Barr teachers are paying a visit to Cameroon.
Denise Pedersen, a Barr Middle School sixth-grade social studies teacher who teaches word geography, reminisces the excitement he saw in the eyes of a Laotian student when she told her class that it was time to learn about South East Asia after she had just wound up a visit to Cambodia and Thailand.
Pedersen, though, was open about the fact that she still had a lot more to learn about South East Asia which she could not cover during the course of her visit.
“I told the student, ‘You correct me if I make any mistakes,’” Pedersen said.
However, surprisingly so, the student told Pedersen that even she had very limited knowledge about the country Laos which was her homeland. This obviously meant, the student was either too small when the family left Laos or perhaps even born in the United States, after her family left Laos.
This is not the case just with this particular student. A lot of students who come from American countries such as Mexico and Honduras, or African countries, such as Sudan and Somalia also have exhibited similar concerns.
“The kids from Latin America get really excited when you start teaching about Latin America and the kids from Sudan and Somalia get really excited when you start teaching about Africa,” Pedersen noted.
But just like the student from Laos, even these kids are hardly aware of the places that they belong to and depend of the information that their teachers in the United States give them.
Pedersen said sixth-graders’ knowledge about their country of birth is also based on what their parents have told them about their native land and the extent of conversations that they have about the subject.
Whatever the situation may be, it is extremely important that the young generation is informed about the world or at least their native lands because the world is turning increasingly small and is rightly being referred to as a global village and as globe trotting becomes next to nothing with slumping airfares and the internet shrinking the world even more.
But this is still no replacement for firsthand experience.
That’s why Pedersen approached sixth-grade language arts teacher Geri Pagel and sixth-grade math teacher Kari Ekberg about being a part of her grant application to the Malaika Foundation and Fund For Teachers to pay a visit to Cameroon this summer.
The original plan was for Pedersen, Pagel and Ekberg to instruct in an interdisciplinary unit on Cameroon to sixth-graders during the 2011-12 school year. However, those plans have been now altered owing to some slash in state support that is forcing the school district to cut down its budget.
Budget slashes would result in forcing the school district to operate with a streamlined staff, which has caused in a number of teachers taking up new assignments. Pagel has been allotted to the eighth grade this fall, while Ekberg will be teaching Top 20, a character education program.
However, folk tales form an integral part of both sixth-grade and eighth-grade language arts, so Pagel is proposing to draft out a lesson plan that would accommodate some joint lessons that includes the sixth-graders as well. And as far as Ekberg’s new teaching allocation is concerned, there is no better idea than to incorporate the topic of culture in character education lessons.
In addition, student lessons have already started getting converted in the form of a weblog with a lot of entries on the Barr Middle School website.
The first entry starts with a positive note informing the audience that the teachers’ grant proposal was sanctioned by the Malaika Foundation and Fund For Teachers. The weblog goes into details like the booking of the tickets; a spate of talks with Ann Masters, executive director of the Malaika Foundation; getting pricks to immunize against yellow fever, Hepatitis A and tetanus, as well as more medicine to proof against typhoid and malaria; writing out innumerable applications and finishing the documentation for passports; and meetings with the family who are to be their hosts in Cameroon, an American family who have been in the country for nearly twenty years now.
Pedersen knows the parents in the host family, which is why she wanted Pagel and Ekberg to go to Cameroon. She said the husband is a veterinary doctor who works with the Fulani tribe providing them inputs of how they can look after their cattle better. Pedersen said the husband also runs a veterinary clinic, in which the wife also helps out.
So as to enable the students on both sides of the Atlantic to connect, the three teachers had all Barr sixth-graders write out postcards that would enable students in Cameroon to understand more about Nebraska. Barr students were also asked to talk about their own interests, write about their favorite foods, and also state what job their parents have.
One student from each sixth-grade class also was part of a video where they were given a chance to ask one question to their counterparts in Cameroon.
“They asked some very good questions,” said Pagel, who was able to find that students had found out enough information about Cameroon to understand that it is an oil-producing nation.
“One student asked why Cameroon is a poor country if it produces oil,” Pagel said.
Ideally, the teachers’ the plan to post to their weblog throughout their stint in Cameroon. That would permit Barr students to follow their adventures on a daily basis. However, Cameroon is a Third World country, so the teachers do not know if they will have an Internet connection that will enable them to do this. In fact, the teachers are glad that they get to stay in a place that has electricity. The host family’s home is the only electrified one in the village where over 1,000 people reside.
The teachers propose to use their mornings in the village to teach students how to talk in English, a skill that would be extremely beneficial in Cameroon. Although English is there in the regular school curriculum in Cameroon, that does not by any means make it an easy language for young kids to learn, more so because even their teachers are not all that proficient in the language.
“If people can speak English (in Cameroon), they can get better jobs,” said Pedersen, explaining why the people would benefit from their guest lectures.
Afternoons will be spent in personal house visits. The trio knows that the villagers will be looking forward to the interaction and hence have not planned short visits. Because their host family has been quite close with the villagers for 18 years, they are openly accepted by all the residents in the small community. The teachers are quite confident that this warmth would be offered to them as well.
Pagel said that she hopes that the visits that they make to the houses of the villagers would give them a lot of valuable insights about the culture in Cameroon, and enhance their visit from being much more that just a tourist. She stated that earlier in the summer, she will be visiting Sweden with family members to be part of a cousin’s wedding. Because of the short stint in the country, her trip to Sweden will be a tourist visit. Quite contrary to that she expects that her stay in Cameroon, would get her much close to the culture of the country and its people.
“They told me to throw away my watch,” said Pagel, pointing to Pedersen and Ekberg, who have taken it as a very important cultural tip.
Americans propose to build a daily schedule that they meticulously plan to follow, almost down to the last minute. Pedersen, is quite impressed to say they have been told that people in Cameroon “hope” their morning English classes will kick off on time.
“Relationships are more important to people (in Cameroon) than time,” Pedersen explained. “If a Cameroonian meets a friend on the way to a meeting with another friend, he or she may end up seeing the second friend far later than originally planned. But because relationships are valued more than time, that is not considered bad manners”.
That is yet another reason that Pedersen, Pagel and Ekberg do not want their personal visits to the villager’s homes to be short.
The teachers also proposed to get themselves fitted for a traditional Cameroonian costume, which uses yards of fabric. They plan to not just wear those dresses in Cameroon, but they also want to show those dresses for their students at Barr.
The schedule of the trip requires the teachers will be leaving for Cameroon in late July, then going back home on Aug. 11, which is one day prior to the first teacher day in the Grand Island Public Schools.
Ekberg said she never imagined that she would ever need to travel to an African country or that it would be part of her life’s goals.Pin It