Tag Archives: education

Mutual Respect

As our time winds down in Ghana, it feels like just now we are starting to get in the rhythm of things. The open-air classrooms at Heritage have no solid doors or windows, just frames, causing many children to wander in and out throughout the day. Today one of Erika’s students, who she didn’t even know left the room, suddenly popped in through the window and casually sat back down in his desk. Elee finally discovered the perfect solution to all of our combined frustration; a Les Mis style barricade in front of the entrance to the room.

The daunting feeling of teaching is behind us as our lessons have come together and we are organizing final topics and projects. Our students also seem to be acclimating to our teaching, even making connections between our individual classes. After a health lesson on relationships with Jennifer and Carey, Molly taught the same students about animal behavior. When asked what a zebra looks for in a mate a student responded “mutual respect.”

Although we knew from the beginning that our stay in Ghana would be short, we are truly starting to feel the emotions of creating connections with students and then picking up and leaving just days later. Although many of us plan to stay in touch, we also understand how difficult it is to maintain these connections through sporadic letters that can take months to travel back and forth. We are used to relying on technology to maintain long distance relationships, which is not an option for most students at Heritage.

We are not just forming new bonds in the classroom. Our guesthouse, Jimmy Com, has also provided a community for us. Whether it be Lilah and Katie teaching yoga to Emmanuel, Bright, and Michael (all Heritage students staying here to help), or having a ping-pong tournament with the staff, we are continually forming friendships here in Ghana. Even our little neighbors, who would scream “Obruni!” and run whenever they saw us walking by, are now hanging out with us on the back porch. It is these simple encounters that are going to make it that much harder to leave. Hope you are all fairing the cold weather in the US. Many thanks to all our commenters, please keep them coming! For those who have not commented….we know who you are.

Peace, Love, and Pineapples,

Carey, Samantha, Elee and the gang

P.S. Pictures will be posted upon return!

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First Day of School!

Today was our first day of teaching at Heritage.  Our daily schedule consists of a mixture of teaching our individual subjects and holding small reading groups.  The classes we teach range from 7th graders to 11th graders, while the reading groups include students of all ages.

Our initial reactions to the atmosphere at Heritage were positive.  There is a clear sense of community within the structure of the school.  The staff members not only have relationships with the children but also communicate openly with other staff.  For example, DeGraft, the school’s headmaster, can be seen socializing with the kitchen staff, as well as taking care of all the details that contribute to helping Heritage run smoothly.  One of the teachers sat with us (Molly and Chloe) during a free period and discussed different aspect of the business world in Ghana, as well as the culture of homosexuality in this country. His curiosity about our perspectives on education and his clear love of learning made the conversation really open and culturally enlightening.

The students have a lot of responsibilities in the maintenance of campus procedures and aesthetics. For example, students have various tasks ranging from coming early to school to sweep the floors of the classrooms, to alerting the teachers when each period is over.  The highest achieving students act as prefects of the school and help the teachers to keep the classroom in line. It is clear that for both the staff and students, Heritage is a place that is enjoyed and appreciated.

After working hard on preparing our lesson plans and bouncing ideas off each other, we were excited to implement our lesson plans in a real classroom setting.  Our first day experiences ranged significantly, including both highs and lows.  One factor that contributed to the differing experiences was age.  As a whole, our group felt that the older classes were much harder to engage.  During reflection we brainstormed ways to connect with these students and created ways to more effectively manage the classroom and convey our course material.  Generally, the younger students were more enthusiastic and receptive of our material.  These interactions helped sustain us through a long day of trial and error.  We also realized that while the majority of these kids do speak English quite well, it is still very much their second language. We all found that speaking extraordinarily slow and in the simplest language we could think of was important in conveying our lessons.

Regardless of the students’ appreciation of the class content on this first day, all of the students expressed kindness and genuine intrigue into us as people, and we found ourselves answering questions about our lives at home and building connections almost right away with the kids. It was a lot of fun to start to get to know the students, and we look forward to spending even more time interacting with and learning from them.

