DRC

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.

***

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.

College des Savior and Kapini Schools Partner Up to Combat Erosion

For many months now, College des Savior has been working with the nearby Kapini school to bring teachers into the GBA curriculum and expand the base of community knowledge and expertise. This has involved one-on-one mentoring and observation, group reflections, and staff trainings.  Now, as erosion threatens the Kapini school’s neighborhood, the two schools are using the skills they have been practicing to tackle a whole new type of challenge.

College des Savior and Kapini staff met with community members, students, and parents in early March to discuss the erosion issue and brainstorm solutions. GBA PM, Dr. Jerry Kindomba, introduced the meeting with a community-building game and called for the group to think of their actions like that of a tree with many branches, able to spread good work throughout the community. The group listened to an expert speak on potential solutions to the erosion issue. Together, they forged a three-step plan of action to 1) promote local and government awareness of the issue, 2) redirect the road in the erosion area, and 3) use sandbags and plant bamboo trees to help control the erosion.

 Participants join in the conversation at the first outreach meeting

Participants join in the conversation at the first outreach meeting

Just a week later, College des Savior and Kapini participated in another community meeting to educate additional community members about the campaign. College des Savior and a group of Kapini parents donated erosion prevention sandbags to the Kapini school to kick-off the donation effort. Another community member has also pledged to donate 2500 bags, and the initiative has the backing of several local government officials. A handful of pastors from area churches also agreed to take the messages to their congregations. This meeting also included a walk-through of the affected areas to talk to people in-person about the issue and the efforts to resolve it. A third community meeting took place on April 2nd.

 Sandbags, like the one pictured above, will be used to fight the erosion

Sandbags, like the one pictured above, will be used to fight the erosion

 Meeting participants toured the affected areas and met with neighbors

Meeting participants toured the affected areas and met with neighbors

College des Savior and Kapini are proving that their relationship and practiced skills extend beyond the classroom and into real life. Giving Back to Africa’s curriculum encourages the solving of real-world problems through collaboration that leverages community resources, emphasizing that all parties have knowledge and tools to bring to the table. This is exemplified through the use of knowledge of the local area and ecosystem, sandbags, bamboo trees, and personal connections to fight the erosion. Willing to work together on this pressing, local issue, the two schools are applying their lessons learned not only about science and nature, but also about engaging the community, employing assets, and unity.

When​ ​Shovels​ ​and​ ​Love​ ​Become​ ​Assets:​ ​The​ ​Deep-Reaching​ ​Roots​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Students’​ ​Learning Garden 

Colorful crops, interactive school lessons, and a community gathering space-- the Students’ Learning Garden is becoming a reality. Students and teachers, with input from staff and community members, have been hard at work for many months planning, researching, and now executing the project. From visits to homesteading operations to performing skits about waste management, students have combined life lessons with academic skills in preparation for the culmination of their three-year Sustainability Curriculum. At the end of February, they sprung into the next step in the process by purchasing gardening tools.

 Students and teachers look for the right tools at the market

Students and teachers look for the right tools at the market

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But these items are more than just shovels and spades-- they're “assets to organize our garden,” remarked student Noella. Selecting the tools at the market was an exciting experience for all, and students noted that organizing the garden will take wisdom, courage, love, intelligence, leadership, and humility. These intangible qualities serve as assets as well that bind the students together to achieve their common goal. When asked who benefits from the garden, the students’ answer was simple: “Everyone.” And who owns it? “Students, teachers, and the community.”

Another asset the students have been leveraging? Homemade dictionaries. The unique study guides are full of sustainability-related terms to apply to the garden. Below, the students write and practice their definitions. Combining the power of words and actions, the College des Savior students are putting all of their assets towards the end goal of a thriving Learning Garden.

 Students work on building their dictionaries

Students work on building their dictionaries

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Students Becoming Teachers: Presentations Showcase the Circle of Learning at College des Saviors

The new year brings a time for both reflection and looking forward. Teachers at College des Saviors have been sharing how the school curriculum has influenced their personal lives. Many are applying knowledge to community or personal gardens, composting and managing waste. They are also brainstorming about how to keep students comfortable and engaged in the learning process moving forward. Some suggested verbal encouragement, others motivational activities, and also the teachers have suggested to “promote teamwork between students because very often they apply themselves more by working together.” 

