Reflections on My Summer Teacher Fellowship

by Jess Ford, 6th grade teacher

This summer I spent three weeks traveling and learning in East Africa. My goal was to bring back newly gained knowledge and insight to the 6th grade curriculum, where we study Africa throughout the entire school year. I had the opportunity to travel with high school students from Washington, DC, spending one week in Tanzania and two weeks in Rwanda. The goals of the trip were to learn, listen, and collect stories so that we can have a better understanding of the diverse continent. 

Something that the 6th grade team has struggled with in teaching our African curriculum is that we have been "outsiders" – white Americans. We have done our best to deliver an authentic experience for our students, and although this trip could never make me an insider, it provided first-hand knowledge that will better equip me to teach our Africa curriculum.

I had countless opportunities to learn from native people, whom I interviewed about their country, life, and history. I learned a tremendous amount from museum directors and community walks. I met many amazing teachers and students, with whom our school can build meaningful relationships, partnerships, and friendships that will bring greater authenticity to our classroom.

It is impossible to describe fully in a blog post how truly amazing my trip was, so I will share only a few of the highlights here. In Tanzania we spent most of our time on the small island of Zanzibar. We toured a seaweed farm there and actually farmed the seaweed ourselves. The women who were the actual seaweed farmers were so welcoming, and they wanted us to understand the hard work that goes into their occupation. Their difficult work took place, I must say, in the most beautiful water I have ever seen.

The most compelling day of the trip for me was when we traveled to the south of Rwanda to a village whose population lives in extreme poverty. Through a program called Azizi Life,  we spent the day with women who work as a cooperative to create small hand crafts. Azizi Life sells the crafts and brings tourists to the women's homes so they can better understand what a typical day is for the women. We helped cook lunch, hoe their farm, feed their cow, and collect water from a source that was a 30-minute walk away. The day provided a rare look into village life.

Another highlight was hiking with mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. We took a difficult hike up the dormant volcanic mountains and spent an hour watching a gorilla family in their natural habitat. We were so close to the gorillas!

I look forward to sharing more of my experiences in various ways in the upcoming months. Thank you to the TPS community for supporting me in this endeavor. Funds donated during EATS to support the Summer Teacher Fellowship allowed me to attend this trip of a lifetime. I am grateful that I was able to travel this year, and I am so excited that three teachers each summer will receive a grant for professional development and be able to experience unique opportunities like mine. Thank you all so much! 

Here is the link for the entire trip that was created by the leader of the high school students with whom I traveled:  http://sidwellstoriesoftheland2015.blogspot.com/