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Column: Building Windmills, Transforming Communities

I was amazed and inspired when I read "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity & Hope," written by Malawi-born author William Kamkwamba with journalist Bryan Mealer. I shared the book with our principals this summer as we met to prepare for the new school year. The principals shared my enthusiasm for the inspiration that William’s story offers and we left our meeting prepared to share this story and inspire our school community to build and create their own windmills — sources of change and hope.

In his book, William shares the story of how he achieved his dream of bringing electricity, light, and the promise of a better life to his family and his village. It started with a bicycle dynamo-basically, a pedal-powered wheel that generates light. This taste of electricity (a luxury enjoyed by just two percent of Malawians) filled William with a desire to create his own. Before long, his scientific curiosity sent him on a quest to build a windmill. Besides dealing with all sorts of financial obstacles and technical difficulties, William had to become a self-taught physicist, overcome local superstitions, and withstand being mocked for his "crazy" ideas. Through reading at his village’s library, William gained the knowledge that would help him transform his community and his life.

On Friday, March 23, William will spend the day in Alexandria and bring his inspiring message of hope, accomplishment, and transformation to our community for the ACPS Community Read event. Co-sponsored by the City of Alexandria, Alexandria Library, and the Alexandria PTA Council, this event will provide a venue for William to share his message with students, parents, and members of our community and will provide an opportunity to promote literacy and reading among our families and community. Our eighth-graders and our ninth-grade engineering students will all read and discuss the book in class and will have an opportunity to meet as a group with William on the morning of March 23 for an enlightening book discussion. Our elementary schools each have copies of William’s children’s book with wonderful illustrations that have inspired a division-wide art contest. In addition, a student from each elementary school will have the opportunity to ask William questions during a taped television studio session that afternoon. Finally, the entire community is invited to spend the evening of March 23 with this phenomenal author and inventor to hear his presentation about his book and his journey. The evening event will be held at T.C. Williams High School in the auditorium at 7 p.m.

William remains an inspiration for us all as he continues his education at Dartmouth College. I believe everyone can learn something from his story. I hope you will listen to our students when they tell you about the boy who built a windmill from their class discussions, help them create art that represents the hope of what William brought to his village, read the writing prompts being worked on in class, and most importantly read and discuss this book with your child and others.

Please join in the Community Read and be inspired to continue to support reading among our youth. Encouraging reading is encouraging learning. Students who are excited about learning are limitless in reaching their full potential. We can only imagine what windmills they will build, what hope they will bring to the world, and how they will help transform our global community. We are excited to have William visit our community and to extend our thanks to this phenomenal young man for serving as an inspiration to so many. The Community Read event is the kick-off for the Alexandria Library’s All Alexandria Reads event. Please join in and check out, pick up, or download a copy of this book and most importantly share a copy with a child. You may contact your neighborhood school or local library for more information about our Community Read event.

By Morton Sherman

ACPS Superintendent