Bringing the 21st Century to an Academy in Ghana

By Brittney Caldwell

Brittney Caldwell is a high school social studies teacher in Atlanta, Georgia. She is currently pursuing her EdD in Curriculum and Education. Brittney has spent her career advocating for teachers and students. Brittney is passionate about Social Studies being taught through culturally relevant, inclusive, and authentic strategies. She spends her summers traveling and observing school cultures in various countries. Her ultimate goal is to develop a program that allows her to bring other teachers along. She is currently serving KDP on the national level as a member of the Knowledge Development Advisory Council. 

As a public-school teacher at a Title I school in inner-city Atlanta, I am accustomed to complaining about the resources that I do not have.

I have complained to my administration and academic coaches about the lack of software that would assist me in raising test scores, or the old textbooks that were not updated with content required in the standards/objectives. I look at my old-fashioned desk with disdain sometimes, when I compare my classroom to the 21st-century learning environments that I see on Pinterest and Instagram. I even had the nerve to get upset that my county was not yet 1:1, and we had to share a Chromebook cart with my entire department if the computer lab was booked for the day.

As a teacher, I could sometimes only focus on the resources that I was lacking. Poor American public-school teacher, spending her own money on classroom supplies and only being handed the bare minimum. This attitude completely changed once I visited Press On Academy in Accra, Ghana.

I did not arrive in Accra with the intention of coming across this local community school. My boyfriend’s aunt had passed away abruptly, and we flew to Accra. We made plans to stay for the month and, since I was working remotely, it was not a problem. I passed Press On Academy several times. I finally decided to try my luck and visit the school in hopes of a tour. Being a U.S. history teacher to a 99 percent African American school population, I was genuinely curious and wanted to speak with the local social-studies teachers about African history.

Ghanaian public schools are overcrowded, severely underfunded, and full of poverty-stricken students. The economy in Ghana has created a very wide gap between the rich and the poor, leaving a small middle-class population. Most middle-class families cannot afford private schools, but do not wish to send their students to public schools. Press On Academy is technically a private school, but the tuition and resources are much lower because the parents consist of middle-class workers (welders, maids, and merchants) who pay tuition with hard-earned money. The school does not receive money from the government, and solely relies on tuition to pay for all school expenses, including teacher salaries.

The headmaster of Press On Academy opened the school up to me immediately, welcoming me and offering me a tour. He was excited to hear that I was a teacher from America. Visiting the grounds was hard for me and I had to hold back tears.

The children were sharing used workbooks. Several of the desks in the classrooms had nails sticking out or were barely holding together. The teacher’s chair was falling apart as well. They were using chalkboards. There was no air conditioning. There were no textbooks, computers, or even anchor charts on the wall. There was no pencil sharpener.

I hid my feelings well, continuing to smile back at everyone who was smiling at me. The students were so happy and friendly. The teachers were very welcoming. The teachers urged students to go up to the chalkboard and show me the work that they had been learning. First graders were doing three-digit multiplication problems and breaking down fractions! Many of the students were very advanced and excited about learning. The teachers had taught the students so many skills with so few supplies. They were ahead of my own first grader, Brason. My heart automatically called me to help.

I spent the next month, December 2020, in Ghana crowdfunding for Press On Academy. I ultimately raised $4,500 and built a computer lab for the school. I took a vacant room in the corner of the building and dedicated my time to perfecting it. The room needed new flooring, electrical outlets, windows installation, door installation and a paint job. I was able to afford four computers and a projector, computer tables and group tables for students to use when viewing the projector. I also dedicated funds to repainting two classrooms and replacing their chalkboards with dry-erase boards. The children were so grateful and excited when the room was revealed. It was the best feeling in the world.

The teachers were very thankful as well. We all spoke about how teaching is really universal. We all face the same issues on different scales. They have fewer behavioral issues than I, but could relate to distractions in the classroom and lack of resources. In Ghana, teachers are expected to live below middle class and be content. Anyone choosing to be a teacher is dedicating their life to struggle and accepting the Lord’s blessing in return. The headmaster described it as “hand to mouth” living, and told me that teachers would never be able to own a home in Ghana. It was neither realistic nor expected.

I recorded the entire visit and renovation process for my Instagram, Caldwell’s Classroom. Teachers all over the world watched and supported me as I invested my time and energy into helping Press On Academy. Many of them donated to my crowdfunding, and in exchange I sent handwritten letters from the students. So many teachers asked how they could help or be a part of the process. Because of this, I planned a trip for July 2021 to return to Press On Academy and continue raising funds. My goal is to assist them in reaching full completion of the school and connect them to our global education network.