Four students, who have all studied a combination of the GBA educational modules over the past five years, joined the teachers in reflection. The students range from 6th to 11th grade. In a presentation to the teachers and guests, the students reviewed key points from the clean water, waste management, nutrition, and agriculture/sustainability curriculums and demonstrated the application of those lessons into their lives. Ebimba, the 11th grader, elaborated on the water cycle and drew the connection between unclean water and water-borne diseases. Sixth grader Pombo spoke on the difference between biodegradable and nonbiodegradable waste, and all students presented on highlights from the curriculums they had participated in, as well as the school garden. 

The students took questions from the group and shared anecdotes from their personal lives. Kongolo, from the 8th grade, helped convince his neighbors to start a garden, and in doing so, provide healthier food options for the family. After the presentation, staff made a visit to Kongolo’s home to see his own garden and animal husbandry work and talk with his family. They also saw the neighbors’ garden that Kongolo influenced-- which used to be just empty land! Ebimba shared about his system at home to separate and biodegradable and nonbiodegradable waste. Ntumba Nadege, in 7th grade, discussed nutrition with her family, asking her mother to incorporate a larger variety of foods, and locally available ones, into their diet.

Attendees were impressed by the students’ presentational skills and their demonstrated mastery of the curriculum material. Even though the students had little time to prepare for the presentation, their energy was high and their efforts were well-received by all. The students led the group with the skill and composure of teachers themselves, having come full circle in learning, applying, and now sharing their knowledge with others. Next up for the students and teachers in an Integrated Review of material, covering many topics and using peer groups and innovative strategies for the review. 

 

Teachers Learning Circle Expands, Student and Teacher Progress Grows

Over the course of the past year, College des Savior (CS) teachers have been working with teachers from another school, Lukunga, in order to share student-centered teaching practices and new ideas, as well as build community relationships. This initiative is known as a Teachers Learning Circle. The Circle complements the students’ efforts to develop a Students’ Learning Garden, based in part on knowledge gained through community sharing. Dr. Jerry expressed the purpose of this Teachers Learning Circles initiative as one based on overall growth:

“This is an approach to help Students to flourish, to participate in the learning process in developing some skills to build up their personalities and develop a good relationship with themselves and their communities. Teachers of these two schools are coming together to test and refine this approach before spreading it.”

In June, the teachers met and shared the changes they had observed in each other since they had begun meeting. Teachers noted the introduction of new teaching techniques, like using games and brainstorming, and they also spoke of changes in their ability to relate to the students and their school. 

 The teachers gather to reflect on their past and present engagement with the Teacher Learning Circle

The teachers gather to reflect on their past and present engagement with the Teacher Learning Circle

 The teachers participate in an ice breaker activity 

The teachers participate in an ice breaker activity 

Teachers from both CS and Lukunga shared their testimonies for new teachers to learn about how the program has impacted them.

Mr. Kibulu, of CS, said that:

“The new approach to teaching has helped students to know the importance of learning. The techniques used improve the students’ comfort and bring students to work on their own (as demonstrated in their ability to speak on their own at the Fete de Presentation).”

Mr. Chancard, also of CS, added: “This approach is a great asset to teaching that we did not have before. It improves our ability to get students more involved and active.”

Mr. Kasongo, a Lukunga teacher, spoke of the integration of many topics under this approach to teaching, such as hygiene, health, and agriculture. Another Lukunga teacher, Mr. Corneille, said that: “The methodology used helps to get students more active and encourages them to be more productive, rather than to wait for the teacher to do everything. Now, when I teach, it’s like we are playing while the students are also learning.”

Several students also shared their testimonies. Kashila noted that: “The teachers are asking us every time after they teach something, “Do you understand?” They are not tired and help us to understand.” Others commented on how they are becoming leaders in their community and have learned conflict resolution skills.

