Tag Archives: heritage academy

ABOUT THIS PICTURE

NelliganClassroom

In January 2014, I taught a class on International Human Rights and Leadership to 8th graders at Heritage Academy in Ajumako, Ghana. At the beginning of the class, I asked the students to identify important qualities of leaders. Afterward, I asked them to vote on whether or not they believed the qualities listed on the board are something that leaders are born with, or something that leaders learn throughout the course of their life. Their initial votes are indicated in the first and third of the four columns. I then opened the class up for discussion, where students explained why they either voted “born” or “made”, and then had them re-vote, which is indicated in column two and four. By the end of the class, we discussed the specific qualities of the leaders they identified (to the far left of the board), and the ways through which leaders obtain these qualities (faintly written on the right-hand) side of the board. After realizing that leaders learn to have these particular qualities through various experiences, I wrote the following question on the board – “Who thinks they can be a Leader?” Students jumped out of their seat, their hands extended high in the air. Each of the students screamed “ME!”. The students were so excited and enthusiastic about this lesson that they wanted me to take a picture of them in front of their work. I will never forget these students or their enthusiasm that day. Upon leaving the classroom, I felt that I had accomplished my goal of inspiring the students to realize that they too can become leaders like the individuals they had identified.

— KT Nelligan, F&M Trip 2014.

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Oh The Places You’ll Go

Not a day too soon, the reflection sessions have taken a turn for the positive. Yesterday, some of us struggled to connect with a handful of our students, especially the older ones.  This prompted us to discuss our role here as a teacher and what we expect to gain from this experience.  Today we were able to connect better with our students, which in turn improved our moods immensely.  It is a wonderful feeling to be able to say our highs out numbered the lows; which was a high in itself.

In addition to connecting with the students, some of us were able to connect with the Heritage teachers and staff members. For example, some of us talked with the shy but loving school nurse, Joyce. She shared stories about her life including how she started a school with 5 students, which has grown to educate over 150. These interactions have prompted some thought provoking conversations along with more opportunities to learn about both the staff members and the country of Ghana.

A noteworthy conversation took place between Molly and a professor, Adison, and we found it to be eye opening.

Recalled by Molly:

“Normally at home when I tell people about majoring in Animal Behavior they immediately ask me how to solve problems with their dogs.  It was funny, because when I explained to Adison what my major was, the first thing he said was, “I have a dog, it bit me, how do I stop this?”

We all found this to be significant as well as slightly comical, as it shows us that around the world similar conversations are simultaneously taking place.

As mentioned in the previous blog post, we are not only responsible for teaching our own classes, but also reading sessions. These reading sessions consist of 2 to 3 Heritage students reading with 1 to 2 Obrofo (white people aka our group).  Some students are at a fairly advanced level while others are still struggling to sound out words and understand what they are reading.  While some of us find it exhausting, others find it exhilarating.  In reflection, we have discussed how we can cater to these students and facilitate reading comprehension for both types of students.  Hopefully we will be able to implement these strategies successfully on Monday.

A high for the day shared among some in the group, was the “aha” moment at one of our group reading sessions.  We were reading Star Belly Sneetches, an excellent Dr. Seuss book that we highly recommend, when we experienced the kids understanding the moral of the story.  Brief summary: one sneetch has a star, one does not.  They end up switching back and forth at the expense of their wallets only to realize they are not superior or inferior just because of their differing appearances.  When we asked what the kids learned from the story, one kid said, “I learned to love myself and my neighbor.”  Perfection.  Well-done Dr. Seuss.

Tomorrow we’ll be doing a life skills workshop with the 12th graders in which we’ll be discussing topics including HIV/AIDS and Life After College.

Till then…

Édo,*

Samantha, Jennifer and the Obrofo Gang

* Love in Fante (phoenetics: ordough)

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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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I’m broke but I want to do something!

Have you ever thought “hmm I would really love to do something to help with those awesome kids at Heritage Academy.” Have you ever thought, “I’m broke but I would like to help those awesome kids at Heritage Academy”

I am here to tell you that you DO NOT need to be rolling in cash to help out.

Here’s a little info about me. I’m Jordan. I am a 20 year old girl and I just finished my first year at Muhlenberg College. I went on my first trip to Ghana a little over a year ago and I have been back two times since. I am also a totally broke college kid. But Heritage Academy has become my whole life and YOU can also help without breaking the bank.

The biggest and possibly best way that you can help us out is by spreading the word about us. Follow our facebook pages (The Schoerke Foundation and Friends of Heritage Academy) and share some of the things that we post. The more people that know about Heritage Academy, the better.

Another thing we love is getting donations. We give all of the students backpacks and shoes as often as we can, but with the growing number of feet at Heritage Academy, it is hard for us to keep up. If you have a backpack, old sneakers, sandals, or anything that goes on the feet, we want it. During my trip over the summer, I measured every single foot at Heritage and we need big size 12 manly feet down to tiny little baby feet. We love it all and we can definitely use it.