The school is rich in pedagogy and the teachers are talented. They have so much talent, and practices that they could share with the world, but need help connecting and entering 21st-century learning. I am continuing to raise funds for the school and sending supplies as donations are received. I and a group of five teachers, two of them Kappa Delta Pi members as well, are visiting Ghana for a week in July. I am hoping to make this an annual trip and increase participation every year.

We teachers have to take care of each other, and I will be very careful not to complain as often as I do. As a teacher in America, I already have privilege that I am not always aware of. Many teachers worldwide are making do with much less and are perfectly successful.

If you feel compelled to donate or send supplies, please visit www.brittneycaldwell.com or follow my Instagram, @CaldwellsClassroom. Here is the link to my GoFundMe.

Partnering with the Nambale Magnet School in Western Kenya

By Dr. Susan Trostle Brand, International Ambassador and United Nations NGO Representative for KDP

In 2018, two chapters of Kappa Delta Pi, the Fitchburg State University and the University of Rhode Island, collaborated to form a very fruitful international partnership. This two-chapter partnership was initiated with a magnet school in Western Kenya. This school, the Nambale Magnet School (NMS), provides housing and instruction for grades PK-8. Approximately half of the students at this school are orphans affected by the AIDS pandemic. All 465 students reside in dormitories at this 10-year-old school, which serves as a model school for the community and region.

Fitchburg State University (FSU) and University of Rhode Island (URI) chapters of Kappa Delta Pi recognized the potential for an international collaborative during a 2017 I-Lead Conference. Martine Nolletti, NMS representative and major NMS sponsor representing the Stonington, Connecticut-based Cornerstone Project, helped us to realize this potential. When Martine Nolletti spoke at our I-Lead Conference at the University of Rhode Island, she described the school, its founder, its teachers, and its students. Martine invited us, as chapter leaders and members, to become involved in supporting the school. She suggested possible means of involvement including monthly or annual donations from our chapters, student and faculty travel to visit the school, initiating teachers and administration into Kappa Delta Pi membership, inviting school leaders to attend and present at KDP Convocations, and communicating virtually with school administrators regularly to exchange teaching and technology ideas.

Since Martine’s visit to our I-Lead Conference in December 2017, our two New England chapters have played active roles in supporting the NMS. For example, the chapters met and agreed to support the school with annual donations of $200-300 each. Two chapter officers from the University of Rhode Island traveled to the NMS in May 2018. While there, these student leaders lodged at the Caribou House on the NMS campus and actively interacted with the teachers and students. These travelers delivered many school supplies to the students that they collected via Go Fund Me and Facebook fund raisers. Our URI chapter subsidized some of the travel expenses and donated supplies for these travelers. These two chapter leaders taught daily lessons to the students, demonstrated outdoor games, and initiated all of the school’s 22 teachers into KDP. Upon their return, these chapter leaders provided slide shows at local KDP Conferences, encouraging students from other universities to travel to the NMS.

In May 2019, one administrator and two chapter officers from the Fitchburg University KDP chapter and one chapter officer from the URI KDP chapter traveled to the NMS for one month. They delivered several iPads and other school supplies to the students, initiated additional KDP teacher members, taught demonstration lessons to the PK-8 students, and initiated new outdoor games, including Frisbee, for the students. Finally, our most recent visit to the NMS transpired over two weeks in January 2020, at which time three faculty members (including this author) and two student chapter leaders from the University of Rhode Island taught demonstration lessons on ecology to the teachers and students, conducted professional development workshops for the teachers and administrators, and donated several iPads and many school supplies to the NMS. 

Results

With great enthusiasm and hospitality, the teachers and administrators of the NMS welcome our ongoing visits, engagement, and educational and financial support of the NMS. The school appreciates the new teaching approaches our KDP chapter visitors have introduced. For example, Martine Nolletti reports that the grade 4-6 teachers are implementing many of the literacy teaching approaches demonstrated by the KDP chapter visitors. Although quantitative data was not collected regarding student achievement results of our visits to the school, the school founder and director, Evalyn Wakhusama, has commended our two-chapter KDP outreach efforts. Evalyn extends special gratitude for the donations of iPads, which enhance the state-of-the-art technological skills of the student population at the NMS.

In turn, Evalyn offers KDP a plethora of knowledge and wisdom regarding the needs of children in Kenya and the specific needs of the school. For example, Evalyn was an invited guest speaker at the 2019 Kappa Delta Pi Convocation, serving on a panel of Fitchburg State University and University of Rhode Island student leaders, professors, and administrators. Likewise, the KDP International Committee plans to invite Evalyn to return to serve on an International Panel at the upcoming 2021 Convocation.

