ADDISON COUNTY — Step by step Addison County native Rory Jackson made his way from the east coast of Ghana to the west.
As he rambled along the shore in 2002, it never dawned on Jackson that his path would lead him to build a free school for young Ghanaians.
Along his pilgrimage, he reflected on the course that delivered him to that far away African land by the Gulf of Guinea.
He first visited Ghana in 1998, when he was 15, with a Mount Abraham Union High School trip organized by then global studies teacher Mark Johnson under the banner Vermont Global Village Project (VGVP).
“It changed a lot of kids’ lives and got kids thinking about things outside of high school,” said Jackson of that first trip.
The following year he again followed Johnson with VGVP back to Ghana.
“I saw Rory’s life change dramatically by his experience in Ghana,” said Lonny Edwards, now director of Middlebury’s Gailer School and former co-director of VGVP.
“Ghana can really challenge your ideas of what’s real or what’s possible or what to believe,” he said. “You realize the world is much, much bigger than what our experience (sometimes) tells us it is.”
After graduating high school, Jackson returned to Ghana for four months. He built a mud hut by the ocean, surfed among the fishing boats in the morning and spent his afternoons painting. When he wasn’t riding waves or painting seascapes, he was hanging out with local kids by his hut.
“It became a safe place for them to come,” said Jackson. “We’d read books and do homework, and I helped get them backpacks and shoes to go to school.”
The experience also served as a form of therapy for Jackson.
“It was amazing for me, too, to sit around at night and cook over an open fire outside and be around these kids and play drums and soccer and just experience without having a clock run your life,” he said.
The following year, in 2002, he returned to Ghana yet again. When he arrived, he struck out along Ghana’s coast by foot. After days of walking, he rounded the country’s main coastal promontory, which separates the country’s west and east coasts.
“I came upon this village,” he said. “There was no bridge then, so I had to swim across the tidal river and I walked four miles down a path along the ocean … I ended up in this village Cape Three Points … It was magical.”
Jackson went to the village chief and asked if he could purchase land, and, Jackson said, he became the first person to buy land in Cape Three Points (he has since been appointed by the village to oversee property development).
“I walked to the beach and put a stake down here and walked to the other end and a stake down there, and that was 10 acres,” he said.
Little did he know that this action marked the first tangible step towards establishing the Trinity Yard School.
THE TRINITY YARD SCHOOL
“Basically I just went there to surf and … paint, and then the same thing happened that happened on the eastern region, all of these kids started coming around,” said Jackson. “I started to see the raw realities that people suffer through and experience and decided that I could do something about it if I put my mind to it.”
So Jackson decided to talk with the people in the village to find out what they needed. Their ubiquitous response, he said, was a school that taught vocational skills.
“The education system in Ghana is hampered by the way that it’s paid for. Students that don’t have money don’t go very far in school,” explained Edwards.
Seeing this void in society, where those without much money or without adequate test scores were left in the dust, Jackson sought to remedy the situation. What he did was start the Trinity Yard School.
“The Trinity Yard School offers an alternative … (for) kids that are destined to languish,” said Edwards. “It gives them technical, physical, tangible skills plus English and science skills that they couldn’t get other than in secondary schools.”
Aside from the Ghanaian teachers, no one working at the school is provided a salary. The school runs on donations, the tuition is free, and many students walk for over an hour every day to attend class there.
The campus, which now sits on 23 acres by the side of the ocean, is composed of eight buildings built by Jackson, a local carpenter, a local mason and volunteers from both Cape Three Points and Addison County. At the center is the main school building, which is under construction. It will be split into three main sections: a workshop for learning traditional crafts like weaving of kente clothes, academic classrooms for studying English and a large, two-story library that fills the center chamber of the building.
A large garden supplies the school with much of its food and a solar-powered pump provides running water. In the future, Jackson hopes to bring power to the school via photovoltaic solar panels. After the school has electricity, he’d also like to introduce students to computers and the Internet.
The goal of Trinity Yard classes, said Jackson, is to empower students and build their self-confidence by developing trade skills, English abilities and a capacity to think critically. All of this schooling, Jackson hopes, will prepare students to succeed in their lives.
“We see kids who in academics have been at the lower end of the table, but when they get their hands on a kente loom, they’re brilliant,” Jackson said. “There’s a lot of math involved with counting and separating and divisions of weft. And they get so much confidence from that.”
The first class of Trinity Yard students just graduated. The school only has about 40 students at a time, ages 15-22. In the future, Jackson wants to expand the school’s offerings to include third- through sixth-graders, and incorporate a work-study element for older students. He’s also talking with some Addison County educators about offering exchange programs.
“Rory is crafting a community that empowers people and doesn’t make people dependent upon him … He’s very observant and patient and from what I’ve seen he works with people’s strengths,” said Devon Macleod, a Lincoln Community School teacher who has taught at Trinity Yard the past two summers.
“Once you get inspired and you get other people inspired, there’s no limit to what you can do,” said Jackson.