Tag Archives: students

Cloudy With A Chance of Yams

We hesitate to begin this blog post, as it forces us to reflect on the impending end of our trip. As you all have read in our previous blog posts, we are having so many great experiences; we have all witnessed changes in both ourselves and our students. This trip has impacted (and will continue to impact) who we become as we continue in college and beyond. Here are some highlights from today:

Today was our second to last day of teaching, and unfortunately most of us feel that it may have been just the beginning. In our reading groups, we look forward to seeing the kids sitting anxiously in anticipation of our arrival to the library to read the stories we have come to share with each other.  As we read our favorites with these children, we wonder if our enthusiasm and nostalgia for these books will instill the curiosity in our students to continue a novel (or series!) in our absence.

In our classes, we will finish our lesson plans with the presentation of final projects or recaps of the week, which will hopefully display the growth of our students, both academically and creatively. As we begin to say good-bye we collect little “love” notes where students express how grateful they are that we have become their friend. As opposed to the American view of friendship, often defined by Facebook, Twitter and texting, a Ghanaian ‘friend’ takes a much different form, carrying much more weight than many of us are used to. We hope to be able to maintain these relationships through the pen-pal program that has been established.

As we head back to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave (yes, we did sing this song to our 7th graders today when describing what a baseball game is like) Ghana has led us to question the definition of ‘poverty’ in America. While it is easy for us to pinpoint poverty in Ghana because it looks so different from poverty in the United States, we reflected on what the “image” of poverty actually is. We realized that it doesn’t always look like a child in tattered clothes in another country; it could also be a homeless child in our own city. We thought back on a Common Hour presentation where the School District of Lancaster Superintendent gave astounding statistics about the number of children in Lancaster who were homeless. Since we will only be in Ghana for a short time, perhaps our impact can be continued in our own neighborhoods. As participants of our discussions, we challenge the readers of this blog to question what poverty may look like to you, and what role you would like to play in thinking or acting on this issue.

To end our day, we bravely challenged a group of Heritage students to a game of soccer.  It was exciting to interact with our students outside of the classroom and to show off our competitive spirits.  With a final score of 10-5, we were proud to walk away with second place in this fierce game.  After a few shirt tugs, questionable calls and well-calculated comments to our opposition, we were all smiling at how quickly we all bonded over our mutual interest in camaraderie.

Tomorrow, we are excited to have a final day with the students we have come to love.  We are happy to report that this experience has NOT been a Series of Unfortunate Events (yes, our life is now defined in children’s story titles), but more so Cloudy with a Chance of Yams.

Goodnight Stars, Goodnight Moon, Goodnight Goat Jumping over the Moon….

K, K & Co.

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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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Bittersweet Goodbyes

Today was really bittersweet as it was our last day at Heritage. It was probably our most extreme day of highs and lows. Each of us had a touching moment that reminded us of the work we had done with our students, but it also pained us to say goodbye to the kids we had built such strong relationships with, even in only 8 days.

Our last day in the classroom was very different from our previous seven. We all wanted to have fun with our students today, so some of us chose to play games while others had the students take a turn teaching the teachers. Today was as much about sharing culture and experiences as it was about continuing to share our educational interests. Sydney had a great time playing partner tag with her first class, Jennie had us all laughing when she told us about her game of “Red Light, Green Light,” and Jake and Teresa were impressed by the students’ choices of challenging words while they played Hangman. On the other hand, Sydney’s second class demanded to be taught, and they were able to grasp the Fibonacci sequence and the concept of infinity in one 50-minute class.

In our last reading periods, we noticed how far our students had come after reading one-on-one with us for the past week. We were shocked by their growth, and we’re optimistic that their improvement will continue. Anne had consistently used the same technique to help her students self-correct errors while reading aloud, and she was happy to notice today that her kids were helping each other using the same method. Teresa, who has been working with a student named Isaac for the last week, noticed significant improvement in his reading skills, making her feel like she has really made an impact at Heritage.

Despite these amazing highs, we all experienced some of our lowest lows. It was in the back of our minds throughout the day that this was our last day here. At the end of every other class, we had said “See you tomorrow!” but today, several of us had to catch ourselves and simply say “Good-bye.” One of Jennie’s students asked her throughout the day, “Are you leaving yet?” She was able to reassure him for most of the day that she would still be there for a few more hours, but eventually, the time came when she had to say yes.

At the end of the day, the school surprised us by holding a small assembly in our honor. We had an official chance to say thank you and good-bye to all of the students and teachers who had welcomed us to their school. We all had a chance to speak individually, but Mike blew all of us away with his eloquent and heartfelt speech thanking the kids and encouraging them to continue working hard in school (Lilah cried). DeGraft, the school’s headmaster, presented us all with traditionally wood-carved stools. They represented the strength of the relationship between Heritage and F&M, a relationship we all hope continues.

Looking back on our 8 days with our classes and reading groups, we all feel like we grew along with our students. We hope to continue the relationships we’ve made, both personally through written letters, and institutionally through future trips and support of the academy. We are excited to have two more days to explore Ghana, but we all recognize that the main purpose of our trip has come to a close. However, we know we will continue to learn and grow from these experiences with our students long after we return home.

Anne, Greg, and Alexis

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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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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.

Jake, Anne, and Kate

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