Members, chapter leaders, and faculty members/administrators have discovered that support of this school and its population is mutually rewarding and, indeed, life-changing. We U.S. visitors toured several schools and indigenous homes in the region and witnessed, firsthand, the impoverished conditions and severe paucity of food, clothing, shelter, and education. In comparison, the Nambale Magnet School offers a safe haven for over 400 regional children, whereby their food, clothing, lodging, and education needs are consistently met with great care and nurturing. Creating and supporting more schools such as the NMS is one answer to meeting the needs of this western Kenya population. Collectively, our visits and support can enable regional schools to flourish and new schools to open.

We visitors learned that our support, donations, and visits exert a tremendous difference; the response of this population to our donations and support is overflowing with gratitude. We visitors learned the value of cultural pluralism in action and the intrinsic rewards of collaborating with others to improve the living conditions and education of an African population. Our ongoing international partnership has proven educational, enlightening, and inspiring for us KDP members, as well as for the NMS population. KDP travelers have found that sharing our international experiences through conferences presentations, writing, fund-raising, and round table events upon our return serve to “light the fire” of traveling, learning, supporting, giving, and sustaining impoverished schools and populations for many of our colleagues and friends.

Next Steps/Future

The Nambale Magnet School, as well as all of the schools in Kenya, were severely affected by the pandemic. All students needed to quarantine with friends or relatives from March until October 2020. All students are now repeating the grade in which they were enrolled at the onset of the pandemic. As a result of this interruption of learning, the students and the school are particularly in need of additional resources and support. Martine and Evalyn urge interested KDP chapter leaders and faculty leaders to visit the school, donate educational supplies, become monthly donors, and work with the teachers and students as they acquire the latest technological skills. Plans are continuing to initiate into KDP every new teacher at the NMS and to continue our two-chapter support of this school through monetary donations, visits to the school, and virtual and in-person programming. Eventually, the school will feature an artisan program to provide education and training in specified career paths including agriculture and light industry. The school is a prototype for other related projects including foster homes, self-sustaining ventures, and the nurturing, education, and empowerment of disenfranchised populations.

Outreach Opportunities/Contact Information

Visitors are urged to consider the NMS future goals and projects, as well as the work that has been accomplished by previous visitors, when selecting themes for their visits. School visits are coordinated by Martine Nolletti in conjunction with Drs. Laurie DeRosa and Nancy Murray (Fitchburg State University) and Dr. Susan Trostle Brand (University of Rhode Island). Chapter leaders and faculty member visits are reviewed and approved by the committee members, listed above. Please provide your KDP affiliation and role in your chapter, number of travelers, year and dates you would like to visit the school, and the theme you would like to introduce to the school and students. Themes or topic areas include sustainability, career-related skills, science, literacy, physical education, mathematics, technology, and international relations.

For additional information, Interested chapter leaders and professors may contact Dr. Susan Trostle Brand (susant@uri.edu), Dr. Nancy Murray (nmurray5@fitchburgstate.edu) or Dr. Laurie DeRosa (lderosa@fitchburgstate.edu).

To apply to travel to the NMS, visitors may contact Martine Nolletti at the Cornerstone Project, Inc. 100 Cove Street, Stonington, CT. 06378; phone: 203-525-6220; or email: info@cornerstoneproject.org.

Summary

According to the mission statement of the Cornerstone Project, “We believe that in order for people to enjoy safe, productive lives they must possess a sovereign ability to care for themselves and to have the educational tools that will assure them a respected place in today’s global society.” Cultural pluralism and higher standards of living for oppressed populations are fostered when KDP chapter leaders collaborate to provide funding for educational supplies and technology for the school, educational programming for the teachers and students, and visits to the school to interact with the students and teachers, exchanging teaching approaches and ideas. In the past three years, we have made substantial advances in these funding and programming ventures. Our outreach work has just begun, however, and the NMS and the student and teacher population in Western Kenya, in general, remain a very thirsty and deserving population for knowledge, skills, and support.

COVID-19 and Disparities in Higher Education

In March of this year the world shifted in a way that we’ve never experienced.

A global pandemic unlike any other would change the world in so many ways.

Many Americans shrugged off the warnings to self-quarantine and limit their movement to essential needs only. After all, America is the land of the free and the home of the brave, right?

To suggest an immediate lifestyle of isolation to a country of people who are accustomed to doing as they pleased proved difficult. Shortly thereafter, the nation’s education system moved into immediate lockdown and campus evacuations.

This meant that all students, both domestic and international, had to return home. This action would cause a series of concerns not previously considered to surface.

Global Pandemic and Campus Life

According to Goldrick-Rab and colleagues (2019), 18% of their survey participants at 2-year colleges and 14% of participants at 4-year colleges are housing insecure. Many of these students rely heavily on university housing for food and lodging. Universities began evacuating and, in some cases, providing students only 48–72 hours to vacate the premises.