Obviously, money is important in keeping Heritage alive, but we appreciate any help we get. Spread the word! Tell your friends, neightbors, and family about us. Are you a student? Tell your school about us! We love building connections with other schools.

Most of all, if you have ANY questions about what we do, contact us. We love what we do and we want to share it with the world.

Have a fantastic day and don’t forget to spread the word. ALSO check out our website www.schoerkefoundation.org

Peace,

Jordan

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A Double Dose of Pineapple Express

Today marked our third day of teaching and the end of our first week. Many of us have begun to build close personal relationships with the students at Heritage. Jennie and Jake were both asked to be pen pals with students in their classes. Kate, during a discussion about gender roles in her psychology class, did push-ups on the floor of the classroom with some of her girls. During our nightly reflection on daily highs and lows, many of us expressed disappointment that some of the students we had worked with during previous reading periods were absent today. We’re really getting close to our students, and we miss them when they’re not there.

Lots of activities went well in our classes today, and it was great to see how excited the students were, even on the last day of the week. In an exercise to review body vocabulary in French, the students in Anne’s French class loved sticking labeled Post-It notes on each other’s faces, arms, and legs. Alexis’s and Greg’s students enjoyed drawing pictures of animals from the rainforest during a lesson about the diversity of the rainforest ecosystem and the importance of protecting it. Anita also saw this passion for learning when she sat in on a math class. When their teacher stepped out of the room, the students asked her to teach them for a few minutes, rather than taking advantage of some down time. Even in their free periods, we saw students looking up new words in dictionaries and studying encyclopedias to continue lessons by themselves.

In our nightly reflection, we learned a lot about the vision for Heritage Academy’s future when Lilah told us about a conversation she had today with DeGraft, the school’s headmaster. Heritage is one of the few schools in Ghana with grades Pre-K to 11, and will also have 12th grade starting next year. The school’s leaders aim to make Heritage a prestigious public school for all grades, and they are well on their way to doing so after being ranked 1st in the country for 9th grade national exams several times, including this past year. In the future, they are hoping to expand the school to include boarders from other parts of Ghana. We’ve heard over and over about how many students receive scholarships to attend Heritage. From all we have learned, it is clear that Heritage is continually moving towards its goal of providing a comprehensive education for students all over Ghana, regardless of their ability to pay.

After school, we visited a woodshop in a small village 15 minutes away. There, we got to see the woodworkers bent over carvings at all stages of the process, from an unformed log to a completed, polished unity knot. Several of us purchased unity knots, which are carved from a single piece of wood into three entwined figures. While the figures look separate, they can actually never be parted. These artisans walked barefoot across the wood-chip covered floor as they exhibited various masks and figurines they had crafted. We loved purchasing souvenirs directly from the people who had crafted them and seeing the process of woodcarving in many different stages.

When we returned home, we were so excited to see that our daily portion of pineapple had increased from one plate to two. The pineapple here is so amazing, especially compared to the pineapple we eat in the U.S., which is obviously not local like it is here. We may never be able to eat pineapple at home again.

Looking forward to more adventures in the weekend ahead,
Alexis and Teresa

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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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Are you there Jesus? It’s me, Jake.

Most American kids complain about heading back to school after a break, but they’ve got it easy compared to our Ghanaian students who spent their first class period back at Heritage cleaning their classrooms and campus. Duties included sweeping, setting up desks, and picking up trash that had floated onto campus during the students’ absence. We headed to the school early this morning to begin our first day of teaching. Each of us taught reading periods and a subject of our choice.

Here’s what we all chose to teach:
– Greg and Alexis: World Geography
– Michael: Geology and the Environment
– Kate: Psychology
– Jake and Teresa: Creative Writing
– Anne: French
– Anita: African History and Current Events
– Sydney: Logic
– Jennie: Anatomy

We each taught classes, held reading periods, and had a free period throughout the day. The reading periods were instituted by Kwesi to help students improve their reading skills, which aid in their ability to pass their national examinations. During the reading periods groups of two or three students worked with one of us, reading stories and discussing them. We sat in the shade of palm trees reading textbook collections of stories that could have been in our own elementary classrooms (Stone Soup, Frog and Toad, Curious George, etc.). We all felt the material they were reading threw idealized American culture in the faces of children experiencing a very different childhood. During our nightly group reflection this evening, we agreed that helping the school supply texts that are relevant to the lives of the children at Heritage would be beneficial. Any ideas?

The Ghanaian school system is structured so that teachers teach to the standardized national exam. The classrooms are organized in rows of desks and the students are used to lectures and rote memorization rather than participation, discussion, and creative thinking. The Heritage teachers are focused on the students’ success on the national exam, but balance the strict curriculum with creative teaching and classes with practical applications (Home Ec., Technical classes, etc.). The teachers and the school administration are invested in the students’ future beyond the national exam.

