By Army Spc. Maurice A. Galloway
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 7, 2009 - Local community leaders and members of the Basra Provincial Reconstruction Team attended the grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the $2.8 million, two-story Basra Talent School here Oct. 1. "This teaching institution is for boys and girls who have been identified as having particular educational abilities," said Tawded Abd Al-Rida, the school's principal. "The school will constitute an educational beacon for the city of Basra and the impact of this educational institution will be felt by generations to come."
Members of the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division Band were on hand to play several selections of U.S. and Iraqi standards. Accompanied by the school's students, vocalist Army Sgt. Jennifer E. Macdonald's rendition of Iraq's national anthem highlighted the band's performance.
"They seemed so proud that we were able to sing their national anthem," Macdonald said. "It was amazing. I felt so fortunate to be up there singing for them. I never thought being deployed to Iraq would include something like this."
Several local actors gave an opera performance, depicting the possibilities students will have if they put forth their best effort and study hard.
John Naland, reconstruction team director and a featured speaker at the event, said the school's design was a picture of progress for the future improvement of Iraq.
"This beautiful school is the newest of four talent schools in Iraq," he said. "This multi-million-dollar facility is another example of the people of Basra striving for progress."
Located in Basra's Jameat district, the school can hold up to 200 students and consists of 12 classrooms with enough space to hold 30 students each. A science laboratory, language arts teaching center and the school's library are located in the central part of the campus.
The campus also includes a computer and electronic media learning laboratory with 17 new computers, a gym with six new treadmills, free weights, a gymnastics balance beam and spring board, parallel bars and an array of sports equipment.
The dormitory has dozens of rooms equipped for four students to a room. The rooms come furnished with wall lockers, bunk beds and desks.
Students are required to pass an entry exam before gaining admission to the school.
Army Staff Sgt. Hugo Rivera, who assisted in the final inspection, commented on the school's obvious impact on the Basra community.
"The talent school will signal a return to normalcy for Basra City and will provide a much needed tertiary educational facility in an otherwise poor al Jameat district," he said.
The school's completion marks the beginning of a process to provide the province's youth with a sound educational foundation, Abd Al-Rida said.
"This facility means so much to our community," she said. "It will inspire hope in the people of Basra and spark a substantial economic development that will have a stabilizing effect in our country."
(Army Spc. Maurice A. Galloway serves with the 17th Fires Brigade.)