Wahjay-STEM: Liberian students persevere through tough circumstances to be represented at the ‘Olympics of Robotics’ to showcase STEM ability

We made it Liberia! We made it to the VEX World’s Competition as team, Ahjay.   We had a middle school team of five students, from Buchanan City, Liberia’s World Wide Mission Academy School. The students took us all the way to what is called the ‘Olympics of Robotics’. We could not be prouder. The students had a fantastic American experience, thanks to the city of Louisville. The students were welcomed by the Louisville Liberian Association. The President of the Liberian Association of Louisville, Blyden Kennedy, Orsay Karnga, Ms. Emma Dunn, and Ms. Robertha Richards took care of the students’ meals to welcome them to the Louisville. Ms. Maryehdiah supervised the students upon their arrival for one week. Jenny Spalding, Board Member at large, treated the students to Thunder Over Louisville, to witness the best fireworks display in Kentucky and a baseball game. The Louisville Convention Services Manager, Brad Knapp, welcomed the students with a large brunch and complimentary tickets to the Sluggers Museum, downtown Louisville.

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The entertainment around Liberia’s first time getting represented in the World’s Competition came with its own set of trials.  Founder, Giewee Giah, discovered that although the students practiced the computer code given to them during their in-school lectures while in Liberia, the students were not prepared to compete in the autonomous section of the VEX Competition. The VEX World’s Competition required the completion of three competing sections: team alliance, autonomous, and teleoperated. Autonomous and teleoperated sections required some level of coding to be successful in scoring field points while competing against the other represented countries, Ethiopia, Egypt, Bahrain, China, USA, UK, etc. The story did not end well. The students missed their window for displaying their robot’s autonomous movements for points because they wanted to tweak their codes to their satisfaction.  However, there was an overwhelming feeling of fulfilment for Giewee in this instance. She believed that Wahjay-STEM accomplished what it had set out do.

Once Giewee found that the students were ill prepared for their autonomous skill component, she took some time with the students and teacher to explain how autonomous movement was done.  This time she was not hands-on, this is because she wanted the ownership of competing to belong to the students. She felt that she had done all that she could do in terms of equipping them, students and teacher, with the skills necessary to take their coding knowledge to the next level.  What she did was to showcase to the teacher what she meant by autonomous programming.  She set the robot on the field and asked the students, what code they would implement if they wanted the robot to turn left or right or to grab a hexball. The concept of what an autonomous program was came to life in front of the teacher, and a fire came into the children’s eyes. Once Giewee believed that the students and teacher understood the concept, she monitored the students’ progress and encouraged the teacher to follow her lead.

Each evening, the students had an 8:30pm bed time. Each evening the students prepared for bed to start an early morning for the following day. There was one evening, the last night before the last day of the competition, where the students stayed up past their bedtimes without the knowledge of the teacher, Mr. Onana Glassco and Wahjay-STEM founder, Giewee Giah. The last day of the competition arrived, and one of the students, Nyundeh Gorwor, chatted with Giewee while unpacking the rental car of fruits and sandwiches for lunch that day. He bragged, “We stayed up pasted our bed time.”  Giewee, concerned, asked for a reason why that occurred. Nyundeh responded, “We really needed to get our autonomous program done. We could pick up a hexball and make points. It even sat on the bridge to score the max points!”. Giewee smiled at Nyundeh. She was so happy that the students showed such a strong desire to finish their code and took their own initiative to make it happen.

When the students were turned away from competing in the autonomous section of the competition because they arrived too late to compete, Giewee, at first, felt disappointed on behalf of the children. Then she took a minute to think. “We won. Who could have done what these kids have done in such a short period of time, and under the circumstances that they had. Internet was spotty, teachers did not understand how to research for information to enhance their robot, some did not have basic email skills. Some teachers could not envision ideas past the lessons that were directly taught to them. Once the teachers understood that a manual could provide them with answers, they became too dependent on them…yet we still won. In three days the kids understood how to set up the coding for their own autonomous robot! The teachers now know that a manual is only a guidebook, creativity takes you further. I now understand that the teachers require better computer skills to take our students where they need to go. We won, in the midst of dry,  hard sand and dust, we planted a seed that grew one beautiful flower… we won.”