Many people in attendance commented on how they’re seeing the seeds of schoolwork bear fruits in the community. This was also evident at the Fete de Presentation, where CS students courageously performed lessons from their schoolwork for a public audience of over 300. The Lukunga teachers attended the Fete and will soon meet with the CS teachers and ten teachers from the Kapini school to evaluate the event and further engage in teacher learning.

 

Summer Fete de Presentation Showcases Students' Public Speaking Skills

          On July 3rd, over 350 participants and observers gathered for the latest Fete de Presentation at College des Savior (CS). The Fete de Presentation is a tradition at CS, where students prepare skits, poems, songs, and other creative efforts to educate the community about what they’re learning and to celebrate the students’ academic and service-based progress. Present at this Fete were CS teachers and staff, teachers from other community schools, including a group from Lukunga, who GBA has been partnering with in its Teacher Learning Circles, community representatives, such as a representative from the IRC and a local head of education, and non-student children from the area. In addition, there were about 60 parents and 130 students at the fete as well.

 Dr. Jerry addresses the audience

Dr. Jerry addresses the audience

 The audience eagerly watches the presentation

The audience eagerly watches the presentation

 

          The Fete included student presentations, a speech from Dr. Jerry, and a community fundraising effort. Students showed the audience examples of the square foot box gardening method they will be using for their Student Learning Gardens and demonstrated what waste materials to use for composting and how to use compost in the most productive types of gardening techniques.

 Students share their hard work during the Fete

Students share their hard work during the Fete

 Students teach about their gardening boxes

Students teach about their gardening boxes

        Reactions from the Fete were enthusiastic, focusing on the students’ valuable and unique ability to speak in front of large crowds and to convey to the public the important lessons they’re learning. The Director of Lukunga was surprised by the students’ performance.

“I’m very flattered by the running of the ceremony and especially the skills students demonstrated. Frankly we didn’t expect most students to have such great skills like these students do. We thought that in this kind of area, we couldn’t find students able to speak in public, but they showed the opposite, and really, their behaviors surprised us, and this is very encouraging.”

         The Director of the Kapini Primary School, Mr. Bena, described the students as active, well-adapted, and not scared.

         One father, who had engaged in a student-run interview in the community previously, said he was: “… very happy and very surprised by these students. I did not think they could do such great things; I wish for this to continue.”

 Parents enjoy watching the students

Parents enjoy watching the students

 A parent congratulates a student

A parent congratulates a student

            Many attendees thanked CS for the opportunity to attend and noted that they wish to directly support the school and the students in the future. Daniel, a Lukunga teacher, said that:

“What really impressed me a lot is the compost set-up. Really, we must support those students so that all this does not stop. Personally, I will start to come visit them.”

Mr. Gaston, President national de CISDC (Comité intersectoriel de développement du Congo) said he will ask for support for the school.

“I am determined to assist the CS and GBA because they are there for sustainable development for our country, for our community, our society, our children.”

 Attendees come forward to fundraise

Attendees come forward to fundraise

 A community member gives her testimony about the students

A community member gives her testimony about the students

The community-centered work of the students shines through in the community’s reciprocity in their eagerness to support the school. The students will now be on summer vacation, but they will continue caring for garden square foot boxes over the break and are moving closer and closer towards realizing their dream of developing a Students’ Learning Garden.

Spring Has Sprung!: Updates from Giving Back to Africa on Two Ongoing Projects

Students’ Learning Garden

The students are hard at work preparing to break ground on the Students’ Learning Garden. They will compile research on soil, insects, and other essential topics from reading and will be guided by the help of community members. One such group of community members is the staff from the local monastery, which the students visited a few months ago on a field trip. Teachers will also gather information online to share with the students.

On the U.S. side,  we are raising money for supplies needed to start the garden. To find out more about the learning garden and to make a donation , click here.

