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Vernon Hills High School continues partnership with COVE Alliance

VernHills High School students staff will travel KapeekUgandJuly 24 help trateachers pitch with projects St. Jerome COVE Center. “When you

Vernon Hills High School students and staff will travel to Kapeeka, Uganda, July 24 to help train teachers and pitch in with projects at the St. Jerome COVE Center. “When you go over there, it’s life changing,” Principal Ellen Cwick says. | Courtesy of Vernon Hills High School

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Updated: September 18, 2013 3:36AM

A team of Vernon Hills High School students and staff will travel to a Ugandan community to implement the first educational tool of its kind in the area.

Principal Ellen Cwick will help train teachers in an all-day workshop on small-group learning in Kapeeka, where similar resources are scarce.

The high school has already established a physical legacy there. Cwick, along with teachers and students, built the first classrooms of a primary school on the grounds of the St. Jerome COVE Center.

“Dr. Cwick tells me when you go, you’re going to leave your heart there,” says Megan Dorsey, 16, one of two students selected for the 15-day trip.

In a global economy, the project gives high school students a rare glimpse into the complex world of development and infrastructure needs in Africa, teachers say. Without their backing, a facility for Kapeeka’s youngest learners would not have emerged, COVE officials say.

Since 2008, Vernon Hills has organized fundraisers for the Children’s Outreach and Vocational Education Alliance, or COVE, a nonprofit group with ties to Mundelein and Libertyville that operates the Kapeeka campus. In the first year of the partnership, Vernon Hills raised about $22,500. Now, the high school averages about $6,000 a year.

And every winter, students in First Class, a character education program, study COVE. Megan and Katie Frantz, who will both be juniors, will give their peers a firsthand look at the Kapeeka culture.

“When you go over there, it’s life changing,” Cwick said. “... when you come back, we have so much excess. It really makes you focus on what’s important in life.”

Cwick selected the students based on essays and interviews. They had to propose ideas to keep the partnership alive after their trip.

Megan and Katie have already held donation drives for school supplies, clothes and athletic gear for the COVE campus, where they also will chip in with maintenance work.

Matthew Clifford is a member of the team leaving Vernon Hills July 24. The social studies teacher plans to develop a research project for his own classes tailored to COVE’s needs.

“We want to make it a permanent part of the culture at Vernon Hills High School,” the Vernon Hills man, 30, said.

Currently, COVE serves nearly 200 students in first through fifth grades on its grounds and sponsors students off-site.

The goal is to construct a building for sixth and seventh grades, so COVE students can complete their elementary career on one campus.

“By that time, we’ll have ingrained in them the discipline and the dedication to continue their education,” said Bill Armstrong, the chair of the COVE Alliance.

He pegs the costs of building the classrooms (with a library in between) at $75,000.

“We’re in this for the long haul,” the Mettawa man, 63, said. “We want these buildings to last.”

The nonprofit group primarily works out of St. Mary of Vernon Catholic Church in Indian Creek. Their mission began when a Ugandan man studying to become a priest at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein wanted to minister to disadvantaged orphans back home.

Since then, COVE has opened a medical clinic on the campus, where the broader community can receive care for AIDS and malaria and take pre-natal classes.

COVE hopes to add a second ambulance that would transport patients who require a higher level of care to a hospital about 20 miles away.

Armstrong’s wife, Carol Armstrong, is a nurse practitioner in Libertyville who helped treat dozens of patients last year.

“They are overwhelmed with what needs to be done in their community, and that dispensary is really the lifesaver,” said Carol, who plans to return in 2014.

Meanwhile, Vernon Hills High School is ramping up its fundraising efforts. In December, proceeds from a variety show will now support COVE. Another plan in the works would invite a Ugandan student to study at Vernon Hills.

Cwick plans to stay involved even after her retirement in 2014.

“It’s a wonderful connection,” she said.

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