Monthly Archives: January 2012

If You Believe…

I teach English at Conestoga High School. I have been teaching for 16 years. In the summer of 2010, I had the pleasure of teaching at The Heritage Academy. While there, I taught creative writing and poetry. My main focus dealt with having the students perform the poetry as a way to experience the full meaning of words, and the imagery the poets intended. The students’ willingness to perform, and the pure passion and spirit with which they approached each poem, were awe-inspiring. Heritage is such a special place because the students, at all levels, are so willing and eager to learn. Beyond the wonderful students, I was inspired by the amazing commitment of the teachers and staff at Heritage, and the dedication of the Americans who were there to volunteer their time and talents. I was most surprised by the young people, American high school students, who were naturals when it came to the classroom. Their courage to travel, and their willingness to seek out such experiences is truly inspiring.

To those who are interested in exploring the possibility of teaching at Heritage, I must say that “if you believe it, you can achieve it.” When I first learned about Heritage, I was drawn to the wonderful things that are taking place there, but thought I would not be able to volunteer. I have two young sons at home, ages 4 and 6, so it did not seem like the opportune time to leave home for part of the summer. Yet, my wife and our families, were very supportive of my going away for this experience. If you have the desire, make it happen. You will not regret it. I hope to go back in the next few years. Until then, a piece of my heart will always be at Heritage

Michael Trainer, Poetry Teacher, Summer 2010.

“I’m sweating like a pregnant fish!”

– Reposted after the Ghanaian internet failed the blog world! –

Yesterday was an amazing day. Our final classes consisted of many a performance, speech, and story presented to us in class, and some of our amazing teachers (especially Kacy and Rachel H.) did performances of their own. The kids in our classes all taught us new dances (which were really cool and original), and we came to the revelation that American dance moves are just sort of lame. The best we could do was the macarena, cotton-eyed joe, the cupid shuffle and (at night at our private dance party) Rachel J taught everyone the worm… which was actually QUITE a hit.

The day closed with many pictures taken of us with our reading groups, many letters given to us with kids telling us they wanted us to be their penpal and that they were going to miss us, and of course, beautiful songs. At the end of the day, all of the 10th graders gathered in one of the classrooms, and about 25 of them who comprised a chorus, sang us an incredible song that brought tears to almost all of our eyes. Led by Lydia, and conducted by Celestina, the students broke out in harmony, their deep and loud voices carrying through the room and into all of our hearts. The teachers then presented us with a card they had made thanking us and blessing us for coming to Heritage. Walking back down, we saw all of the Pre K-9th graders lined up outside of the JHS building. As we stood before them, they sang for us the National Anthem of Ghana and gave us a few “hip-hip-hoorays” led by DeGraft, the headmaster of the school, who then presented us with a gift that will tie us to The Heritage Academy forever. One at a time we were presented with unity knots, which are three independent figures all intertwined that have been carved out of one piece of wood, so they can never be separated. This, DeGraft said, will always keep us connected to Heritage forever. He then presented us with a large unity knot that is a gift to F&M to tie Heritage to F&M for years to come, and to serve as a symbol of our bond between schools and the people of each school.

After this heart wrenching display, we took the last walk home from Heritage (Kelly having to take a taxi because she got a HUGE blister while playing football/soccer with the kids barefoot after lunch). After dinner, DeGraft came over and we did highs and lows with him, as we do every night, but this time it seemed a lot more emotional as it was the last time, and a big time for reflection. DeGraft provided some great insight on what impact we made on the school and the kids, and we talked about how lecturing is so different from teaching, and how we as teachers were able to exemplify that. It truly amazes me how innovative and challenging Heritage is as a school and how valuable it is that we have a partnership with such a wonderful institution.