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Liberia came in last in the competition, yet we showed up. With the lessons learned from this competition, we hope to do much better in the next. Thank you for your support. The students are learning modern day skills necessary for tomorrow’s job market. Robots must be controlled by knowledge of programming, cypber security, etc.  Our students are already on their way. Liberia is now visible to the world, we are a country, committed to providing our students with skills necessary to thrive in the modern world.  Wahjay-STEM for Liberia! Thank you Nyonblee Cares Foundation for this partnership and opening up your school for Liberia’s first pilot on this scale. Senator Nyonblee, we appreciate you and your desire to push STEM in your county and nation.

 

Nyoblee

 

 

 

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Liberia’s Robotics Students to attend the World VEX Championship for the first time!

The students have worked hard all year long. They have attended two intense weeks of robotics bootcamps hosted by Wahjay-STEM. Their options for opportunities in the future have expanded! No longer having their eyes set on selling in their local markets or waiting for inventions to enjoy. They are a part of the world’s producers…. NOW! The students have goals to become engineers, doctors, teachers and even lawyers. They are outspoken and full of thought and question. All due to nine months of in school robotics classes during their 2016-2017 school year. Wahjay-STEM couldn’t be more proud of these students. Please meet the students that will be attending the World VEX competition in two weeks! Thank you all for your support. We are still raising money for lodging. We hope that you would consider donating to the home rental!

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Photo op with Nyonblee Cares Foundation, the Wahjay-STEM students are excited to have received credentials to visit the U.S.A to represent Liberia at essentially what is known as the robotics olympics, VEX Worlds 2017!!

Video Summary of Wahjay-STEM

Wahjay-STEM has been working on a documentary since January 2017.  The pilot for Wahjay-STEM began at the World Wide Mission Standard Academy in September 2016 and will continue until June 2017. Liberia’s first VEX IQ competition was held in March 2017, and a snippet of that information is shown in the video below.  We understand that there are edits to make, but under the circumstances that we are in to raise the money necessary to book hotel rooms, transportation, food etc. for the kids; we thought we should share the video to the public as is. We hope that you enjoy and find it in your heart to donate to this worthy initiative that can affect more students for the upcoming 2017-2018 school year. The budget and video are below.

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We want to thank our board members for the 2016-2017 year:

  • Patricia English (’16-17)
  • Ama Koram (’16-17)
  • Jenny Spalding (’16)
  • Emmanuel Johnson (’17)

We also want to thank our board consultant for her ideas and help in preparation

Zarana Sanghani (’16-’17)

We want to thank our partner, Nyonblee Cares Foundation!

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Lastly, we want to give a huge thanks to our sponsor, Lonestar MTN!

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Thank you for our first advertisement videos from Rolando Guajardo founder and owner of a videography and marketing brand,  Constell Media.

Thank you for our first large check, St. Timothy’s Anglican Church, from Fr. Stan Gerber.

Thank you to our Liberia support:

Thanks for the administrative help via the Nyonblee Cares Foundation:

  • Abba Karnga (’16)
  • Rochelle Bernard (16-17′)

Thank you for the support via the Ministry of Education:

  • Saku Dukuly (’16)
  • Yukhiko Amnon (’16)

Thanks to our committed teachers, Peter Gowor and Onana Glassco.

Thanks to our first local media representation in Liberia! We appreciate your support!!

Thank you to all of our independent donors who will remain nameless. We, honestly could not do a thing without you filling the financial gaps during this pilot for registration and books.

Wahjay-STEM was founded in 2015. It succeeded because of the organizations and individuals listed above who believed in it. For that we say thanks!

Thank you most to Ms. Maryehdiah Giah for your guidance, advice, and cheerleading from the very start of our program!

