The Fete De Presentation

At the end of every school year, the College des Savoirs (CdS) school organizes a public Science Fair called the Fete de Presentation that allows the students to preform public presentations: dances, skits, poems, that shares with all the knowledge they have learned over the past year.  Teachers from Giving Back to Africa’s partnering schools, community members, parents and dignitaries from the Education Ministry, Police, Rotary Club Gombe, and Ndjili School joined parents of the CdS students in watching the presentations. 

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Mr. Jovin Mukadi, who is the advisor of the DRC Education Ministry, was very impressed with the students’ work.  He was thankful of the work that GBA was contributing to help further their country’s education efforts and said he would work with the Minister of Education to organize a workshop for GBA to present results and impact from this experience.

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After the presentations from the students, two CdS students, 12th grader Ebimba and 9th grader Mbwebwe, showed the rest of the school to the guests from the Education Ministry, Police, and Rotary Club Gombe.  The garden and compost were the main points of the tour, since they have changed the most since last year’s Fete de Presentation.  The two students gave a knowledgeable presentation on the compost and garden and even taught their guests a few things they didn’t know.

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The Inspector from the Education Ministry in charge of the clean school program, Mrs. Vero, was very impressed with the garden and the amount of work the students and teacher had put into the planting and maintaining of the crops.  She encouraged the students to continue with their work with the life lesson that this type of learning is not focused on a grade, but it will help them in many different aspects later in their lives. 

Mr. Kapasi, who is from the Reform Division for the Ministry of Education, really enjoyed spending the day at CdS.  He expressed his joy by saying that images from this event should be broadcast on television and put in leaflets to hand out to every school in the DRC so students and teachers can see what is being done at College des Savoirs (CdS) school. 

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In addition to this great day, CdS received some good news that 10 of their 11 students that qualified to take the State Exams have passed. This is an extremely high pass rate for this difficult exam, and the students’ teachers and parents as well as the staff and volunteers at Giving Back to Africa are beyond proud!  In addition, a student from CdS, Ebimba, had the highest score of all students that attempted the test.  This is a perfect indicator that the focused work being done by GBA/DRC staff, students and teachers in the DRC is paying off. 

With the school year over and the success of the Fete de Presentation and State Exams, students can enjoy a short break from class to play with their friends and relax before the school year starts again.  This year has been a great success for the teachers and students of CdS.  The progress that they have made in improving teaching methods for their students, the improvements with composting and gardening methods, and the peer to peer teaching sessions for teachers and students has exceeded all expectations.  We cannot wait to see and share with you what is in store for the next school year.

Peer-to-Peer Teaching Between the Lukunga and College des Savoirs Students

Students and teachers from Lukunga met with students and teachers from the College des Savoirs (CdS) schools so that all the students could work together to help the students at Lukunga start their own student-driven school garden.  Students from the CdS are experienced gardeners and harvested their most recent crops at the beginning of May.  This exercise is meant to help teach the students about the importance of collaborative efforts.  These two groups of students have met with each other before, and they spent the first part of the meeting getting to know each other better and talking about what they have achieved since their last meeting.

 Students from Lukunga and College des Savoirs

Students from Lukunga and College des Savoirs

As the collaboration continued, they talked about waste management and composting.  A CdS student by the name of Mbwebwe talked with the Lukunga students about creating bins of trash that can put into a compost and keeping them separate from the bins of trash that cannot.  He stressed the importance of recycling waste, and used the example of how CdS students used discarded plastic bottles (instead of wood) to frame their raised beds and to protect their raised gardens. Mbwebwe continued in telling the Lukunga students that the waste from the compost can be used as a natural fertilizer for the garden.

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The students at Lukunga seem to be excited about the prospects of their new Student Learning Garden.  The have been seen showing initiative at cleaning the area where the garden will be located and preparing to create raised beds to be put in place.  With the help of CdS students, students from Lukunga will soon have a bountiful school garden of their own and learn many lifelong lessons in the progress.

A Meeting with the Parents and the Harvesting of the Garden

A group of involved parents, students, and teachers met at the Collége des Savoirs school to allow the teachers to show the parents what has been going on at the school during the past few months.  These parents, students, and teachers have given their group the nickname of “Noyau” to symbolize their commitment with the school, that includes their frequent assistance with the Students’ Learning Gardens and their dedicated participation in parent-teacher meetings.  This meeting began with the Garden Supervisor showing the group the progress in the composter.  They talked about how in the near future, more waste is going to be added to one compartment and the old waste will be transferred to a second compartment to continue decomposing. 