We are finding that it is hard to balance our prior expectations with the reality of the constraints of this trip. Accepting our limited role here and the way that it affects how the students perceive us has been a challenge. An important understanding we are working through is that the immediate effects of our work may not be apparent in a tangible way. We are all coming to terms with the fact that this experience may play a greater role in shaping our own personal identities and ideas about service than the lives of the students at Heritage due to our limited time here. During our discussion, we realized just how important it is that we don’t let this minimize the significance of our journey in Ghana. Each of us is in the process of realizing what this experience will mean to us, and it is something we will continue to reflect on.

We are eager to return to the classroom tomorrow, and hopefully we will be able to address our own challenges and continue to foster a positive learning experience for the students. Thanks for keeping up with our adventures, and we hope you are enjoying the snow!

Love and miss you all,

Chloe & Molly

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From Humble Beginnings…

Dearest Internet-using Obrunis (among others),

In this day of all days….we are exhausted. We have traveled all over Ghana in just a few short days and honestly this blog post comes at a time that we would really rather sleep. But we–Kyle, Erika, and Katie–your intrepid bloggers, are here to tell of our experience thus far. It has been interesting to say the least.

Let us rewind to the beginning. Over the past 5 days, we have been in a vehicle for a total of about 2. Water bottles were passed like flasks around the back of the van by those of age (#collegelife), and are the new hottest commodity. We feel like Chia pets. It is quite possible that the only person keeping us alive on the Ghanaian Audubon highways is our amazing driver, Kobe. He tackles the Ghanaian mountains (speed bumps) like a true champ. Finally, the massive amounts of rice………have taken its toll on the bowels of some.

But on a serious note, these past few days have been some of the most interesting of our lives. We arrived in Ghana thoroughly exhausted on December 28th and since then have been all over the country. We traveled up to Northern Ghana to stay at Hand-in-Hand Orphanage, a safe haven for intellectually disabled children. Initially, we all had different expectations and reservations about what our experience would be. On behalf of the group, the three of us can say we were extremely impressed by the community there and wished we could have spent more time making deeper relationships with the kids and adults. Also in the North, we had the opportunity to visit and learn about the Ashanti tribe at the Manhyia Palace and Museum. In addition, we visited a monkey sanctuary and learned the importance of monkeys to the neighboring villages. We realized the monkeys were also super friendly when they ate bananas out of our hands. Not only were the monkey’s mad chill, but the huge trees, so different than the ones in the US, were off the chain (not that they were cut down, but that they were really neat).

Upon our return to Ajumako on New Years Eve, we were able to attend service at the Headmaster of Heritage’s church. To be blunt, it was unlike anything we have ever experienced. Many of us have been to church in different countries, celebrating different types of religion, yet this particular service was like none we have experienced before. The people of Ghana are very religious, and church was full of passion, emotion and intense dancing. As the awkward foreigners sitting to the left of the podium, we embraced the service by joining in any way we could. A pastor helped translate the 3-hour event, and we all left the service feeling that we would bring in the New Year with a new mind, heart and body.

[Emotional Discretion is Advised] So, now is the time to get down to the mushy gushy part of this blog post. Parents reading this- no worries, we don’t miss you THAT much… Friends- we may not come back to F&M, sorry in advance. But here are some of the themes that we have discussed in the reflection group we have at the end of the day:

Each and every one of us has questioned our role as a tourist. We have all expressed the desire to create connections that go beyond a hand-shake or a purchase, but we find it difficult to connect with the individuals we come across in our short travels. For example, upon our arrival at Hand-in-Hand, all of the children greeted us with open arms and smiles. We all had a deep desire to cultivate individualized relationships with these people, as opposed to being just observers and leaving after such a short period. Furthermore, we felt that it was unfair to the children to attempt to make these short-term relationships, and then just leave. Ultimately, our time at Hand-in-Hand was fantastic, but our desires to be more than just a passing group was conflicting.

We felt similar unease in Bonwire, the town famous for weaving Kente cloth. This town was so rich in culture and history, yet it was so difficult to build meaning around such a short encounter. We didn’t like the feeling of just being ‘consumers’, especially when we are all dedicated to learning more in depth about this fascinating place.

