Meet Onana Glassco, local Wahjay-STEM teacher and Dean of Students

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Onana Glassco deferred his graduation at the Grand Bassa Community College in 2016 to fully engage his students in the Wahjay-STEM program at the World Wide Mission Standard Academy.  Many factors contributed to his decision. The GBCC campus moved from within walking distance of his job to 15 minutes away, which required him to take public transportation to attend his courses.  He tried to attend classes Spring 2016 for one month.  GBCC class schedule, travel time, and travel costs were his major difficulties as he also worked at the World Wide Mission Standard Academy.

Daily costs to travel to the new location for classes were financially straining.  Traveling costs were taking up to 10 percent of Onana’s income; at times he was required to attend classes on campus 2-3 times for any block of time during a day. His class schedule depended on his teacher’s work schedule, and he found that it conflicted with the work that afforded his cost of living.  He had a difficult yet satisfying personal decision to make: to continue with GBCC and work or simply focus on the Wahjay-STEM at his job. He decided on the latter.

During the Liberian civil war, education was hard to get. People who received education during the civil war had a family to support them financially. After the U.N peacekeepers assignment in Liberia, it became easier to have access to education. The quality was not reliable because the operations that facilitated proper learning was not available: textbooks, school facilities, school buses, and scholarships. Unemployment was extraordinarily high, and Liberians depended on financial stability from relatives outside of the country. Ten years later, education is easier to get because President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf prioritized education for Liberian citizens. During the war, GBCC did not exist, but after peace, GBCC was established because people in Buchanan were not able to go to Monrovia for school.  Access to education has improved, Onana hopes for the quality of Liberia’s education system to improve even further. Neighboring countries: Ghana, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Ivory Coast are currently the best countries in Africa to get the quality education in Onana’s opinion.

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Onana enjoys teaching to primary school children. He has enjoyed working as a contractor for Wahjay-STEM because the lessons within the Wahjay program is about recognizing STEM outside of the classroom. The technical vocational degree that he pursued has not been able to accomplish this. The Wahjay-STEM program had expanded his personal world and has a link to what he has been doing in his civil engineering classes at the GBCC before he went on hiatus. He does plan to go back. As he works with Wahjay during his break, he claims Wahjay-STEM introduces to new concepts about the civil engineering profession. He loves the curriculum, and he enjoys receiving the approval of his students.

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To Wahjay – STEM Supporters

Dear Supporters,

It was important for me to draft a note that gave you an idea of why Wahjay exists.  Why am I doing this?

The WHY is most difficult for me to articulate, but all of the emotions are locked in each beat of love I have for the forgotten.

I was angry when I began this organization. Frankly, I still am angry.

For your why, I have my own set of questions regarding the reason that there are able-minded children across the globe that do not have access to quality education. This answers, in part, why I am angry and why Wahjay exists.

I think that out of all the rights given to children; education is one of the most important rights.

How else does a child learn how to question and construct the type of environment that they want for themselves.

This is so cliché, but quality education is POWER.

The POWER to use your mind to interdependently frame your thoughts and make your decisions AND contribute to a community that ultimately cannot survive without a critical mass of creators like you…

Why am I angry? Who are the forgotten?

When I go to events attended by representatives of profitable organizations (i.e. eager salespeople, technical employees) that conduct business across the world, the continent of Africa is usually dimmed to indicate that no business is done in that space within that organization.

Specifically, in Liberia, we have had only ten years of peaceTen years has not been enough time to forge a formidable foundation for education; we have run many aid-based experiments in our schools that eventually expire.  The funding has been exhausted, and successful educational practices within the best schools are not scaled to benefit students from diffeeent school.

The result is forgotten, students. They sit in classes that are six columns wide and 15 rows deep of desks. The desks in the back of the classroom are so far away.  I cannot imagine that all students are equally g the information that they need to make them a success in the classroom.  The chalkboard is dusty, new writing is scribbled on the board but it is hardly visible to even the student in the third row.

