By Josh Raymer
When Sadibou Ceesay of Berea first learned about SCATS, it was from stories told by older classmates at Berea Community Middle School that described a place where classes challenged you, optionals were as fun as they were wacky, and you met friends who became like your family for two glorious weeks. Sadibou knew he had to experience this “Hogwarts for nerds” for himself and set about creating a fundraising plan so he could attend SCATS and his brother, Ismaila, could attend VAMPY.
“I’m not really challenged by my normal school work,” Sadibou revealed. “It’s easy and I’m not learning that much. SCATS seemed like a place where I could learn more.”
Multiple ideas for fundraising came to the brothers as they brainstormed with their parents. One such avenue was physical labor. Sadibou and Ismaila both worked in their dad’s garden and figured their neighbors could use some help too. Their mom, Jenny, connected them with potential clients by posting on Facebook that the boys could be hired for an afternoon of yard work or other household chores.
After weeding two gardens and installing a pool net, the boys had some money in their pockets and Sadibou had an unwanted souvenir: poison ivy. Nevertheless, the duo persisted in their quest to raise money any way they could.
Their next idea came after their aunt got a machine called a Cricut that is used to print vinyl stickers. With Mother’s Day approaching, Sadibou and Ismaila decided to use the Cricut to create custom gifts with vinyl stickers. They eventually settled on customized vases they would sell at First Friday, a monthly artisan fair held in Berea.
For a theme, they picked “Visions of Virtue” and featured such virtues as honesty, love, courage, and patience on their vases. The event organizer contributed to their goal by donating the table space, and the brothers sold enough vases to make a profit.
Jenny had practical reasons for using the fundraising process as a learning opportunity. “I’m really busy, and that was the conversation I had with them,” she explained. “If they wanted to do this, they had to be the ones to do it. I drove them around and bought the supplies, but they did everything else themselves. I’m proud of the work they did.”
The biggest windfall came as a result of Sadibou’s curiosity and mathematical prowess. Jenny discovered a contest online called MathMovesU and encouraged both boys to enter. According to the MathMovesU website, the contest challenges middle school applicants to create “multimedia presentations that illustrate the importance of math in the world around them.” The winners would be those projects that showed “creativity, originality, time commitment and the use of math equations to demonstrate an enthusiasm for the subject.” Winners would receive a $1,000 MathMovesU Middle School Scholarship to be used for a STEM camp or program.
Given the onslaught of winter weather in Berea earlier in the year, Sadibou didn’t have to look far for his inspiration. “At that time, we were having a lot of snow and had to clear the driveway off,” he recalled. “I wondered how much snow we cleared, how long it would take with fewer people, how much energy it took, how much did it weigh, — all that stuff. We figured that out through math and measurements and put it in a presentation.”
Before sending it off, Jenny’s colleagues at Berea College looked over the PowerPoint and Sadibou also had his math teacher review it and offer her suggestions.
All the hard work paid off, as Sadibou was named one of the 150 scholarship winners.
“It was important for my husband and I that our children understand how their work translates to money and how much of a sacrifice that can be,” Jenny reflected. “My husband and I were the first in our families to go to college, so it’s important for us to focus on the kids’ education. But we also wanted them to have some skin in the game.”
SCATS is only three days old, but Sadibou already knows all the math equations, poison ivy, and vinyl stickers made something very special possible for him. “It’s only my first few days here, and I know all of that work was worth it,” he said. “SCATS is a good experience and so is the fundraising part, to actually work for something you want. It makes me even more proud to be here because I did work to be here.”