Now that we are back at our home base, we are excited to make deeper connections with the students and teachers at Heritage Academy. Earlier today, when we had a lunch with some of the teachers at Heritage, and tomorrow is our first day of teaching. It’s a glass case of emotions- some of us are nervous, some excited, and each and every one of us does not know what to expect.

K………………..Night.

– Kyle (Ky; Larry), Erika (Er-bear) and Katie (Kath; Pineapple Express)

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Happy Independence Day!

As you know, Westtown School does their annual senior project at the Heritage Academy. The Westtown Senior Project Crew arrived on Monday and has spent the last few days in Ghana. In addition, Eva Tsocanos and Julia Keehn arrived in Ghana yesterday to teach at the Heritage Academy for six weeks. They are there together with Bronwyn and the Liontree family who are staying for the year. We are excited to have everyone together to be working for the common good at Heritage.

On Tuesday, we watched the Heritage middle school boys play in the semi-final match of the inter-schools soccer tournament. After a long and amazing game, they sadly lost 0-1 and were knocked out of the tournament. The good news is that both the boys and girls teams won in the title in the volleyball tournament on Monday!

Today, March 6th, is Ghana’s independence day. We slept in and spent the afternoon in Mankessim Market which is always a time filled with sight-seeing and fun chaos.

Tomorrow is the first day of school! Eva, Julia and Bronwyn went to a soccer game in Mando while the Westtown group was in Mankessim. The came over to hang out for while after dinner and then went to a party in Ajumako while the Westtown group gathered for evening check-in and early bed time in preparation for their big day tomorrow. Eva & Julia are helping with reading and will start teaching on Monday. Bronwyn is working in the business office and school clinic.

We’ll be posting here and on Facebook so you can follow us on facebook by clicking here!

Your friends,

The Westtown Senior Project Crew

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Lessons from Oduro

Have you ever thought about that teacher who changed your outlook on life and made you want to be a better student and person?

Last night, some of us gathered in the living room to speak with Oduro, Kwesi’s brother who is also a science and math teacher at Heritage Academy, to talk about the passion behind teaching. He commented on how teaching is hard work, but it is rewarding in that it will give you a long life full of pride and impact. Oduro remarked that teachers have a strong influence in everyone’s childhood and that no student should be taken for granted. All of the presidents of Ghana have been from villages, he continued, so that means that anyone from Heritage Academy has that potential. If a teacher, such as him or us, can have that impact or even turn that light bulb on for one student, perhaps change their perspective, our job is well done.

This came at a time when even in our eight days of teaching we have been struggling with our purpose as teachers. While it seems that some students really want to learn from us, learn about new cultures and different ways of thinking, some seem to also not want us here. This may seem unique to a Ghanaian classroom at the Heritage Academy, but there are students like this in every classroom all over the United States as well. There are the students that seek knowledge, understand the opportunities that education provides for them, and then there are the students who take it for granted. This has been happening at all levels from kindergarten to high school. In the kindergarten class, which Jake had the opportunity to teach today, the kids were brilliant – they were able to answer math problems that Jake didn’t learn until second or third grade. They could do division, multiplication and square roots, and seemed genuinely excited to get an answer right and would erupt in applause at any correct answer.

In the junior high school, where many of the F&M students have been spending their time, most of the students are hanging off of their seats, begging us to teach in their free periods. Since the Muhlenberg girls left today, there were a few vacancies in the schedule, so Jennie, Mike, and Lilah filled in because the kids came running out demanding us to “teach, madam, teach!” (in Michael’s case, sir, of course). These students not only spend time with us during classes, but also have been doing reading and critical thinking throughout the day. Some even read encyclopedias in their free time. We are so impressed with these students and know that they will rise to pass their national exams and go onto great things – maybe even to become Presidents of Ghana some day.

