By Ali Nagle, 5th Grade Reading Teacher, TEAM Academy, a KIPP School
This is the third blog of a series about TEAM in Africa, TEAM Schools’ International Social Justice Project. The first post, How East Africa Joined Our Team and Family, explains the program and how it started. The second post, Five Years of Work Come to Fruition in East Africa, describes Ali’s spring visit to Africa. Below you’ll hear about Ali’s most recent trip, the impact the program has on TEAM students, and Ali’s challenge to our blog readers.
Summer in Africa
The short weeks of summer are a time for all teachers to rest, relax and become rejuvenated, but over the past six years, for TEAM in Africa, summer has become a time to continue our work and charge ahead. And July of 2012 was no different. A few days after returning from end of the year field lessons, four TEAM Schools students packed their bags and headed to Africa for two weeks. Of course, they weren’t alone. They traveled with me, two adult chaperons, and twelve of our Books & Beyond writing partners from Indiana University.
Jason, Jessica, Khafeeon, A’Kayla were chosen by their peers to represent TEAM in Africa. During their time in Africa, they taught at Kabwende Primary’s first ever three-week summer camp, helping 200 Rwanda students improve their reading, writing and conversational skills in English. I loved watching the kids experience the day of a teacher: the planning of lessons, the heartbreak and concern when students don’t get it YET, the urgency to help all students get it, and the unmistakable exhaustion of teaching six hours each day.
From Rwanda, the students and I headed to Kenya to see a new building at Kyandili Primary School. Once a dilapidated and condemned pre-colonial classroom, now a reading factory—complete with a reading nook and Kenya’s version of a word wall. While I had visited the library in February, it was so much sweeter to take our students. Imagine students standing in a school thousands of miles from their home in Newark and knowing their classmates are the reason for the change. Essentially, these students built a library through penny wars, cupcake sales, and rewards for math grades.
Before, during and after our trips, people often ask what I hope the kids take away from the trip and my answer is usually rather simple. I hope the trip reaffirms their patience and belief in the simple truth that when you do good things, good things happen. All too often I ask my fifth graders to have blind faith that if they work hard and be nice, college is their future. I remind them that reading every night will pave the way to a goal they can’t YET imagine. I ask them to trust and believe.
TEAM in Africa is much of the same—if not to a greater degree. Each year we ask students to fundraise, write pen pal letters, create stories and illustrations for students half way around the globe. I promise them it changes lives and changes the world. I ask them once again to trust and believe.
I relish the affirmation this trip was for my four TEAM in Africa students and hope that, if even for a second, students think, “she told me my pennies built a library and asked me to trust her when she said it changed lives. And now I know, for my own self, because I saw it with my own two eyes. It did and it will.”
Now maybe college won’t seem so far off or so foreign because if I kept my word once, who is to say I won’t keep it again?
On a Larger Scale
At KIPP School Summit, a number of KIPP teachers, staff members and supporters came to hear about TEAM in Africa and more importantly hear from Paul Lorem, a Lost Boy from Sudan, talk about the importance of education and opportunity. Brave teachers from Houston, New York and DC have dared to create their own international partnership. But instead of building it from scratch, they will work with buildOn, an afterschool service program that mobilizes urban teens to lift up their communities and change the world through community service and by building schools in some of the poorest countries on the planet. When you hear a story like Paul’s, know kids as cool as ours, and have the support of buildOn, there is simply no way you can shy away from changing the world.
Six years ago, I was inspired by my students asking, “Why can’t we do that? Why can’t we build a school in Africa?” Even today, it still sounds crazy. And then I remember Jason, Jessica, Khafeeon, and A’Kayla standing in a school they helped build, meeting families, and experiencing a completely new culture.
So big KIPPsters, fellow teachers, and blog readers, let my students’ initial questions and experiences resonate in your ears and your heart. I challenge you to reflect on an idea so crazy that at first blush you dismissed it. What if you could really make it happen? Could this idea change your students lives? And even your own? What if you decided today to make this happen?
Here is my promise to you: you can do this. Have blind faith and believe me. Be brave. Know it isn’t easy. Just know that for me, nothing has been more rewarding than sharing this adventure with the students at TEAM Schools; the dozen who have traveled overseas with me, but also the hundreds who have expanded their minds and hearts and changed the world, both in Newark and in East Africa.