Our purpose here is to introduce new ways of thinking and subjects that the students wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to explore: knowledge for the sake of knowledge rather than for the sake of passing a test. On our first day we began facing the major challenge of breaking the students’ routine. For example, in the Creative Writing class, despite our encouragement that there is no wrong answer and that it is all about individuals’ thoughts and ideas, several students copied the works of their peers rather than using their own imagination. We are unsure whether the plagiarism is a result of fear of an incorrect answer, incomprehension, or laziness. We all adjusted our lesson plans on the fly to accomplish our goals.

The high school students here are typical teenagers: bright but some are too cool for school. The junior high kids are enthusiastic and more receptive to new subjects and methods. Each of us interacted with the different age groups throughout the day, making each period unique and exciting.

Not only did we have the opportunity to teach the students, but they also taught us a thing or two…

Unbeknownst to him, Jake looks like Jesus, Son of God. Quickly upon entering one of his classes, a high school girl told him that he “resembled Jesus.” Nice.

We also found out that unlike American kids these days who listen to the “devil’s music” filled with sex, drugs, and money…Ghanaian kids dig on Gospel.

Ghanaians do not think that baby goats are cute…they are lunch.

After a hard day’s work teaching in the equatorial heat, we all piled into a tiny van and ventured to Mankessim for market day. We walked through dusty streets looking at everything from machetes to luggage to fruit. Along the walk Ghanaian children shouted “Obruni!” at us (a non-derogatory exclamation of our whiteness). Our mission was to buy super dope fabrics to make sweet threads. Mission accomplished. The shop owner was lovely and we now have oodles of colorful cloth scattered around the house.

We are all exhausted but super pumped for tomorrow.

Love,
Jake, Anne, and Kate

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A Learning Experience: by Erin McCabe

On my second trip to Heritage Academy this summer, it felt like my home away from home. It was hard to believe that I could feel so attached to a place after visiting only once, and for such a short period of time. But the towns around this school are unique in their inviting people and spirit. It is easy to feel the positive energy and support that surrounds the school and community.

This summer I also had the privilege of helping to coordinate some of the volunteer operations both at Heritage during the teaching day and at the guesthouse where the volunteers stayed. It was a very humbling and educational experience to help new volunteers and first time teachers acclimate to the new setting. Having worked at Heritage last summer, travelled throughout Ghana, and volunteered for the Schoerke Foundation for a year, I was hoping that I would have some helpful insights to offer those who were just discovering the beautiful country, culture, and Heritage Academy. However, as in many circumstances in life, you go into a situation hoping to teach something and end up learning far more than you could have ever imagined. The diversity of the group of volunteers this year was both surprising and inspirational. We had individuals of all ages, from all walks of life, and hailing from all over the world. There were high school students and teachers, a banker, two professors, a registered nurse, and volunteers from USA, England, China, and Thailand. Each person that I had the pleasure of living and working with had a unique perspective on life and a unique reason for being there, in this tiny little town in the middle of nowhere; in Ghana, West Africa. It was inspiring!

Heritage Academy is a very special place. It is special to the people who work there, special to the children who benefit from it‘s innovative strategies in education, and it is special to the volunteers, who no matter where they are from and for what reason they are there, end up benefitting immensely from the honor of contributing briefly to this community of bright minds and promising futures.

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I Want To Help 2

Dear Kwesi and Melissa,

I am a Westtown parent of an 8th grader, and I attended the orientation in the high school yesterday. I had the opportunity to hear Kwesi speak of the high school math program and hear the brief introduction to the Westtown connection with a school inGhana. I am thrilled that my daughter, Katie, will be continuing her education at Westtown. Katie started Westtown in PK, and she has thrived in its environment.

Interestingly enough I was having lunch with a former colleague today, and we were discussing how ready we are (or are not) for Christmas.  My former colleague told me that he and his wife were making a donation to a school inGhanathrough the Schoerke Foundation as their gift for their grown daughters.  I pressed the topic further to determine if it was the same school that I heard about at the Westtown event. I was extremely pleased and surprised to discover his donation will be going to your school. My former colleague’s name is Reid, and he became aware of the school through his friend, Roy Ortman, who is on the board of the Schoerke Foundation.

I am very interested in donating to the scholarship fund and hope that you can send me information.  Reid briefly explained that an $800.00 donation can support a child through junior high school, and I can name the scholarship in someone’s honor. Furthermore, I wonder if there may be volunteer opportunities available this summer.  My family will be traveling to Kenyain early June, might it be possible for me and my daughter to leaveKenyaand travel toGhanato volunteer for a brief period of time?

Kind regards and I look forward to your response,

Lisa DeLuca, PhD

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“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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