Yet, we struggle with the 10th and 11th grade classes. Many of these students haven’t grown up with the heritage mindset, built on the seven principles of the school: Knowledge, Integrity, Discipline, Respect, Responsibility, Simplicity, Hard Work. These students are ones that have come from other schools after passing the national exams and have been placed into classrooms with other students who have been at Heritage since day one. This creates a difficult dichotomy for us to deal with. There are many students who are attentive, diligent, and eager to learn, while there are some who would rather look out the window and daydream or talk. We, who walked into the classroom unaware of these struggles, now realize the level of commitment and dedication that the day in and day out teachers employ picking up the chalk every day and teaching on the front lines. All of us have developed a new found respect for teachers, both here in Ghana and back in the States, and we would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every teacher who we have had the privilege to learn from.

Although some of us don’t plan on becoming teachers, we have all appreciated the opportunity to stand in front of the classroom and empathize with the teachers we have given headaches to. For those who plan on pursuing education as a profession, like Alexis, who already has a teaching position in a charter school in Boston lined up for when she graduates, we are grateful that they have the commitment and drive to give the opportunity of education to all youth. Despite what we do with our future, our time here has allowed us to stretch our education experiences from behind the desk to in front of it, which will be a rewarding life experience.

So we encourage all of you, dear readers, to reflect upon your own educations and thank all of the teachers who have helped turn you into the beautiful people that you are today.

Peace and Love (especially for all you teachers!),
Lilah and Jake

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Education: The Great Equalizer

“Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.” – Horace Mann

Today was the second day of teaching and classes went much more smoothly. The students were participating and engaged in group discussion. For example, in Geography taught by Greg and Alexis, two students approached them after class wanting to borrow their encyclopedias for further research. Also, in the Creative writing class led by Jake and Teresa, the students were so focused on writing their short stories that they refused to put their pens down even after the drums signaling the end of class sounded. Lilah, Jennie and Anita taught the 9th graders American Government today. They ended up extending their class to two periods because the students kept asking intricate and brilliant questions regarding equal rights for women in the workforce, what Obama has done for America as president, and other controversial issues in politics.

Despite the obvious improvements from many students today, there were still a few very obvious sleepers in a few of the classes. Jennie crafted a brilliant strategy to put a stop to that: instead of waking them, she decided to have an impromptu photoshoot with the rest of the class posing behind the sleeping students! Jennie will probably have no sleepers for the rest of the trip, while everyone else will try the same plan tomorrow.

In our reflection session this evening, we focused on the perceptions of education in Ghana, compared to those in the United States. Many of us were struck by the Ghanaian students’ ambition to learn, which often became apparent in our personal interviews with them. One of Jake’s interview questions was “If you could have one superpower what would it be?” To his surprise, three out of his four students said that they wanted to possess unlimited knowledge. Their realization of the importance of education at such a young age continues to amaze us. If only this attitude was more prevalent in our pubic schools back at home. Many American students do not grasp the concept that education frees us and is the key to success. At times when we would have wanted goof around and not study, Ghanaian students are driven to become doctors and bankers.

Do not think it is “all work and no play” for the Ghanaian students, however. Whenever there is some free time, all the boys would grab the soccerball and play pick up “football” behind the library on the less than adequate ground. With a firepit of burning trash at one end of the goal line and barbed wire lining the out-of-bounds, the younger students would play all-out, and barefoot, just for the love of the game. Jake and Sydney have been playing with them daily, in awe of their competitive spirit. They have been encouraging some of the girls to join, but the boys all-out play and their disregard for their surroundings is a bit intimidating. Jake and Sydney are confident that by the end of the trip at least a few girls will want to play with them.

One final highlight of our day was when the tailor paid us a visit in the evening to craft the fabrics we purchased at the market yesterday. The living room at our guesthouse was filled with colorful Ghanaian fabrics, and plenty of estrogen to go around as well. The boys were loving it, for sure. The tailor has his work cut out for him over the next week as he sews together 15 high-maintenance orders that include American-style dresses, shorts, and ties.

Once again, the group is exhausted from another day of teaching, playing, and fashion designing. We will all rest well before the final day of our first Ghanaian school week tomorrow.

– Syd “Pele” Seydel and Mike “Armani” Zoeller

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