At the end of the night, a few of us ended engaging in a pretty intense and hilarious dance party with some of the guys at JimmyCom, which was not only fun but, but extremely hot. As Oduro sweated up a storm, he told us he was “sweating like a pregnant fish” which… didn’t seem to make much sense at the time, but upon watching each other try and do the “worm” on the floor, we realized that we looked JUST like a sweaty pregnant fish. We learned yet again through this dance party that we have no skills as Americans in the art of dance, and that our “traditional” dance moves consist of Soulja Boy and the Dougie. We did, however, learn to do the Azonto, which can take many forms, and, our sweaty random friend (we still do not know his name) pulled many a lady out of their rooms at 10 pm to teach them the very interesting rendition of the kangaroo/bird/velociraptor Azonto, which can only be best displayed by Oduro. It was truly an amazing night.

This morning, we must say goodbye to Ghana, traveling in the rickety school bus for the last time to the airport. We will first go to the National Museum of Ghana and visit Independence Square, and then get to the airport NICE and early to prevent any worries. See you soon, America, and Ghana.. you will forever be in our hearts.

Love and unity to all!
Your faithful leader, Lilah

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Styles, and Students, and Stereotypes – Oh My!

Yesterday morning, following our daily wake-up call, a chorus of roosters mixed with hip-hop music, we had a surprise visitor! The clothing that we had custom-made with the authentic Ghanaian fabrics that we had handpicked from the market were finally ready. The unannounced arrival of the tailor and his assistant made for a hectic morning; however, we were all excited to try on our new, stylish attire, despite the fact that most required a great deal of further alterations (made even more interesting due to the language barrier). Since then, our friends have made two more surprise appearances at our home and, you can all rest assured, we can finally fit our dresses over our heads and zip them up at the sides.

As we continued with our regular teaching days, we came to realize that the lives of our students consist of problems and concerns that parallel those that we experience in America. For example, each member of Rachel H. and Kacy’s class wrote a short story about his or her village. More specifically, students discussed the prevalence of teenage pregnancies and the high dropout rates that they witness as they walk home. In Andrew’s class, unprompted students opted to debate whether improving the Heritage lunch program is necessary. These activities, which seem simplistic and ordinary to us, encouraged each class to utilize critical thinking skills and to think out of the box. Additionally, the students’ eagerness to learn has been a refreshing change from the sometimes ambivalent attitudes displayed by Americans in school.

Just as we have become more comfortable in the classroom, we have also become accustomed to some of the everyday occurrences that have become so definitive of our time in Ghana. Hearing cries of “obruni” shouted by herds of students no longer takes us by surprise; rather, we subconsciously prepare ourselves for an overwhelming cacophony of “hellos” and “what is your name?” Similarly, we no longer think twice upon throwing our used toilet paper into a waste bin, rather than discarding it into Ajumako’s poor plumbing system. Even most astonishing, three meals per day that consist of rice and pineapple have, in time, become a delicacy in our eyes and to our stomachs.

As we have become increasingly accustomed to our new Ghanaian lifestyle, we have seen our students grow more relaxed in their behavior towards us. For some, this has sown a fertile ground in which real bonds can grow between teacher and student. Others, on the other hand, still feel objectified as the “foreigner” – wealthy, white Americans. In experiencing this, some of us have learned, for the first time, what it feels like to be labeled as a stereotyped minority. Confronted with feelings of disappointment, it has become a group mission to shatter the stereotypes that exist. Ultimately, we have stressed that education, rather than skin color, is what truly matters. We sit here, writing this blog, feeling uplifted that this message resonated with our students at the end of the day.

Goin’ Kwesi Without You,
Brianna, Rachel H., Salma, and Samantha

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Dictation vs. Dialogue: Modernism and Post-Modernism at the Heritage Academy

The Heritage Academy provides perhaps the best primary education within Ghana’s entire Central Region. Heritage Academy students achieve a 100% pass rate on their 9th grade national exams, when the national average is around 35%. Passing these exams is required to continue onto high school education.
Yet despite these incredible results, the school’s educational model is in many ways different from the K-12 American education we received. The school, while innovative, still adheres to an older pedagogical style that emphasizes a distinct hierarchy within the classroom and the memorization of facts over critical thinking. Ghana’s learning model is therefore modern in the philosophical sense. Modernism in the educational sense focuses on facts, figures, and concrete conceptual frameworks. Modern thinking sees the world in terms of black and white, and the role of the student is a receptor of knowledge from the all-knowing teacher.
In contrast, the model of education to which we have become accustomed in America (and especially at F&M) is post-modern. Post-modernism teaches the relativity of truth and works to dissolve traditional power structures. Thus, the role of the student is to develop critical thinking skills and to evaluate multiple positions about a given topic. The teacher therefore acts more as a facilitator of learning in the classroom rather than the source of absolute truth.
As volunteers who are coming into this modern framework but teaching in a post-modern way, we are in a unique position to evaluate the differences between the two. This is most clear in the areas of classroom authority and how information is passed on.


