Saturday, January 7, 2012

Life-changing Learning

The first week back after a break is always a challenge.  Finding the rhythm, returning to busy-ness, early mornings, late evenings, the stress of trying to balance home and work...  This week has been difficult, and I am tired (despite it being only 4 days long).  After enjoying this morning's Canucks versus Bruins hockey game (a high-emotion game, to be sure!), I can not stop thinking about a fantastic class I had the chance to observe on Wednesday.

Allow me to give a brief history to what led to the lesson.  Shortly before the Winter Break, I was approached by a young teacher at our school who was inquiring about taking a two-week leave of absence.  She had recently been presented with an opportunity to travel to Rwanda and do some volunteer teaching of English in the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (ASYV) just outside of Kigali. As a fairly young teacher, she was unclear on whether or not she could get the time away from her job in Richmond, and what the cost would be.  While worried about the consequences, she was enthusiastic about what she could learn from this opportunity.

After speaking with me, she contacted her teachers union and the teaching personnel office to request a leave.  It was granted, and she was given permission to venture to Rwanda for two weeks, starting December 30th.  She has been there now for one week, and has been blogging about the experience as a means of journaling and sharing (her blog is appropriately titled Hand in Hand: As You Teach You Learn).  What she describes is both eye-opening and inspiring (for her and the readers).

The village was originally founded by Anne Heyman to aid teenaged orphans from the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.  The model for the village is based on the Yemen Orde Youth Village, which was established in Israel to help orphans from the Holocaust.  The village was built to accommodate 500 orphaned students aged 15-21 with a focus on caring for, protecting, helping and nurturing these children who have survived some incredible hardships.  The intent is for graduates to be ready to continue their educational pursuits and lead balanced lives with a commitment to making their community, country and the world a better place.

On Wednesday afternoon,  one of the classes Ms. Davis team-teaches with another staff member at Burnett had the pleasure of connecting with their teacher via Skype.  I watched as students got to interact with their teacher, ask her questions about the experience, and learn about Rwanda, the genocide and the efforts to support the survivors, all in real time!  The students were genuinely interested and engaged, learning about Rwanda, social responsibility, and technology.  When the Ministry of Education talks about the BC Education Plan, here is an example of high learner-engagement working on 21st Century Skills, empowered by technology.

The experience Ms. Davis is getting is indeed life-changing, and I laud her for taking the risk (both financial and otherwise).  But I am equally impressed with how this experience is impacting students at Burnett.  When I reflect on the education I had when growing up, I have nothing but positive memories.  I had the chance to be influenced by strong professional instructors (see blog post, World Teacher Day), and enjoyed time making friends and memories, playing sports and learning some requisite skills that have served me well in life.  But nowhere in my experience was there a focus on the world like students are exposed to today.  Many schools around BC have social awareness volunteer programs, with opportunities for students to travel to less fortunate parts of the world and build schools, homes, playgrounds etc.  Even for students unable to travel on these expeditions, there is a much more broad awareness of social issues and a desire to help than there was in my school years.  Much of this is due to the technology tools that can "bring-to-life" the experiences of others in far away locales, but it is also a credit to the students and educators who are making it a priority.
Congratulations and thank you goes out to Ms. Stephanie Davis and the organization she is working with.  You are making a difference in the lives of the people in Rwanda, but your impact is far greater than that.  You are setting an example for many others, and by sharing your experience with them using technology tools like blogging and Skype, the good work you are doing will cause others, here in Richmond and around the world, to be more active in helping those in need.  We are all impressed with your willingness to take risks, help, and teach others.  This is 21st Century Learning at its finest!

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