The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

June 18, 2008

Labor of learning

Books with fiery future are now bound for African children

MANKATO — There’s something almost blasphemous in a school district burning its own books.

That’s what Kennedy Elementary teacher Diane Dobitz thought when she found out last year’s reading texts were headed for the district incinerator.

And even though those books would have been cooked into electricity for the district, Dobitz had another form of recycling in mind. As a veteran educator who has spent many years teaching in less fortunate areas than southern Minnesota, Dobitz knew those books held a power that far exceeded their electric energy potential.

“I taught in Kenya for five years,” she said, “and I just know what a resource they would be.”

Every year, the Mankato Area School District revisits the textbooks in a handful of its curriculum areas. Usually that means a textbook switch or at least a round of replacements.

In the past, the old texts were incinerated. But now, those texts will be headed across the Atlantic through the St. Paul-based Books for Africa.

“When I was in Africa, I saw kids using pencils until they were a half-inch long,” Dobitz said. “We just waste so many things on this side of the ocean.”

Two years ago, Dobitz and like-minded South Central College instructor Peter Johnson approached district officials about recycling the old textbooks.

They were told shipping the books to other districts or charity organizations was costly. But if Dobitz and Johnson were willing to load and haul the books themselves, they were welcome to have them.

Mankato’s Volk Transfer and Logistics offered to ship the books to St. Paul for free on an empty truck, and on Wednesday the books were picked up at Mankato West. They spent a night in the Volk warehouse before making the trip to the Twin Cities today.

Johnson also will deliver some of the books himself to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

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