In a typical Heritage class, the teacher takes charge and dominates the classroom discussion. Students address their teacher as “Sir” or “Madam,” and habitually stand up to speak. The structure of the classroom is ordered linearly, with students seated in rows all facing a single direction. In contrast, as volunteers, we have adopted a post-modern framework that seeks to undermine the student-teacher dichotomy. In our classes, ranging from public speaking and creative writing to neuroscience and beat boxing, student participation is crucial to the success of the class. The teacher will introduce the topic of the day but then allow students the freedom to decide what information is most important or essential to their personal goals. We adopt a more casual relationship with the students, telling them to address us by first name and encouraging them to question us if they have a question or contrary viewpoint. Often, the students use class time to teach us Fante, reversing the traditional student-teacher roles. Finally, we eliminate the spatial hierarchy of our classrooms by having the students sit in circles, collaborative pods, or even by having class outside.

 

 

 

 

 

On the pedagogical front, modernism stresses rote memorization and recitation. Studentsoften lack the critical thinking skills to evaluate what they learn, and are flummoxed when we ask them “why” or “how” questions. Students are used to only learning the “correct” information, which often prohibits self-expression and creativity. When Sarah asked her students to write their own short stories, one 10th grade student turned in one entitled “The Gingerbread Man.” When Sarah asked her to be more creative, the student told her that she did not know the meaning of the word “creative.” In contrast, post-modernism centers on collaborative learning and subjective evaluations of the material. There is not necessarily a “right” answer in the post-modern classroom, particularly in the humanities; instead, students work with each other in their pods to create their own bodies of knowledge. This is particularly apparent in Andrew’s public speaking class, where students were invited to produce their own topics for debate and discussion. In Sarah’s creative writing class and Kacy and Rachel’s music and poetry class, students write original stories, lyrics, and monologues.

Obviously, as volunteers for only ten days we cannot truly understand what defines the Heritage Academy. In many ways, Heritage is more post-modern than most Ghanaian schools, exemplified by its refusal to cane students and its eagerness to allow foreigners to teach. However, Sarah and Andrew feel that in general the Heritage Academy remains a thoroughly modern institution. We believe that, for now, the modern framework may be necessary. Ghana remains largely unindustrialized outside of its southern coast, and many in its hinterlands are undereducated, if not illiterate. A post-modern educational system that promotes multiple viewpoints and the importance of teamwork fails to address Ghana’s most pressing needs. But ultimately, we are grateful for the chance to share a bit of our post-modern worldview with the students of the Heritage Academy.

The Collaborators,
Andrew Berg and Sarah Mills

Status Update: We Now Have Emotional Connections

Today resembled many other days here in Ajumako, Ghana. We woke up to a beautiful song from the roosters and white rice for breakfast, but to shake things up a bit, we did yoga outside and Sarah took the bus route to pick up the kids with Alaska. Even though the bus was overcrowded and crazed with screaming little children, she was able to learn a little bit about Alaska’s life story. Everyone else took the now-familiar trek to campus and began with classes and reading periods. The rest of the day was also routine: eager students, drums signaling the end of class, and endless shouts of “Obruni” (we now yell back “Obibine”, the term for African, which they find hilarious). In addition, we have all read The Ugly Duckling and Frog and Toad ad nauseum and are very unwilling to recite them for you upon our return.