Liberia is represented in the VEX World’s Competition

We received fulfilling news on March 13th:

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We had a mini fundraiser on facebook in which we were able to raise 350 out of the 850 USD that it would take to register. Our founder, Giewee Giah covered the difference on behalf of Wahjay-STEM. Thankfully, we were able to register right on time:

 

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The team is so excited! Please see their group photo below along with our founder:

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Our team, representing Liberia is called, Ahjay, meaning, for our sake! In this context, this team’s representation at the VEX Worlds 2017 Robotics conference is for Liberia’s sake! Team logo below:

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We will be attending the VEX Worlds Competition April 19-25th.

We had a great year first year, please view our video, filled with photos below that should give a great summary of the year. Please stay tuned for our next post that will feature our documentary.

We are currently making plans to partner with another school for the next school year. Instead of an additional 600 students, we will add 25 because of some operational deficiencies that need to be overcome in the new school. We want to show Liberia what a standardized curriculum in robotics can do for Liberia’s children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wahjay-Kids: Information that you miss in standard profiles, who they are and how we met them

This is a request for all Wahjay-STEM supporters to write a note of encouragement for our Wahjay-STEM students as they embark in an unknown territory. These students were a part of the first Wahjay-STEM pilot and will showcase their new talents at the first national Wahjay-STEM robotics competition on March 8, 2017. Our top students will go to the international robotics competition to represent Liberia for the first time. Here about Wahjay-STEM’s background in relation to these students, and please write a note of encouragement. Hardship stories are welcomed so that our Wahjay students can see that each human being is an overcomer and everything is obtained through perseverance!

In 2015, Giewee Giah, founder of Wahjay-STEM requested a profile of her perspective students and found that her students come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, similar to the public school systems in developed nations. She learned that some of her students were orphaned, she learned that some students came from the ideal two-family home structure, and she found that like her, some students were growing up in single-parent homes.

Ironically, during this time, Giewee Giah was completing her second Master degree in Analytics had never visited Liberia, West Africa. She depended on her partner organization, Nyonblee Cares Foundation for the student profiles. The student profiles came to life once she was able to engage with the students in 2016. Here is what she found:

One day, Giewee explained to kids the importance of a good breakfast before coming to school, here is what she learned:

  • Some students had parents who were not able to afford three meals a day, and those students came to school hungry and desperately awaited lunch during a rigorous school-day

One day, Giewee requested that each parent sign a publicity waiver so that student profiles and images can appear in Wahjay-STEM marketing material, here is what she learned:

  • A majority of the students’ parents were illiterate in both the native language, Bassa, and the English language and were unable to write out permission for their child.
  • All of the parents were grateful for the Wahjay-STEM program at their child’s school and wanted to allow their children to advocate for Wahjay-STEM publically, so the school administration received several calls the following morning asking what they could do.

In the profiles, Giewee found that the student’s grade level was disproportionate to their ages. Some children were 16 years old, and in 6th grade, etc., very few children were in a grade appropriate for their age. This disproportion highlighted how devastating the Liberian Civil Wars were to the country’s education system. After the war, many children sat idle or were required to work because school was not an option due to no funding or no place to host their studies. Now that these students have a place to host their education, and a few have the funding to support their studies, the problem to solve becomes quality.

Academia is supposed to provide some standard level of preparedness for the available opportunities in the community. Giewee found that those offered opportunities were unable to be taken by the local residence because the quality in their education was not there. This widening gap between the quality of education and the roles to be filled by STEM-related companies persists because quality STEM education is not mandatory in schools. Teachers lack regular training and standard testing to scale and replicate an acceptable level of quality to deliver to all students to prepare them for the career of their choice. Students do not have the same degree of access to material that would quench their curiosity outside of the classroom, leaving Liberia’s education in a distressed state. In this distressed position, Liberian citizens have a harder time adjusting to the demands of the modern world. Without a basis of quality education, Liberians are left with careers that they did not choose, for those who may desire more income, they are left wondering what choices they could have made for a different circumstance. Unfortunately, they may have made the right decisions, i.e., choosing to go to school and seeking higher education, but the system may not have been able to offer to resources that they needed to thrive they way they would have liked.

Our Wahjay kids have lofty ambitions, meet a few of them. With an impact-driven roadmap, persistent implementation, and proper administrative and teacher training, we have planted 25 seeds with a growth projection that will lead our student’s satisfying careers.

