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

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