Courtney Cozart just finished the seventh grade at MacArthur Middle School, but she's ready to head back next week into another classroom -- in Africa.
Courtney, 13, is one of eight teen-age girls at the middle school at Fort Meade hoping to make a trip with their science teacher, Christine Davenport, to Accra, a southern seaport town in the west African nation of Ghana.
"I'm expecting to see different cultures -- what they do, what they eat, what they worship," Courtney said. "I know this is going to be fun. I just want to see how it looks over there."
The girls sold candles and pizza and had car washes during the year to raise money for the trip, and Davenport sent out more than 300 letters to national and local businesses seeking support, but the group collected only about $3,500 -- far less than the $17,600 they need for their 10-day tour of African schools.
"We got letter after letter saying, 'Because we don't do business in Africa, we don't want to send students there,' " Davenport said. "We're down to the wire now."
The children don't know that they might not be able to make the trip. Davenport holds out hope for a last-minute save from a local company or the state.
Davenport said she got the idea for the trip after she took her 10-year-old daughter, Ashleigh, to Ghana on a trip in which she taught African students and helped build a library.
Ashleigh returned to the United States with a new perspective on education.
"The kids there are eager to learn," said Ashleigh, now 12. "You can just tell they want to be somebody. Before, my mom had to tell me, 'Go study,' but now I go study on my own."
Ashleigh no longer wastes crayons, paper and pencils, her mother said. After seeing a classroom of students share one box of crayons, Ashleigh vowed never to waste markers or paper again.
Davenport hopes her students will return to school next year bringing similar lessons to Mac- Arthur classrooms.
"I said to myself, if I can take 10 kids [to Africa], these kids can pass that on to 10 more kids," Davenport said. "I know kids who would go to the store and buy $5 worth of pencils to pencil-fight. The kids in Africa would use the butt end of those pencils."
Davenport has a team of parents turning every stone, calling companies and local organizations, looking for more donations so the students' plans will not be thwarted.
They're continuing with plans for a going-away banquet Monday, and the girls are spending afternoons packing about 2,000 books and school supplies, donated by civic groups, businesses and schools, to take with them and distribute to the schools in Africa.
"Even if we can't go, we'll take the money and ship the books and all the school supplies directly to the schools," Davenport said.
And they'll try again next year.
If you are interested in donating to the project, make checks payable to African Cultural Exchange Program, 112 Martha Road, Glen Burnie 21060, and mark the envelope "Attn: Christine Davenport."
Pub Date: 6/21/98