Since today was pretty uneventful, we took the opportunity to reflect upon our experience thus far. We are all noticeably more confident standing up in front of the classes and can now really watch our students’ progress instead of worrying about our own misgivings. It has become evident that it is truly not the material we teach but our presence and encouragement that is a motivator for the kids. We are also adjusting to Africa time, where saying that a schedule is flexible is an understatement, and where frustration, stress, and deadlines aren’t nearly as much a part of their daily life. Instead, we can easily shrug off inconsistencies and surprises with a simple “what ever” because jokes, stories, and personal relationships take precedence. It is quite refreshing to not hear the constant tones of our cell phones indicating a text or check Facebook every 5 minutes and instead we find ourselves getting to know each other on a more personal level and engaging in deep conversation. In short, in Ghana, we don’t have “status updates”; we have “emotional connections”.

With only 3 days of classes left, we are discussing final papers and tying up loose ends. However, we are finding it hard to focus on teaching with all that we have to do when we get home. We will no doubt miss Ghana, especially the kids’ faces, the calm pace of everyday life, and spontaneous events such as dance parties in the library and cartwheels in the middle of class (yes, these do happen frequently). Although, the idea of napkins, reliable Internet, and slightly less humid weather are concepts that have become a vague memory and long to be experienced once more. And as we have all discovered through our “emotional connections”, we are all nerds, and cannot wait to be students once again at dear old F&M.

Enjoying our last few days of Africa time.
See you whenever,

Rachel Jetter
Sarah Mills
Grace Thompson

Alaskan Lessons in Ghana

After a fun weekend of activities, our group found it difficult to get out of bed this morning, and upon arriving at the Heritage Academy, discovered the students were also not fans of early Monday mornings. However, we developed ways to wake the students up, such as taking them outside for activities. Rachel J. and Sam used jumping jacks as a way to energize their students. Hayley taught the names of bones in the body outside, Simon Says-style, which turned into her learning some new Fante words from the students. There were also other teachers who found that the students were as eager to teach us their language and culture as we were about our subjects. Kacy and Rachel H. presented a preschool nursery rhyme in Fante taught to them by the kindergarten teachers, who were ecstatic to hear their attempts at trying to speak their language.
The students’ love for learning is inspiring to all of us. Education at the Academy is a privilege, not an obligation, which is a concept foreign to most American students. The Heritage Academy students’ passion for learning is seen most evidently outside of class. We have found that students do not want to stop learning when class is over. Grace had students approach her with French questions during free periods and Debra had students personally express their excitement about photography. Even when the drums signal the end of the school day, students in the reading groups wanted to continue onto the next story. Both students and teachers look forward to the reading periods because of the one-on-one interaction that has developed a bond that extends past a student-teacher relationship to one of mentor and friend. When several of us were running late, we were met with the sight of them eagerly awaiting our arrival with books on their laps. It was apparent how important this time is to them.

While the vast majority of our interactions with the students are positive, sometimes we feel set apart due to a few children’s idolization of us as their stereotype of wealthy Americans. During our time at Heritage, our own stereotypes of Ghanaians are being reshaped, and we are also trying to show the students that we have more valuable things to offer them than money. We are slowly transforming from a group of 13 Obrunis into Lilah, Andrew, Grace (aka Adom), Rachel H., Salma, Debra, Kacy, Hayley, Rachel J., Brianna, Kelly, Sarah, and Samantha – their friends, peers, teachers, and students of them. While we may have more education than them, we by no means have more wisdom. We admire their relaxed natures and lack of concern about precise times, while we stress about deadlines and trivial details of day-to-day life. Many of us anxiously prepare for our lessons at night, but each day the kids are more pleased by our mere presence, enthusiasm, and encouragement than the facts and figures we’re presenting.

As we were writing this, we learned a lesson first-hand from Alaska, a Heritage Academy driver-turned-student. While touring the Elmina slave castle on Saturday, many of us felt immense guilt at the past atrocities performed by those whose skin color we share. However, Alaska expressed that he does not blame the Whites for what was done to his people. He feels that Ghanaians are also at fault for partaking in the early stages of trading. It was interesting to hear an individual Ghanaian’s perspective that differed greatly from what was taught in our own schools. This conversation with Alaska demonstrates the variety of perspectives that we are exposed to each day. We are not simply learning one lesson from Ghanaians, nor are they learning just one from us, but instead we are taught something different by each person we meet.