Teachers Learning Circles: Working with the Lukunga Teachers

At the beginning of April, the College des Savior teachers and Dr. Jerry met with the Lukunga teachers, the group of teachers that they have been working with over the past several months. The teachers shared what they had worked on since the last meeting and what they wanted to practice during the students’ upcoming school vacation. The Lukunga teachers talked about techniques from College des Savior that they want to implement. Virginia said, “I want to act like Mr. Pombo in getting students outside to observe.” Célestin added: “I want to use stories like Mr. Chancard.” Dr. Jerry encouraged the teachers to interact openly. Caro commented that, “CS students are very brave. I will help our students to become like them by sharing this with them.” Photos from the meeting are below.

At the end of April, Dr. Jerry, Mr. Pombo, and Mr. Emmanuel went to visit the Lukunga teachers in their classrooms. They noted the overall safe learning environment among the Lukunga teachers. Ms. Sarah, a 9th grade teacher, was smiling and teaching with patience and encouragement, and the students were active and engaged. In Célestin’s 6th grade class, students enjoyed a game of 20 questions, and in another 6th grade class, Corneille used a technique that the College des Savior teachers employ—outdoor observation. The visit was part of the ongoing relationship between the two groups and the evaluation of their knowledge-sharing. In May, the teachers from both schools will meet at Lukunga for another Teacher Learning Circle.

 Students participating in the 20 questions game.

Students participating in the 20 questions game.

 A sixth grade class practices their outdoor observation skills.

A sixth grade class practices their outdoor observation skills.

GBA Launches CrowdRise Campaign to Develop Students’ Learning Garden

This year is a huge one for Giving Back to Africa! After three years of learning about topics ranging from to waste management to clean water, as well as applying these topics to work with the community, the students will mark the end of the Sustainability Curriculum with the creation of a students’ learning garden. This garden will not only help students to further integrate the lessons they’ve learned into a tangible, community-based project, but it will also facilitate the further exploration of passions related to agriculture and the environment. The students recently had the opportunity to visit a monastery and observe the various aspects of homesteading there. Participating in the planning and construction of the garden will continue to nurture the seeds of knowledge that the students have planted.

Additionally, the garden will serve as a community catalyst, bringing together community members to learn from demonstration gardens and to continue to build ties with the school and personal connections with the students. The development and maintenance of the garden will foster leadership and management skills, health education, and food security through the encouragement of home growing practices. This garden will have impacts that reach root-deep.

We need your help to make this garden a reality. Please join our CrowdRise campaign and make a donation towards supplies for the garden.  You can access the campaign by clicking here

We are currently looking to purchase the following:

·         Seedlings: $2,000

·         Hand trowels (48 at $5 each): $240

·         Shovels (10 at $20 each): $200

·         Wheelbarrows (5 at $80 each): $400

·         Compost (20 bags at $8 each): $160

·         Fence: $5,000

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·         Total: $8,000

Just think, donating $20 could provide a shovel to help break ground on this exciting project! Please visit our CrowdRise page for more information and share the campaign link with friends and family. Thank you for your continued support!

 Students observing and participating on a recent field trip to a local monestary

Students observing and participating on a recent field trip to a local monestary

Let's Celebrate: Learning, Sharing, and Growing Through the Fete de Presentation

In mid-January, College des Savior and the community came together to support the students in their fete de presentation, a celebration and showcase of what they’ve learned over the past few months. A wide variety people were in the attendance, including 60 parents, 14 teachers, 3 school staff members, 2 members of GBA, NGO representatives, and other special guests from the community.  In total, 140 students were a part of the fete.

 Dr. Jerry provided opening words. 

Dr. Jerry provided opening words. 

 Students and parents gather together. 

Students and parents gather together. 

The event had an official ceremony and presentations from students in the form of skits, poems, and games. The presentations centered on the themes of social connection, conflict management, and teamwork. One group of 4 students put on a skit that involved resolving a dispute amongst friends. They came up with the idea and took the lead in crafting the skit.

The attendees and participants alike were positively impacted by the fete. One even felt inspired to offer books and training to the teachers. Many community members expressed a desire to spread the word about the fete and College des Savior students. The Inspector General Adjunct: “I did not expect that these children would teach us like this. This event should be broadcast on television to get other schools to see it."

