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Sarasota Monday, Jul. 23, 2018 1 year ago

Teaching it forward

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Phillippi Shores Elementary School educators recently returned from South Africa where they spent the summer volunteering with the Good Work Foundation.
by: Shane Donglasan Community Reporter
Interns take part in a workshop facilitated by educators from Phillippi Shores Elementary School.

Three Phillippi Shores Elementary School educators spent their summer in South Africa sharing their knowledge of teaching. They helped students transform into leaders, and through the process, gained new perspectives to bring back to the classroom.

For four weeks, Spanish and drama teacher Samantha Cataline, first-grade teacher Jennifer Willis and ESOL liaison Ann Matthews volunteered with Good Work Foundation, an organization providing youth in rural South Africa access to a global education through digital learning centers. The trip was made possible through the Education Foundation of Sarasota County.

“We value our teachers tremendously and wanted to initiate an opportunity to enrich and empower our teachers through this unique form of professional development,” said Kati Burns, director of programs at the Education Foundation. “We also wanted to explore outside our borders to take part in global immersion into the digital learning arena.” The Education Foundation chose educators from Phillippi Shores because of the school’s designation as a World School by International Baccalaureate. It is the only IB elementary school in the county.

The educators’ mission was to train interns who will become facilitators of GWF’s digital learning centers. The facilitators work with fourth- and fifth-grade students with reading, language arts and math skills through the use of digital resources such as computers and tablets. According to GWF’s website, students who have participated in the digital learning program have improved their English and math performance by up to 37%.

“GWF is a beacon of light in this area,” said Matthews.

Cataline, Matthews and Willis were based in a digital learning center in Hazyview, a small farming town in northwest South Africa. Their work involved providing interns with ideas for managing classrooms and helping them develop lesson plans.

Every morning with the interns began by gathering in a circle to read inspirational quotes, which was followed by five minutes of meditation. Afterward, the interns sang traditional South African songs before everyone greeted each other with good wishes for the day. The 28 interns aged from 19 to 30 and were chosen from hundreds of applicants to take part in the program to become facilitators.

“Despite facing hardships such as abuse, poverty and malnourishment, they came to training every day eager to learn,” said Cataline. “Their stories were filled with struggles, but they were all motivated to make their community better. They were there to make their world better for the next generation.”

The educators said one of the most eye-opening things the interns learned was that learning can be fun and that teaching didn’t mean lecturing students behind a desk. “Learning can be interactive and experiential,” said Matthews. “It’s OK to teach by standing on a chair or singing a song with students.”  

Cataline, Matthews and Willis all agreed they learned a lot from the interns and are excited to share their experiences with the Phillippi Shores community.

“I was especially inspired by the sense of community we encountered and how building community is so vital to their culture,” Willis said. “Teaching can be very isolating, but I want to work to make our school not feel that way.”

Burns said the Education Foundation would like to continue providing these global outreach opportunities for teachers.

“We think the trip was tremendously successful and want more teachers to be able to come back and share with us a new worldview,” she said.

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