On that note, we’re off to an early bedtime of 9:30 for yoga at 6:30 tomorrow morning, before another day of teaching and learning. – Debra, Hayley, Kacy (with help from Alaska)

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You’re not GHANA believe it! It was KWESI!

We’ve adopted some phrases so when we come back saying, “that’s so Kwesi!” it really just means that we are all in on an inside joke that no one else is. Also, a new one from today, “You’re not GHANA believe it!”

So, Kwesi missed his flight, which means he might still be eating Chinese food at the Ramada Inn, but we aren’t quite sure. We hope that he makes it back to the United States so that he can teach the wonderful students of Westtown School who will be traveling to the Heritage Academy in February… although we wish that he could be here with us instead to finish out the week at Heritage.

In spite of this sad fact, we still made a joyous voyage in a new van (with a driver who didn’t look a day older than 15, although he claimed to be 25), to Coconut Grove Beach. After driving two hours from Ajumako to Cape Coast, traveling once again through the fisher’s village where long wooden boats traveled swiftly atop the water in between the banks, we finally arrived at Coconut Grove Beach. It was shocking to see many broken down buildings, stray goats, and pits filled with garbage that contrasted starkly with the 18 hole golf course and pristine beaches of the Coconut Grove Beach resort just down the road.

After being jostled by the strong waves and basking atop the coarse sand under the Ghanaian sun, we decided to have lunch while looking out on the ocean. We enjoyed our first salads of the trip, pineapple juice, and the favorite dish of the day, Coconut Grove Chicken, which Andrew claimed everyone had copied off of his original order.

Although Oduro, Kwesi’s brother, told us originally that he was, “Very scared of the sea,” we noted while eating our lunch that he seemed QUITE content taking on the form of a beached whale upon the sand, or turning into an acrobat who would do headstands (and fall over backwards). He also invented a new game where he would play tag with himself, which would usually result in him being taken down by a wave, or tripping over himself and falling face first into the ocean. This sparked Kacy’s interest in headstands, allowing her beautiful golden locks to be overcome by the sand (for days to come probably), and Andrew to finally find male companionship and a brief respite from his womanly company.

After the beach, we made a pit stop at the gift shop near one of the slave castles to do a little bit of shopping where we ended up spending many cedis on beautiful wooden sculptures, hand woven bags, Ghanaian flags, and a large wooden drum (purchased by Kacy) who will be playing many songs for us throughout the week!

We ended the night by playing a fun bonding game called “hot seat” to get to know each other better and then, after grilling Oduro on his personal life and why he loves to be a teacher at Heritage, he quizzed us on our knowledge of the principles of Heritage and many random, but KEY, details about the school.

Off to bed now for a full week of classes at Heritage this week! It is amazing to see how the students have grown from last Wednesday to today and I look forward to sitting in on more of their classes and watching them grow as individuals and teachers! This trip has been eye opening for all of us and I know the students will have lots to share when they get back that go beyond these blog posts.

Until tomorrow,
Your faithful leader, Lilah

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Bridges, Castles, and Fiery Deaths.

Today’s adventure started with a sad farewell to our friend and guide, Kwesi Koomson. After some teary adieus and a final group photo, we set off in our rickety school bus towards the Kakum National Park. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by the now-familiar sight of women with big bowls of bananas nestled upon their noggins and babies at their bosoms. We gave our now-familiar response of denial, and Grace said sweetly “no, but thank you! ☺” as our bus driver sped towards the park’s entrance.

The main attraction at Kakum National Park is a series of swaying rope bridges positioned high in the canopy of the Ghanaian rain forest. Sweat dripping down our backs, we reached the ¬¬¬first bridge after a grueling hike up rocky rainforest terrain in crippling heat and near-suffocating humidity. Despite having flown 30,000ft in the air just a week prior, our walk at 100ft seemed far scarier with nothing but a two-by-four separating us from hurtling into the depths of the African jungle. Our fear was overcome by the gorgeous vistas and sprawling foliage all around us and just below our feet.

