Guest post by Taylor Chustz, Senior Program Manager at Exponential Education in Ghana
If someone had told my 16 year-old self that I would be sitting in the old post office of a village in Antoa, Ghana, with no power, typing a blog post, I think my 16 year-old self would just laugh and say, “Sounds about right!”
I was fortunate to receive a STEM-intensive education starting when I was a student at St. Joseph’s Academy in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where I was trained to diagnose and repair computers so I could work on the school’s help desk, fixing other students’ laptops.
This experience, as well as growing up in rural Louisiana, working on Chicago’s south side for Teach for America, and making friends from different economic and religious backgrounds made me realize how important education is – and how unequal it is. It is all levels of frustrating and empowering at the same time.
This frustration and desire to help promote change brought me to Ghana. As Senior Program Manager with Exponential Education, I am in charge of making sure all our programs on the ground in Ghana are running, including our peer-to-peer tutoring, our Girls Leadership Programs, and more recently, our STEM classes with Level Up Village.
Each day presents unique challenges. I think my family must laugh when I tell them stories about my daily life in Ghana. Goats and chickens often wander by, students march like little soldiers as a form of exercise and teachers sit under mango trees to take shelter from the hot sun when the power is off. One time a student said she was possessed by a god and all the children ran out of the classroom. Later, the headmaster told the student to tell the god to visit her after classes so as not to cause any more disruptions!
But my family members also listen closely when I tell them how the students I work with are always attentive and ready to learn. More importantly, when we do activities or lessons that are hands-on and more exploratory, their eyes light up and their laugh is infectious.
I think that is why I like Level Up Village so much. LUV’s program combine several of my passions: STEM, exploratory learning and global engagement. Since I was privileged to receive an education in the STEM field, I feel strongly that our students in Ghana deserve that, as well.
LUV’s program combine several of my passions: STEM, exploratory learning and global engagement. Since I was privileged to receive an education in the STEM field, I feel strongly that our students in Ghana deserve that, as well.
Teachers in my village were immediately interested in running Level Up Village courses. They wanted to be trained and learn to help the students succeed because we were all on the same page: education helps individuals get out of poverty and promotes economic growth.
Watching the students in my local schools learn about DNA, video game design, the chemistry of water and anatomy through their LUV courses is exciting because the students are having fun and are very engaged. Moreover, the teachers are, too.
Of course, being in Ghana, the classes provide us with many humorous moments. Sometimes the power is out and the laptops are not charged so we can’t run the programming class. If the power is out for more than one day, that means the water tanks are empty so we can’t get clean water to run our experiments for our Global Scientists course. Sometimes restrictions on shipping don’t allow us to receive the specimens we need for our Global Doctors: Anatomy class so students need to kill the chickens themselves to dissect the heart!
The global component is both entertaining and impactful. My students enthusiastically tell me they have friends in Australia or America now. They recall their videos back and forth with their partners and even memorize their partners’ responses! They eagerly write down questions they have before recording their own videos. As one student told me, “Please Madame, my English is not good, but I want to make sure my partner understand me. So I will write before I speak and practice!”
Level Up Village has been an amazing program to watch grow in this small village of Antoa. It has sparked the imagination of not only my students, but also our teachers. It is never an uneventful day in Ghana. Coming from the outside looking in, it is an experience I wouldn’t give up for the world.