Tag Archives: school

Tree of Life

Shoutout to our homies, last blog comin’ atcha,

Although we thought this trip would never come to an end, here we are. Today we finished our last day of teaching at Heritage Academy, and let us just say its bittersweet. Many of us wrapped up our lessons with final projects and presentations. Today had a familiar “last day of school” feeling: taking pictures with students, giving out addresses, and saying our goodbyes. At the end of the day we attended a school-wide assembly in which we sang the Ghanaian national anthem with all the students we had met over the week. Each of us shared a lesson we learned at Heritage, including the values of creativity, friendship, and role models, and gave our sincerest thanks to everyone at the school for giving us such an amazing experience.

Along with goodbyes came promises to students to keep in touch. We personally take these very seriously and are committed to writing to the kids, but we also worked hard to impress on the students the limits of our communication abilities. The pen pal system at Heritage can take about 4 months for a letter to be exchanged, leaving a student feeling forgotten or as if our relationship wasn’t genuine. We expressed our dedication to the kids, and discussed in our reflection the way that keeping in touch with these amazing students will be a constant reminder of our time here and also help us be mindful in our home lives.

Speaking of being mindful, your four current blog writers cannot forget to be thankful for the opportunity that F&M has provided to us to come on this trip through the Marshall Scholarship Program. The Marshall Scholarship creates a fund that can be used by students to perform community service or research projects. As recipients of this scholarship, throughout the trip we have been thinking critically of service and our role as volunteers, and we wanted to be sure we were using this award thoughtfully and as it was intended. As two weeks have now past, we can see in our experiences and reflections of stepping outside our comfort zone that we have truly grown as people and learned more than we can say. We acknowledge the apprehensions that go along with service trips, and in some ways we agree with the self-interested nature. However, due to this group’s awareness of this flaw, we try not to be passive participants and constantly question the appropriateness of the role we are playing. This mindfulness has contributed to an experience that undoubtedly made the most of our winter break.

When we first arrived at the guesthouse, our jet-lagged and relatively unacquainted group took a walk down the road and discovered what could only be described as the Tree of Life. We all stared in amazement and took an excruciatingly awkward first photo (choosing to pose as trees instead of actually touching each other). Today, we ceremoniously returned to this epic vertical hunk of wood, this time in our Heritage Academy dresses (and one shirt for Kyle) and students in tow. The picture from this afternoon lacks any awkwardness, and instead shows the true friends we have become over the course of the trip.

Thanks for seeing us through to the end,

Carey, Chloe, Erika, Jen, and everyone else

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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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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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