Some of the special guests at the fete included 9 teachers for Lukunga, the school that College des Savior has been working to partner with. The Adjunct Director of the school was also there and expressed a desire to continue to build the connection between the schools. “My impressions are good because we saw the kids making effort to present playlets from activities done outside the school. Thus they spoke about the Monastery because they visited it. Really it’s very good and also a good example, and I prefer to see our school following through on our partnership.”

 Parents were able to see the kinds of skills that their children are learning.

Parents were able to see the kinds of skills that their children are learning.

It was a wonderful opportunity to further connect the parents to the students’ educational experience as well. One parent remarked that: “Since I’m here in Kinshasa, I have never seen a school presenting activities like what we have just seen at the College des Savior today and I did not know that we have one very great school here at Mpasa. I’m very, very satisfied. I didn’t believe that the kids from this school could do what they have just done today. I’m going to communicate this with others and next year-- you’ll have many kids.”

Dr. Jerry’s son, who also attended, added: “I really appreciate the students’ achievement. They learned the teamwork and the lessons that we can try to teach others. I really liked the initiative that the kids had to make playlets today. I find that it’s good for the future of the education in Congo.”

After the fete, the school as a whole and the parents both had time to reflect on their role in and the lessons of the event.

It is not often that we get to gather so many members of our diverse communities together. We recognize that the students are catalysts for this kind of social cohesion and know that they will continue to inspire people in the Congo, the U.S., and elsewhere. 

Fieldtrip to Monastery Yields Rewards for All Involved

In mid-January, 74 students, seven teachers, three staff members, and three parents took a field trip to a monastery to see a real-world example of sustainability and leadership, the topics they have been learning about in module two of the sustainability curriculum. The fieldtrip began with an introduction from Brother Fidele, the Principal of the Monastery Hostel. The students toured various components of the monastery, including the carpenter’s workshop, the chicken coop and barn, the garden, the store, and the water tower.

 On the way to the monastery

On the way to the monastery

 Brother Fidele answering questions from students

Brother Fidele answering questions from students

 The agronomist explaining

The agronomist explaining

Throughout the visit, the students applied their observational skills, asking Brother Fidele and the agronomist insightful questions. Brother Fidele was amazed by the flood of questions from the students. “I understood that this is a very active youth from questions that these child asked,” he remarked. “This proves they have received proper training and that the visit was not a tourism.” One student asked about the conflict resolution process at the monastery and others asked about the technical aspects of running a homestead, such as threats to plants.

The students’ overarching assignment was to gather information individually and then come together in small groups to share their observations to write a journal article and think about a larger, post-field trip presentation. The teachers and parents assisted the students in the observational process, helping them to note aspects of the visit that they could incorporate into the post-field trip presentation. The engagement of teachers and parents in the learning process strengthens both the experience and understanding of the students and the larger community. One of the parents commented on their satisfaction after moving their child from another school to College des Savior: “Really, I have no words to say.  I do not know what to say. I’m impressed with the quality of the CS education.”

The students displayed their creativity by ending the field trip with poems. They wrote and presented haikus as a gesture of thanks to the monastery for hosting the fieldtrip.

From Beya Beya's group:

We visited the deli.
We visited the initiation house.
We say thank you.
 

From Kanonange's group:

The Monastery is pretty.
An example for our lives.
Thank you for the initiative.

 

From Kashila's group:

The beautiful green garden.
It is always well watered .
I want to know everything.

 

From Malula's group:

1.  Oh ! My God !
What a joy to see good things
I have never seen in my life.
 
2. Oh ! My God !
What a joy to have a good school like the College des Savoirs.
because it teaches us good things.
I saw the Monastery with the College des Savoirs’ help.
 Working on the haikus in small groups

Working on the haikus in small groups

 Presenting a haiku

Presenting a haiku

The integration of the students into community lives and initiatives exemplifies the importance of the sustainability curriculum. Not only are students learning about and living out sustainability in the sense of environmental awareness, but they are also engaging with sustainability in terms of building a long-lasting, deep-reaching legacy of service learning.