My Educational Journey

Today is the end of my journey. At the same time, it is the start of my next adventure. Today marks my last day at Journeys School, where I have worked for the past nine years.   I have worn many hats there including; Spanish teacher, advisor, director of the middle school, k-12 coordinator of faculty training and operations, capstone teacher and more.  Although I have not earned a degree from Journeys School, it has played a fundamental role in my education as a person and professional.   Thus, I will add it to the steps along my educational journey.  

I am thankful for the community of learners and educators I have been a part of.  Each of you has shaped me into the person I am today.

Here are some of the lessons, ideas, and topics I am taking with me: place-based education, the sustainability triangle, design thinking, growth mindset, integrated curriculum, standards-based grading, professional learning communities, the waterline model,  SO much information about the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem… The list could go on for hours.

Now on to the next journey.


My heart flutters

When I think about volunteering in a rural village in Western Tanzania my heart flutters with excitement, I have not felt this way in over a decade.   I start to dream and strategize ways to be an agent of positive change.   

I am at a crossroads in my life.  I have had a decade of growth, exploration, and reflection.  I am ready to take my insights into the next chapter of my life as I refine my career goals.  I have something to give to the children and villagers of Mgaraganza: my experience, my passion, my compassion.

My intention is to help others, and yet I am aware that this experience is already transforming me.  I believe this experience will be mutually beneficial.  I will impart my knowledge of best practices in education to others and in return, I will bring back what I learn from a non-industrialized country that will further my impact in the U.S.

Mgaraganza, Tanzania

I will live and work in Mgaraganza, Tanzania.  I recently learned that in Tanzanian, primary school is taught in Swahili. Secondary school is taught in English. However, not all of the teachers are proficient in English, and many of the students understand it. The government standard is 40 students to one teacher, but due to a lack of teachers and classrooms, at times there are 120 students to one teacher.

A report from a university student from the United States conducting ethnographic research in Mgaraganza stated that the teachers had the following amount of experience: “5 months, 5 months, 4 yrs, 5 yrs, 7 yrs, 5 months, 5 months, 8 yrs, 2 yrs.” Even the most skilled English as a Second Language teacher, with years of experience, would have a difficult time meeting the needs of a classroom full of 120 students. These students need more than more teachers. They need chairs to sit on, desks to work out, pencils to write with, paper to take notes. There are so many needs in this world.  Map of Tanzania

My project overview

I asked Rai Farrelly, co-founder of Project Wezesha what she thinks the greatest needs are and how I can I best serve the students and teachers at the Amahoro Secondary School. Through our conversations, we have established that my work will consist of five main projects and one secondary project.

The main project will be to provide teacher trainings. I believe that this experience will allow me to have the largest impact because if each teacher that I interact with has 120 students in their class than I can indirectly reach an entire school. All of my musings focus on how best to relate to educators who have had a different educational background but share the same goal of having a positive impact on children.

Our daughters need help. These are not our actual daughters. They are the daughters of the world. They are the next generation of scientists, engineers, and government officials. They need the space to explore who they are as individuals. The space to develop healthy friendships with other girls to grow in support, not in competition. Our daughters need to discuss gender and sexuality: to gain the voice and confidence to give consent. They need to understand their bodies and how to take care of them. It will not be possible for me to achieve all of these desired outcomes, but I can plant seeds that will grow by facilitating an after-school girls’ club.

The term “summer slide” refers to the tendency for students to lose the academic progress they made during the school year over the summer. This is true in Tanzania as well as in the States. As result, Project Wezesha offers December study camps. This is a 30-day camp that permits students to live near school, offers three meals day, and provides instruction and academic support in various content areas. I will work alongside my Tanzanian colleagues to teach one of the classes during the study camp.

Co-teaching a humanities course in at the secondary school will permit the opportunity to support English language acquisitions of the teacher and students. It will create the space for ongoing mentoring by modeling best practices and providing observations and feedback as well as classroom support. Having worked in a middle school for nine years, I am thrilled that I will be interacting with a similar age group. I naturally gravitate to their age group; their curiosity is rich, their hearts are sincere, and their personalities and opinions still developing.

I will facilitate a Roots and Shoots program through the Jane Goodall Institute. I will use the design cycle to frame the various steps of the project for the students: identify a problem, formulate design requirements, brainstorm prototypes, design a solution, follow the plan, evaluate the solution, update the solution. Students will develop compassionate leadership skills and traits through this process while deepening their understand of the ecological, environmental, and economic impacts of their actions.

Finally, Rai reports that small cuts often lead to big infections in the village. As a Wilderness First Responder, I will not only be able to provide direct care but also share teach students how to treat basic wounds. Thus improving the health and lives of the students and their families.

I look forward to applying my experience and skills in a very different setting.

One conversation can change everything.

Ecuador 061When I traveled to Ecuador in 2010, I asked my friend Brad Krugh if he had any ideas as to how I could volunteer while I was there.  At the time, Brad worked for SeeYourImpact and connected me to CENIT.   CENIT is located near the Camal Market, which is one of the most impoverished regions of Quito. The organization supports local working children and families by offering educational, medical programs, and job trainings.

In 2012, I traveled to Nicaragua during my sabbatical from Journeys School.  After taking two weeks of Spanish classes to improve my own language skills, I volunteered once again through SeeYourImpact. I went to Bluefields, a part of Nicaragua that is not a tourist destination.  There I volunteered with blueEnergy.  I learned that 96% of Nicaraguans do not have access to clean drinking water.  As stated on their website, blueEnergy delivers energy, water, and sanitation to some of the world’s most isolated, marginalized communities, providing a foundation for health, education, and economic opportunity within the context of a changing climate.

As I prepare to travel to Africa, I contacted Brad again for his guidance and insight.  Once again, he gave me fantastic advice and challenge my previous ideas.  He questioned how long I plan to volunteer.  I said 2-4 weeks.   Brad pushed back, “Why?  What are you coming back for?”  I thought for a moment.  I resigned from my teaching job, I am giving up my amazing apartment, and my dog will be in good hands with my family.  That conversation changed everything.   I will be volunteering for Project Wezesha for six months.

*The photo above is of a family who participates in CENIT.

Wewe ni american?

I chose to volunteer in Tanzania because it is out of my comfort zone.  I chose Tanzania because I am a lifelong learner. My degree is in Spanish and Latin American History from Emory University.  I have traveled, volunteered, and lived throughout Central and South America.  I know the language, I know the culture. That’s not enough. I want to learn more. I am learning Swahili and in that process, I’ve reconnected the empathy of the difficulty of learning another language–that my students face–and that the teachers and students in Tanzania face on a daily basis.   Have you tried learning a language recently?  I’ve been using Duolingo to get started.  For some reason, the only thing that has stuck is the following phrase: Wewe ni american?  (Are you American?).  I have so much to learn.