YCC and Bright Star Vision, and well done, students of Sogakope!