 Noyau students and Noyau parents meet with the Garden Supervisor to talk about the progress with the composter

Noyau students and Noyau parents meet with the Garden Supervisor to talk about the progress with the composter

After this, parents were invited to sit in on a lesson about decimals, fractions, and percentages.  This lesson was taught using grids drawn in the sand to represent the sale of vegetables. For example, 100 Congolese francs represents the 100 squares drawn in the sand.  After this, students and parents engaged in an activity that made the students ask ten yes/no questions to various people and present their findings using fractions, decimals, and percentages.  At the end of the lesson, the students and parents were split into two teams and by only using gestures given by their team, one member of each team had to guess a word the teacher had written on the board behind them.  The students really enjoyed this game.

 Noyau teachers and students enjoy a lesson about fractions, decimals, and percentages outside while the Noyau parents listen

Noyau teachers and students enjoy a lesson about fractions, decimals, and percentages outside while the Noyau parents listen

After this lesson, the Noyau worked together to harvest a portion of the garden and collaborate on how to use the garden in the near future.  Since the dry season is approaching for the DRC, a suggestion was made to plant tomatoes, spikes, spinach, sorrel and amaranths, as these plants grow better during the dry season than other crops. 

 Students harvest the last of the raised beds in preparation for the next round of planting seeds

Students harvest the last of the raised beds in preparation for the next round of planting seeds

The involvement of the parents with the school helps improve the quality of education that the students are receiving.  The teachers are constantly learning about new teaching methods for the Teacher Learning Circles that impress the parents and improve their work with their students.  With the introduction of the raised planting beds, students are more involved with their school and learning many ways to improve their future.

Economics Working Within the Kinshasa Community

Businessmen and women were invited to College des Savoirs school (CdS) to discuss how to run a business and answer any questions students may have had regarding economics. This presentation was an effort for students to gain background in finance so to begin learning Modules 4 and 5, Lesson 3. The students welcomed three speakers to hear about a plethora of businesses operating within their community.

Mr. Nelson shared his experience with his convenience store where he sells cookies, candy, and soaps. He previously studied at CdS in 2008 and is now completing 12th grade while operating his business. Mr. Emmanuel Kabuya, pictured below, highlights the sales within his hardware store. He currently has two kids enrolled at CdS. Ms. Ostine, pictured below, sells vegetables grown from her garden to the community. Some of those vegetables include tomatoes, peppers, garlic, and eggplant.

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Students asked thought-provoking questions to these individuals:

• How do you set the price of your goods?

• How do you know that you received profits?

• Are your activities profitable?

• What do you do when your (perishable) goods are not bought on time?

• How do you distribute your income or profits from your business?

• What advice can you give us regarding our school garden?

The culmination of these presentations ended with excitement and students will share the provided answers with other classes. We are incredibly grateful to these individuals who took time out of their busy days to share with our students many aspects of running a business.

Teacher Learning Circles Spark Creativity in Lessons

Teachers from all 3 partner schools along with Giving Back to Africa (GBA) staff met on April 6th to discuss efforts to improve classroom climate for our students. Four teachers from College des Savoirs school (CdS) shared their techniques with the entire group. Teacher Mr. Emmanuel presented his strategy of telling a story first by observation of a problem and then solving to fix that issue. Teacher Mr. Chançard explained and insisted that students should always be encouraged in class. He said he believed that through encouragement students will become more engaged leading to their success. Additionally, he likes to incorporate games and metaphors within his teaching. He explained the parts of a tree into these 4 sections: the root is the belief or idea, the trunk is the personality, the branch is the behavior or attitude and the fruit is the event that takes place.

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Mr. Pombo stressed the importance of song and music through teaching students. He did an activity with the group in which they sang a song to discover the 26 letters of the alphabet. He also did an experiment regarding waste management. Each individual received a piece of candy and observations on where the wrapper had been disposed of were made. Some placed it in a wastebasket, some on the ground, others kept it in their pocket. Mr. Pombo highlighted how this could be communicated to kids to effectively manage their waste. Lastly, Mr. Kibulu shared. He stressed the need for good writing skills within the classroom and that much time should be dedicated to helping students with spelling and vocabulary. Additionally, he felt there are great benefits to counseling students and forming a relationship through teaching.

Teachers across all three of GBA’s partnering schools learned from these presentations. Many harnessed skills to incorporate games and stories into their teaching effectively. These four presentations showed more active participation within the classroom and how different forms of information can be received simultaneously.