No books. No, literally, no standard books.  I was wondering WHY my Wahjay-STEM students struggled to articulate themselves on paper. Many of them have not seen the words or the standard grammar, so it is tough to judge them on their writing abilities when they have not been taught.

The result is forgotten, teachers. They stand in front of classes that are six columns wide and 15 rows deep of desks.  The desks in the back of the classroom are so far away; is it possible for a teacher to effectively teach a class that size?

Training? No..yes.. maybe. Who has been trained? It is a challenge to keep training uniformed and consistent so that all teachers have access to ample information to keep their students engaged and thriving. How would a teacher know that they can take their students on field trips or have visitors in the classroom to bring context to the concepts taught? How can they reach a child creatively that has difficulty absorbing the topic at hand?

I am angry because the education system that needs so much repair is sustaining the dim light over Africa for business opportunities that local communities can contribute to once equipped with the appropriate tools.

How is Wahjay-STEM different from the aid-based organizations mentioned?  As you may know, Wahjay means, for the sake of the people.  The people are running this organization. The people have donated their time, money and resources to establish Wahjay.

I have been on the ground in Liberia for a total of 30+ days; the group keeps running. The program has been going on for 120 days now, the school year will end May 2017, making that 300 days that Wahjay has been running. By day 300, I would have been in Liberia for 45+ days total. That is Wahjay’s model.

We use the skill set of teachers on the ground, in the school and encourage behavior that will increase STEM learning in the classroom through approaching training patiently and persistently. We actually combine student orientation with teacher education so that the teachers are trained hands-on just like the students.

The material is scalable and not solely dependent on aid to sustain itself.  Aid support for new classes is welcomed and encouraged but not receiving substantial aid year after year for the new classroom will not break the initiative.

The books can be printed out for each class, and each robot is reusable. Eight students can learn from one robot. A class of 30 students can use our coding simulator. To scale this program to a new class of 30 students (we encourage large classrooms to be split into class sizes of 30), one would need:

Each classroom is broken up into 8 teams of 3-4:

First-Year costs:

  • 8 robots –2400 USD
  • 8 computers –3000 USD
  • 30 books – 300 USD
  • Classroom printer – 1,000 USD
  • Teacher bonus (based on 4 teachers 250 each) – 1,000 USD

Totaling 7,700 upfront

 

Second-year costs are solely reliant upon printing new books and replacing robot parts that may go missing and teacher bonus for participating in the program the following each. You may not need to replace cartridge if only books are printed once/twice a year. The return on the initial cost is acceptable:

Second-Year costs

  • Teacher(based on 4 teachers 250 each) Bonus – 1,000
  • 30 books – 300 USD
  • Robot Parts – 200 USD

Totaling – 1,500 USD perpetual

 

I could go on and on, but I did not want this note to you to get too long.

Please keep your eyes open for what is to come if you want to continue to offer your support!

We are raising 20,000 USD for four students to attend VEX Worlds Competition in Louisville, KY this April 2017. We are seeking volunteers to join us at the competition to cheer on the students.  We are also asking for funding. This is the part of the funding that does not decrease year after year.

To sustain the traveling initiative where our students get to compete with other students in the same program around the globe, we would have to raise this total or more each year. The costs are dependent on the number of teams we send to the World Competition and market prices of the items that we need (hotel, flights, etc.) to support the students in the World Competition.

With heart,

Giewee

Responsibility and discomfort

IMG_0851.JPGGiewee Hammond grew up in New Jersey and now is a Data Scientist in Houston, TX. In September 2017, she visited her family’s homeland of Liberia to formally introduce Wahjay-STEM to the Liberian community and the Liberian Senate.

 

If you help children get skills that make them competitive for global occupations, will Liberia – a country long beset by poverty and under-development – lose its brightest citizens to nations able to offer more opportunities?

 

Giewee ultimately found the concern shortsighted.

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“That question frustrates me. The goal of the program is not to get people to come to America,” she said. “It is to help them develop their communities, and if they want to go out of the country, they are on equal footing with economic competitors.”