What would become of the students who were housing and food insecure? Universities often provide campus pantries for these students. What is not publicly known is if universities also provide emergency housing in instances such as COVID-19.

Also, what happens to international students who are in the United States on student visas? As campuses evacuated and residence halls closed, international students were left without many options and had to return home. International students remain uncertain if they will be able to return to campus this fall. What will this mean for enrollment? How will this pandemic affect university budgets, considering that many international students are full-pay students?

International students immediately had to scramble to make flights in or out of the country before they were cancelled. These students also have indicated that they have not been successful in their attempts to contact U.S. embassies (Federis, 2020). As the likelihood of suspended services at embassies increases, the American Council on Education predicts a 15% drop in enrollment and a 25% drop in international enrollment for fall 2020 (Federis, 2020).

COVID-19 Exposed Educational Biases and Assumptions

The world as we knew it will never be the same. As an African American male in higher education, I am completely at peace with this.

Higher education, as proven by the creation of the hashtag #BlackInTheIvory by doctoral student Joy Melody Woods and Dr. Sharde Davis, has always been unkind to individuals who look like us. This pandemic allowed inside access for the world to also view how marginalized students, staff, and faculty are treated. It has allowed us to see the gaps that exist in the system of education and how universities make sweeping assumptions about their students. For example, an emerging issue in both the K–12 and higher education sectors is the assumption that all students have access to laptops and personal mobile devices to do their work.

It was also assumed that all students had access to Wi-Fi services. I learned from some of my own undergraduate students that they were writing course papers on cellular phones, borrowing Internet from neighbors, or having to log on at a church to complete their work.

A few of my students discussed how the pandemic forced them back into intolerable living circumstances that tested their already-fragile mental health. Other students were thrust back into the role of familial caregiver to aging grandparents while juggling 19 credit hours. What this pandemic also showed us is where institutions place their values. Faculty and staff members were furloughed or asked to reduce working hours to reduce their pay but remain employed (Nietzel, 2020).

These reductions are imbalanced from an ethical perspective and are felt mostly by employees with lower salaries (Nietzel, 2020). As an educator who has previously been on the wrong side of a budget cut, the people who take the greatest hit are often those closer in proximity to the average student. It’s my opinion that athletic coaches and university presidents who make upwards of a million dollars or more in salary should always take the greatest hit in these instances. The rationale for this is that the loss of income would not have as great of an impact on their living circumstances. However, the employee who is a single parent making considerably less and furloughed will now have to acquire other resources simply to survive. Where is the middle ground?

A Demand for Action Because A Call Just Won’t Do!

Racial tensions in the world are at an all-time high. Police brutality and racist occurrences are happening in plain sight, and ignoring them or playing obtuse are no longer acceptable practices.

The system of education may encounter a rude awakening as well as the forced overhaul of whitewashed educational practices. As we consider how we will now envision education, it is time that the voices of the marginalized be placed in course syllabi, guest lectures, university announcements, and in the classroom. For far too long we have allowed the privilege of whiteness to be the barometer for how we measure all things related and pertaining to education.

We have witnessed our peers who are Black women be ignored, talked over, and disregarded. We have watched our disabled peers be overlooked by ableism. Many of us have experienced the unfavorable denial of tenure based on unfair, biased student evaluations that negatively impact professors of color. We are taking a stand and saying “no more!” We will no longer be pushed aside, disregarded, labored without pay or for low wages, and abused. The time is up for the reign of privilege, White supremacy, White manning, and White fragility.

Institutions and institutional leadership will acknowledge these harmful practices and move to rectify them. We will no longer accept empty promises, carefully worded memos, or text messages from our fragile “allies.” Which side of history will you be remembered for standing on, and will you be able to reconcile within yourself if you make the wrong choice? The choice belongs to all of us.

Frederick Engram Jr.Dr. Frederick Engram, Jr. is an expert of graduate enrollment and diversity, equity, and inclusion. He is a qualitative researcher who grounds his research in critical race theory. He held faculty appointments at American University and Radford University and is now Assistant Professor of Practice Department of Criminology and Center for African American Studies at University of Texas-Arlington. He focuses his research on the lived experience of African American graduate students enrolled at PWIs (predominately white institutions). He is a published scholar and a contributing author of the book No Ways Tired: The Journey For Professionals of Color in Student Affairs: Vol II (2019), and the article “An Act of Courage: Providing Space for African American Graduate Students to Express Their Feelings of Disconnectedness” (2020). He has published several other articles for Blavity and Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

References

Click the image above to register or view (if after 8/5) Dr. Engram’s webinar.