Coming Together for a Meal

Following engineer Mununga’s presentation about composter use within a garden, there was a community meal using vegetables harvested from the Students’ Learning Garden. College des Savoirs (CdS) students invited community (‘street’) kids, who had previously intervened with the Students’ Learning Garden fence and vegetables, to join them in this meal. The CdS students were able to see their hard work pay off and the entire community benefitted from the vegetables grown within the raised garden beds. This was an opportunity for the members of CdS to share their experiences creating and caring for the Students’ Learning Garden and the vegetables produced from it with the Mpasa community.

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Parents, CdS teachers and students all helped to prepare the meal for the community. Some parents also brought what had grown in their private gardens to discuss and share what vegetables had been harvested from their homes. With the culmination of the bountiful meal, students were tasked with emerging next steps for implementing the composter in their Students’ Learning Garden. Students, with the guidance of CdS teachers, will craft a deposit within the composter to receive and store all the waste and then invite community members to bring their compost to the garden.

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The hopes of this event was to shed light on the importance of the Students’ Learning Garden within the Mpasa community. Students were able to share with the ‘street’ kids the bounty of plants from the garden as well as play and socialize. Parents were able to see the hard work that students had been putting into the Students’ Learning Garden and were amazed by the results. Those community members unaffiliated with CdS also received insight on what was taking place within the school. They thoroughly enjoyed the meal prepared. This community meal was an amazing event that brought everyone together and we hope to continue these meals with the vegetables harvested from the garden to further highlight the importance of its growth and the necessity for care of it.

Loyola University of Congo Visit to the Students' Learning Garden

There was excitement and anticipation across the College de Savoirs (CdS) community as they were waiting the arrival of engineer Manunga, from Loyola University of Congo, to commence the composting efforts within the Students’ Learning Garden. Parents and teachers met in the garden in preparation and established that the street kids should be congratulated and thanked for a job well done regarding their help reinforcing the fence around the Students’ Learning Garden. It was also unequivocal that as many community members as possible would attend the visit from engineer Manunga to learn about the composter within the garden. It was likewise crucial to have the CdS students invite all peers to the community meal following the special visit.

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One parent talked about his recent attendance at a workshop about agriculture in the Bandundu region. He stated many attending were not aware of the phases of composting, and he was grateful for the CdS students that personally educated him. He was able to share that knowledge with the supplementary attendees and was praised for his knowledge on the topic. He said it was at that moment when he grasped the impact of the significant knowledge and abilities that the CdS students are developing. Another parent introduced a community member who was always doing her part to care for the garden without ever being asked to do so. Her efforts included making sure that the reinforced fence would stay in place, and she returned any pieces of bamboo to CdS if she noticed they had become dislodged. She was impressed with the Students’ Learning Garden and stated that her two kids attended CdS in 2002 and they now were both attending University.

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Engineer Mununga visited a couple days later. He congratulated the CdS students, teachers and parents on their efforts within the Students’ Learning Garden. He reminded the community of the importance of the garden: providing food for the school families or providing money for the maintenance of the garden through sales of harvested plants, and enhancing the wellbeing for the community. He then led students through a science experiment in which he compared a sample of regular soil to the composted soil post-biodegradation. After this demonstration, he explained to the students the role of water, soil, and nutrients (such as potassium, nitrogen and phosphorous) within the waste which create a nutrient-rich soil to use for cultivation. He also further explained for the need of biodiversity (adding leaves, grass, and legumes) within the waste.

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We believe that Giving Back to Africa has achieved a critical goal with CdS. The students and teachers have been empowered. They are living as servant leaders in their communities. The community is becoming engaged and empowered as a result. An outcome of GBA’s work is sustainability, empowering the students, teachers, and community to continue to build themselves up, and we believe this is coming to fruition.

Developing Group Spirit: Teachers Reflect on Impacts to Students' and Their Own Lives from Teacher Learning Circles in 2017

On December 16, Dr. Jerry and teachers from the College des Saviors, Kapini, and Lukunga schools convened their last Teacher Learning Circle (TLC) of 2017 to reflect on what they had learned in 2017 and what they looked forward to in 2018. Present at the meeting were also guests from the Education Ministry.

To begin, they discussed the quantifiable numbers of 2017: seven small group teacher meetings, six large group meetings, and three schools involved. At each meeting, teachers shared best practices, discussed classroom issues, and brainstormed solutions.  