 

She recalled the tribute to a man named, Var Fleh, in front of the Liberia Senate. Var Fleh honed his skills as an executive assistant in Liberia over several years. When his company’s leadership planned a business trip to the United States recently, Var was chosen to accompany them because of his previously developed skills.

 

“The focus of the story was not, ‘go to America,’” Giewee recalled. “It was: when you can learn a new skill, your world opens.”

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During Giewee’s September 2016 trip, she also found other reasons for expanding education reform, namely the overwhelming and hard-won support of students, teachers, partners and many Senators and government officials who understood the need an update in the curriculum from their personal experiences.

 

Students from one school in Buchanan City, Liberia, themselves raised 1,500 Liberian Dollars to support expanding Wahjay-STEM.

 

Senator Nyonblee Karnga- Lawrence has made great efforts to support the Wahjay-STEM initiative in Buchanan City because she sees that it influences better retention amongst the students because of the level of engagement that each student is expected to have alongside the hands-on learning aspect.

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To make sure that Wahjay-STEM delivers on promises, Giewee has made two trips to Liberia in 2016. She plans to return to Liberia twice in within the first quarter of 2017 when 25 students from the pilot school will be selected to participate in a robotics competition where they can apply what they have learned throughout the school year.

 

Toward the end of her September 2016 visit, a teacher who participated in Giewee’s training and classes pulled Giewee aside.

 

“They were so excited and said, ‘Thank you,’” Giewee recalls. “I realized there was so much responsibility.”

 

Giewee looks forward to hosting a three-day camp with the VEX IQ material in January 2017. At that time, Wahjay-STEM will deliver books to the students and monitors for four currently available computers. Teachers will be taught the material in a two-day training, and students will be oriented in the computer programming portion of the curriculum to prepare for Liberia’s first national VEX IQ robotics competition.

 

We welcome spectators and volunteers to the January 2017 workshop in Buchanan City, Liberia at the World Wide Mission Academy. Please email wahjaystem@gmail.com for the itinerary.

Written by Zarana Sanghani

Welcome to our newest Board Member

Emmanuel Johnson is a Fulbright Scholar and NSF fellow currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Computer Science at the University of Southern California. His research centers around Artificial Intelligence. Specifically, he focuses on building computational models of human emotion for virtual humans. Emmanuel holds aBachelor of Science Degree in Computer Engineering from North Carolina Agricultural and TechnicalState University (NCA&T), and a Masters of Science Degree in Robotics from the University ofBirmingham, in England. Emmanuel also holds the distinction of being the first student in NCA&T’s History ever awarded a Fulbright Fellowship. Emmanuel believes in giving back and has actively been involved in service projects outside of his academic research. Emmanuel currently serves as a Fulbright

Emmanuel now acts as a Fulbright Alumni Ambassador where he travels to various universities and conferences helping to educate students on the Fulbright program and the benefits of studying abroad. He has served in different positions centered around helping to encourage and mentor students from lower income communities who have an interest in pursuing careers in STEM. Emmanuel sees hard work, determination, and perseverance as the key to overcoming many of life’s obstacle life. He lives by the words of Henry Long Fellow which states “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.” Emmanuel is hopeful that artificial intelligence and the research he does will change the way we interact with technology, and bring about both social and economic changes.

Requesting more from teachers who need more for themselves

Teaching in a school with limited or no prior training to use the national curriculum, where the salary is not guaranteed, there is no electricity, the internet, classroom books, and to which students carry a load of complex needs beyond education can be challenging. When Giewee Hammond held the two-day teacher training, she asked those teachers to do, even more, namely to take more time with their students.

“I wanted them (teachers) to show patience toward the students as they taught,” Giewee said.

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To encourage patience, Giewee realized that it was important to demonstrate it. “So I gave them time to vent. They took time and discussed the way their community views them,” Giewee explained. “I want to improve not punish the teachers.”

The teachers told her of the relentless criticism from the Liberian media and public in general that teachers are not serious or well-educated, and that they are more interested in getting children to pass tests than learn content. Furthermore, school administrators seem eager to find reasons to cut teacher salaries.

