Written by Sophia Collas, Program Associate January-July 2015
Sometime in the fall of 2014 I wrote Lauren Grimanis a hopeful Facebook message from a small city in Ghana, asking if I could volunteer with the Akaa Project for six months. I was interested in working at the school with a focus on teacher training, defining learning outcomes, and improving literacy rates. A few months later, I found myself at the Asiafo Amanfro Community School (AACS) with a lot of bugspray and dozens of books.
Without formal teaching experience and a basic understanding of challenges to improving literacy in Ghana, I relied on the teachers at the AACS for their expertise, their practices, and their own ideas and goals for what they needed to become the educators they envisioned for their community.
One day I asked the second grade teacher, Wisdom if I could try out a student-oriented activity for his English class. As he always did, he broke out into a toothy smile, glowed, and said that I was invited to his class – it would make his students very excited. I spent the afternoon writing vocab words and propositions on little pieces of cardboard and wrote out a lesson plan to share with Wisdom. The next day Wisdom and I conducted a lesson together where students learned different propositions by manipulating the cardboard cut outs and various objects they were given (the bucket is under the desk). I moved around the room and would find Wisdom sitting at one of the desks conducting the activity himself as though he were a student.
The next day we planned a phonics lesson. We drew charts for two-letter sounds and made up rhymes and sound patterns for each (sh sh sh // ta ta ta). Wisdom took control of the class and called students up one by one to make rhymes until we were all chanting, dancing, “sh-ing” and “ta-ing”, and moving our hips around a dance circle – which he was leading.
Wisdom and I learned a lot from each other. I am not sure if I learned more from him or vice versa. He is the kind of teacher who is so good at what he does because he loves learning; he inspires curiosity, trust, and respect, and brings a sense of humor to the classroom. The times I caught Wisdom laughing the hardest were when he made a mistake in front of his students. I remember being at the chalk board with him conducting a lesson together and we paused to discuss how – wait a minute, that’s not how you spell “mosquito”.
Wisdom represents so strongly what all of the teachers at the AACS embody, and that is the initiative to take a kernel of a new idea – technology, crafts, computer class, vocabulary lessons – and grow it into an educational experience that resonates with their students long after the day is done. Wisdom is an inspired and inspiring individual who has served as a teacher, a coach, a mentor, and as a trusted friend for his students and all children who live in the Akaa community.
Almost one year later, I am more hopeful than ever for the Akaa Project, for the teachers and community members we work with, for the students and their many accomplishments, and above all – to see how tomorrow’s opportunities will impact Wisdom’s teaching and his contributions to the school.
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