Then they discussed the equally important, harder to quantify impacts of the Teacher Learning Circles: inspiring a fight against erosion in the Kapini’s school community, mentorship, improved teacher-student rapport, socialization, and the reinforcement of school curriculum.

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The compounding impacts of things like better teacher-student rapport made even larger waves, changing the very way that students and teachers related to one another, and in some cases, even changing the styles of teaching for some. Before participating in the TLCs, one teacher was known for his saying: “everyone for himself, God for all.” But throughout his participation, he began to find ways to teach to students at all performance levels, not just to students who were already strong academically. “Through the learning circle, he developed the group spirit,” Dr. Jerry remarked.

Several other teachers noted similar changes in their philosophies. Mr. Chancard remarked that helping the students who struggle most benefits everyone. “The weak will become strong and the strong will become stronger.”

Teachers became more comfortable with students, less strict, and more open to new teaching methods, and in turn, students gained confidence, learned how to communicate with adults, and looked forward to attending school.  

Attendees also highlighted potential areas for improvement in 2018, desiring to disseminate reports from the TLCs and to find a way to bring the message of the TLCs, and the curriculum its built around, to a larger audience. One of the visitors from the Education Ministry suggested starting a newsletter to report on TLC meetings.

Participants also gave an overview of the distinct student-centered, asset-based teaching program that has been in place at College des Saviors over the past five years. Many remarked how it has brought not only a new way of teaching, but a new way of looking at life.

Goals for 2018 include sending a College des Saviors delegation to Lukunga school to help them with their student garden, as well as collecting more indicators about impacts to the students from the curriculum, including reading, writing, and attendance markers. To end the day, participants answered a reflection question to prepare for themselves for the new year. They asked themselves: how will you improve your teaching this year? After celebrating progress and planning for next steps, the teachers are ready to take on the new year.

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If you missed our blog post detailing what exactly is a Teacher Learning Circle, refresh your memory, here.

Indiana University PhD Candidate Studies Teacher Learning Circles at College des Saviors, Partner Schools

Giving Back to Africa was excited to welcome Indiana University PhD Candidate Jennifer Lund to College des Saviors in October for a whirlwind on-the-ground tour of its Teacher Learning Circles (TLCs). Lund met GBA co-founder Dr. Ann Marie Thomson in the fall of 2015 and was presented with the possibility of cataloging six years of GBA data. For Lund, a PhD Candidate at in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education with a concentration in international and comparative education, applying her specialized education and professional skills to a data project for a service learning nonprofit just made sense. As Lund puts it: “So, having spent several wintry days with Ann Marie looking at pages and pages of handwritten lesson plans and course reflections in French, the idea of focusing on teacher professional development in the DRC became a very real possibility.”

Fast forward almost two years to Lund’s inaugural trip to DR Congo. The data project she began in 2015 has turned into a dissertation topic. Her goal is to analyze GBA through the lens of teacher professional development, using the Teacher Learning Circles as a case study. “I will explore how a specific group of teachers affiliated with GBA have evolved over time to become teacher-mentors,” she explains.

GBA has been using Teacher Learning Circles for about two years now. TLCs bring teachers from different schools together to workshop their classroom ideas and discuss problems. Lund notes that TLCs are not new in the toolkit of professional development overall, but they are relatively new in DR Congo. TLCs cultivate solidarity for teachers and provide a safe space in which they can share their trials and successes, their questions and proposed solutions.

“In this way, TLCs build confidence and help teachers feel like they are not alone in their problems,” Lund says. “TLCs promote a student-centered classroom and the teachers learn to support each other so that they can in turn learn to support their students.” This student centered-approach lies at the heart of GBA’s mission as well. College des Saviors leverages students’ assets-- their knowledge, community roles, and talents-- to breathe life into the service learning model. Students have executed many community projects over the past six years, including a Students’ Learning Garden, by carefully researching and learning about topics like water and waste management and then applying them to real-life issues.

“One of the most important tenants of the TLC is that every person should have a voice,” Lund remarks. “This is something that is transferable to the classroom where even the weakest students are deserving of attention and encouragement.” TLCs encourage students and teachers alike to lead.

 Lund meets with Director Sebastien 

Lund meets with Director Sebastien 

 Lund shadows a class

Lund shadows a class

Throughout her visit, Lund was able to tour the Student Learning Garden, observe classes, and engage in conversations with the community. She visited twp partner schools and conducted focus groups with teachers and administrators. She interviewed each school’s principal and spent time shadowing daily interactions. She even met with DR Congo Education Ministry Inspector Veronique Shako, who was interested in planning a visit to College des Saviors to learn more in person. 