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Giewee responded by asking them to tell her how she can support the teachers’ professional development. Through Wahjay-STEM – a new non-profit Giewee founded in the United States with an NGO based in Liberia – teachers will receive ongoing technical assistance as they implement reformed science and math curriculum in two schools in Buchanan City, Liberia.

Giewee visited in September in part to train lead teachers from each of the demonstration schools. The training included observing Giewee during a three-day class with students where she encouraged timid students to speak up.

“The teachers had personal challenges waiting for an answer when they ask the class a question,” Giewee said. “They will instead just give the answer or force a reply.”

Giewee was excited to see how one of the young teachers in training worked with students as they learned how to apply their engineering and science lessons to assemble the robots. “I loved her way. When the kids surrounded the table to see the robot, she (the teacher) would let them lead and step back.”

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Giewee, a Data Scientist in the United States, trained the teachers to provide a class on robotics that helps students understand how their math and science education ties to career paths and real-world applications. The training included how to calibrate the central processing unit (CPU), how to build motor controls, computer programming, and other topics.

The teachers will train their colleagues and have committed to Wahjay-STEM to provide reports and share where they need support and further professional development.

Building Liberia’s future leadership

Later this year, March 2017, 25 students from the World Wide Mission Academy will participate in a VEX IQ robotics competition – an unprecedented opportunity for children who until recently have had limited math and science education or hands-on experiences.

Through the support of the new non-profit, Wahjay-STEM, the World Wide Mission has implemented reformed math and science curriculum for all of their 4th through 7th graders in preparation for the first national VEX IQ competition.

When the founder of Wahjay-STEM, Giewee Hammond, made a site visit in September 2016, her focus as she trained the students and teachers was not just on math, science and robotics.

Giewee spent much of her 10-day trip working with teachers and students to build their skills in patience, assertiveness and presentation. For example, during one of three classes, Giewee asked each student to stand up and ask a question about robotics based on what they learned in prior learning sessions.

Giewee explained, “The kids were so shy! They are not used to participating in this way. So it was a waiting game. It would get awkward because the children didn’t want to speak up. It would get tough for me but I allowed for the discomfort,” Giewee said.

It’s not enough that the children are eager to learn and respectful, Giewee said – it was just as important that they learn to engage. “There are consequences for not participating in life,” Giewee said. “If you can’t ask a question or describe an experience, other people won’t know what you have to offer.”

The students applied the engineering that they learned by assembling a robot during their three-day orientation with Giewee, herself a Data Scientist in the United States and descendant of two native-Liberians.

On the first day, the children were grouped teams of five and completed eight to ten steps of the 21-step process of building a robot from the donated kits. Giewee then assigned homework: they were to prepare to speak the next day on three lessons they learned as they built the robot. The next day, it took three hours to coax and coach each of the 20 students to describe what they learned. It was a success, because each of the 20 students wrote their thoughts on paper and each student had their turn to present their thoughts in front of the class.

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After the three-day class wrapped up, Giewee had one more assignment for a subset of the 20 children at the orientation– three students were selected to accompany her to talk to the Liberian Senate about the benefits of the reformed curriculum to encourage Senators to expand the programming.

Two girls and a boy were selected and they practiced their presentation almost a dozen times with Giewee and the World Wide Academy staff, Onana Glassco. Giewee told the three young presenters that they must be brave.

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Earlier in Giewee’s three-day orientation she asked if any of the students knew what the word, brave, means.

“At first they told me it means you do whatever you want,” Giewee recalled. “Then, after the rehearsal, they said that it means that even if you’re scared to do something, you create the energy to do it anyway.” Providing an understanding of the word, brave, united Giewee and the three students selected to speak in front of the Senate.

Before entering the Buchanan City Hall in front to speak to the Senate, the team of three students and Giewee huddled together and chanted with each other, ‘Brave. Brave. Brave. Brave.”

 

Written by Zarana Sanghani

Edited by Giewee Hammond