After lunch, we hopped back in the bus and headed towards the rural fishing village of Elmina, home of St. George Castle. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, St. George Castle was once used to detain captured slaves from all over West Africa before they were shipped to the Americas and Caribbean Islands. White walls gleamed in contrast to the site’s dark history of abuses against humanity. We stood silent in a slave dungeon imagining being chained in darkness with little food, insufficient ventilation, and no hope of rescue. As if the clock had rewound hundreds of years, our visit culminated with our guide leading us single-file into the Room of No Return. Had we been captured slaves, here we would have said our last goodbyes to our country and, if we survived the night, been shipped off across the Atlantic the next day.

Leaving the castle, our group was accosted by crafty salesmen, some with love notes written on seashells for a few of our ladies. Pushing our way through, we got back on the bus and headed home. On the way, we experienced some mechanical difficulties. Kelly sat in horror as she watched the bus driver lift a compartment on the floor to reveal the faltering engine, and proceed to drive for the next hour while manually holding two pieces of it together. The grinding of metal on metal assaulted our ears as Brianna considered her escape through the window in case the front of the bus exploded into flames. Kelly, Lilah, and Sam would have been at a loss. Andrew, the lone male, had been relegated to the back of the bus and thus would have remained safe should the rest meet a fiery end.

Fortunately our mental concoctions remained just that, and we made it home safely near 7pm. After an enjoyable dinner of beans, pineapple, and fried plantains, the group sat together, laughed, and shared stories until bedtime: 9pm. We look forward to a relaxing day on the beach at Coconut Grove tomorrow.

XOXO Your Favorite Obrunis,
Brianna, Kelly, and Andrew

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“I Want to Kidnap a Ghanaian Baby” – Samantha Duberstein

Now that our time at Heritage Academy has begun, it is clear we all share the same obsession with the children. They are sooooo cute! Kwesi is sure Samantha is not the only one thinking about stealing one of them, so he says he is going to watch us all very closely; especially our group leader Lilah who keeps saying, “the children are so freakin’ adorable!”

Despite the wonderful time that we all had at school yesterday, many of us were still apprehensive about entering our classrooms this morning. Some of the obstacles that we feared included cultural differences, the language barrier, and our understanding that we “speak too quickly” (according to our students, of course). Regardless, we started the day with smiling faces and were eager to greet the Heritage family once again.

Our concerns immediately dissipated during our first teaching experiences of the day. Each of us felt that our lessons were smoothly executed and were ecstatic to discover that our students had retained a great deal of the information that we presented to them yesterday. We were extremely impressed by the questions that our students asked: for example, “is there a difference between the mind and the brain?”

Just as we became more comfortable with teaching, the students began to open up to us. This was most apparent as an entire classroom laughed at Rachel Haimowitz’s less than impressive attempt to perform Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” dance in her Music and Creative Writing class. On a similar note, in French class, a student wrote that “Kelly and Grace are beautiful like my grandmother.” We have decided to take that as a compliment.

Most of the kids can read pretty well, but every now and then, you find one like the sixth grader in Kelly’s reading group this afternoon who didn’t know words like “woman”, “fire”, or “pot”. Thankfully, he had made some progress by the end of the period thanks to a little extra personal attention. From these intimate interactions, we are able to feel like our time here is truly worthwhile, and the grins and handshakes that we receive from these students on a regular basis show that they feel the same way.

One of the highlights of our day was watching 46 students proudly receive scholarships. The pride and excitement that was demonstrated by these children, who knew that the remaining years of their education would be paid for, cannot be described in words. It was truly amazing to be a part of this special day for them. We couldn’t help thinking that $75.00 for a whole year’s worth of education is like a trip to the mall for us. This moment really put things into perspective for us and brought us back to reality.