 School staff and Lund visit the garden

School staff and Lund visit the garden

 College des Saviors teachers introduce Lund to the school's programs 

College des Saviors teachers introduce Lund to the school's programs 

When asked about what she found most striking about the trip, she notes the rich way in which music permeates all aspects of life in DR Congo. “As a musician myself, I had the very great honor to end my trip by taking part in a rehearsal of the Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra through a series of connections.  I was handed an extra violin, given some music, and ended up playing in (sight-reading, mind you!) what was really more of a concert for American dignitaries from the U.S. embassy who happened to be visiting that evening. I felt completely accepted by my Congolese section-mates who chatted with me and sent an encouraging grin my way after we finished a tough passage.  That pretty much sums up my impression of Kinshasa.  Be ready to improvise in the face of a challenge, but you will always have friends, music, and laughter there when you need them.”

With the TLCs at College des Saviors and its partners, that’s exactly what they are aiming to do: improvise in the face of a challenge, with a circle full of friendly faces to help them through the tough passages.

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Jennifer Lund is a PhD Candidate at Indiana University in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education with a concentration in international and comparative education. She holds an MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) from Michigan State University. Her specialties are teaching and teacher professional development, having worked in southern Thailand as an English Language Fellow and Nancy, France as a university-level English lecturer. Pending approval of her dissertation proposal and additional funding, Lund would like to return to Kinshasa in 2018 to continue data collection.

Loyola University Field Trip Yields Composting Inspiration for Students

At the end of May, College des Savior students and staff visited Loyola University of Congo to learn more about composting, which is a central component of the sustainability curriculum and the Students’ Learning Garden. The group started off with a presentation from Giving Back to Africa (GBA) Project Manager Dr. Jerry Kindomba about the model of student-centered leadership and service learning used at College des Savior. The attendees were impressed with the students’ strong performance with their curricula, which they then saw in action at a hands-on composting demonstration.

 Observing the composting presentation

Observing the composting presentation

At the composting site visit, the workshop facilitators, two teachers and an engineer, asked the students about agriculture and general knowledge topics and were amazed by how much the students already knew. The students felt right at home with the subject matter and tone of the lessons. Dr. Jerry remarked that: “The students were not disoriented by the language of these two professors. The richness of the vocabulary lessons taught in the various modules helped them to be comfortable communicating with the professors. They asked their own questions as well and the teachers appreciated this .”

 Students taking notes, garnering the nickname "little scientists," for the day

Students taking notes, garnering the nickname "little scientists," for the day

However, they also added to their rich knowledge base by learning more about the scientific process behind composting, like how larvae and worms assist in the composting process, and what plants make up a good batch of compost. The facilitators led a hands-on composting demonstration for the students.They enjoyed seeing students take notes and referred to them as “little scientists.” Professor Pululu, of Loyola, remarked that: “The students have impressed me positively because they have carried out an extraordinary scientific approach by first asking questions and seeing how they can bring about solutions by making a composter.” This reflects the asset-based, community-driven learning model that the students guide at College des Savior.

 Planting the cacao tree together

Planting the cacao tree together

 Student Ntumba Nadege watering the cacao tree

Student Ntumba Nadege watering the cacao tree

The group ended their visit by planting and tending to a cacao tree together. Both the Loyola staff and the College des Savior staff and students acknowledged that only through community support had this trip been made possible and that it was a great opportunity for future resources as the students progress with their sustainability projects. One of the Loyola facilitators even encouraged the students to try out their own composting experiments back home in small groups and offered to help set up a composter at the school after students do initial research about what makes good compost in their area.

The students were eager to get home and apply their new skills. Beya Beya said: “I enjoyed their composter, their way of working as a team. They are really well organized. When I come to study here in Technique after Secondary School, I will see again this tree that we planted.” Teachers and parents agreed, praising Loyola’s hospitality and the progress in making community connections. Teacher Mr. Chancard also noted his appreciation of “...the humility of the teachers and the love of the professors who have abundantly occupied themselves to give their precious time to the students…”

Upon their return to school, students led a presentation for fellow students who had been unable to attend the field trip and began to master their newly-learned information by teaching it to others. Teachers and staff also met with a Loyola representative the following week, beginning plans for a bright partnership between the two institutions committed to community and student-focused education.