Like yesterday, our group split into two for the conclusion of the day. While half of us ventured to the Mankessim market, where they were exposed to Ghanaian culture and purchased beautiful fabrics to turn into dresses (yes, for Andrew too!), the remainder stayed back at Heritage Academy to work on a community service project. This group started cleaning out a building that will be converted into a business office before we leave. At this time, they were also able to interact with the ninth grade students and see where they live for the year.

After another long and rewarding day, we spent a relaxing night at our home base. Theresa cooked palm nut soup with rice and yams and it was delicious. We look forward to another day of teaching and our remaining days in Ghana. For now, it is time for us to get some rest in preparation for tomorrow’s activities. We wish you all a good night – mo nda yie oo!

-Rachel Haimowitz, Samantha Duberstein, Kwesi Koomson, and the rest of the F&M crew.

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Our First Day of School

Nervous about our classes and kids, we left the guest house and questioned the direction we were walking towards the Heritage Academy. After a 15 minute walk along the 2 inch shoulder and having to hop into the bushes to avoid the road-raged drivers (there are no speed limits or driving regulations here) we saw the tall bright blue building that indicated we had actually made it.

 

We were welcomed by the repeated shout of “Obruni” (white person) and the widest eyes and smiles you could possibly imagine. The children were immediately herded to their appropriate classes where they sat eager to learn and were a little too polite; standing up everytime they wanted to talk and calling us “Madame” and “Sir”. As college kids, the titles were a little too formal for most of us and we insisted on them calling us by our first names.

The school itself has 1050 students on campus ranging from little ones learning the alphabet to 10th graders aiming to enroll in a university. The 9th graders live at school for the whole year intensly studying to pass their National Exams to enter High School. Because of this “dorm lifestlye” we did not see them much and we only teach 7th, 8th, and 10th graders.

We, the 3 student writers of this entry, are teaching Geography and Country-focused cultures, French, and Creative Writing. I (Rachel Jetter) was foolish to think that these students have ever seen a map of the world let alone know about continents and oceans. Therefore I and my partner Samantha decided to start the actual lessons tomorrow. Instead, today we let them be the teachers and tell us about Ghanaian culture in a casual pow-wow.

This pow-wow strategy was also successful with my (Grace) and Kelly’s French class. We began the class by asking the children what they knew about France, the French language, and French culture. Our first challenge was determining their level of French. Once we reached that point, it was exciting to learn that they did have some background and that we can act as resources for them as well as be their teachers.

My (Sarah) creative writing class was focused on telling stories. We spent the time telling stories that varied from Bible parables to traditional folklore. Each group of students differed in how thei directed the class. One class created a single story building off of eachother’s ideas while another class each told their personal favourite tales. Teaching a class based on creativity, spontinaety, and interest allowed the students to really express themselves in a way that they might not have been previously able to.

Among our group, the other class topics included public speaking, neuroscience, photography, music, anatomy, and EMT skills. The photography class in particular resulted in screaming and running children, overwhlemed with holding an actual camera, and taking pictures of every person, place, and object they could. Debra quickly learned that she will not be handing out the cameras before she gives instructions tomorrow. Overall, everyone had a positive experience with their classes and can’t wait for more.

In between classes we found it quite easy to entertain ourselves. I (Rachel) played tag and somehow ended up creating a hoard of Ninjas amonst the kids. Andrew enjoyed further explaining material from other classes, specifically photosynthesis, and even shared their lunch. I (Sarah) met another Sarah and I (Grace) learned that for the past 21 years that I have been pronouncing my name incorrectly. In case you were wondering, I now go by Adom.

In addition to our normal classes, we had Reading Periods where we led small reading groups and encouraged the kids to read outloud and think critically. Kelly and Salma in particular noticed the effectiveness of the time as they witnessed specific students making significant progress.

The day ended with half of our group mixing cement and making blocks to build more classrooms while the other half went to the Market to purchase fabric for clothing, pillows, purses, and other decor. We will all be slightly more African-looking when we see you next.

After a long day and a surprise cake from Andrew’s local friend we decided 10 pm is our bedtime. And so here we are, signing off excitedly anticipating another day at the Heritage Academy.

Sweet Dreams,

Rachel Jetter
Sarah Mills
Grace Thompson

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