Meet four of our Wahjay-STEM students:

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Introduction to programming for kids

The student orientation during January 2016 was ambitious. By the end of the orientation, students learned how to spell over 140+ words. The scores for each student ranged but a majority of the scores were either exceptional or satisfactory. Some students improved their spelling tremendously over the period of four days.

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Students also completed building the advanced robot and were relentless in asking Giewee when they will learn programming. Giewee left the students with a introduction of what they will be doing for the rest of the program on the computer. The students were trained on how to handle the batteries and how to manipulate code to control their robots.


Photo credit: Ahmed Jallanzo

That evening, Giewee and Onana (teacher) sat with each other to develop the lesson plans that would make computer programming successful for the students. The students have one month to get an understanding of the code for their national robotics competition and select group have two months to get a comprehensive grasp on the coding language (C+).

The students have proven that their minds are malleable and can absorb new STEM related topics within a short period of time amidst logistics challenges. Students were able to go 4 months without books and yet still managed to understand the robot’s components as taught in class. They were able to get a grasp of the logic in the physics of getting a robot to move within a month’s time without booklets . Now that the students have books, our Wahjay board await the ultimate success of the kids that they are serving at the World Wide Mission Standard Academy!

Wahjay-STEM prepares to take five students to the VEX Worlds 2017 competition in Louisville, KY

Wahjay-STEM is a program implemented at the World Wide Mission Standard Academy in partnership with the Nyonblee Cares Foundation in Buchanan City, Liberia. Wahjay-STEM is an in-school robotics education program in Buchanan City, Liberia that trains teachers in teaching the VEX IQ curriculum and provides lesson orientation for the students.

By March 12, 2016 the World Wide Mission Standard Academy 4th through 7th- grade students would have built several robots and participated in several computer programming activities, lesson plans and games to prepare them for the International VEX Worlds 2017 competition held in Louisville, KY in April 2017.  We invite you to help us to raise the funding needed to lodge and feed the selected students at the competition.

The challenge game for our students will look like this:

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The teacher training is a hands – on learning activity. Wahjay-STEM does not replace teachers but empowers existing teachers to enliven the curriculum in a way that will keep the attention of the participating students.

All students at the World Wide Mission Standard Academy from 4th  to 7th-grade participate. It is not an honor or gifted course for the top students. It is an opportunity for all students to excel in science, technology, engineering, and math in a non-traditional classroom setting: students are encouraged to speak up, teach previously taught lesson plans, build, debate amongst their teammates, and explore the possibilities of robotics in the classroom and the real world. Robotics is the best way to incorporate previously learned lessons from traditional science and math courses.  It enhances a students’ recall, meaning that students have references to help them absorb new lessons.

Wahjay -STEM continues to remind students to pay attention to what they enjoy about the course and their everyday lives so that the students can begin thinking about which professions they would like to explore. We want to open the world of Liberian students through KNOWLEDGE, therefore, there is always a real life example tied to the in-school lessons.

 

 

 

Wahjay-STEM – The students have books after a successful fundraiser

In November 2016, Wahjay-STEM started a fundraiser to raise 500 USD for students to have books to compliment what they learned from the teacher in class. From September 2016 to December 2016 the kids had to begin the Wahjay-STEM program without booklets of their own to study from. While the students were able to make significant progress, learn different components of the robot and understand how the parts worked using lessons in physics, it was not without a struggle. This showcases the students’ of the Wahjay program insatiable desire to learn more. Some students could afford print outs of the e-manual provided to the teachers and many could not. When Giewee visited the World Wide Mission Academy in late January, she found that 4 out of the 25 students were able to afford photocopies of a few of the lesson plans from the book.  The ultimately meant that although all students were increasing STEM knowledge in the classroom, a few were excelling because they had access to the written material when most of their classmates did not.

Fortunately, this problem was caught early, and Wahjay-STEM worked with various organizations to get financial support to get books. Unfortunately, those organizations were unable to act quickly enough to help Wahjay-STEM equip the students with books within the 2016-217 school  year. Wahjay-STEM owner, Giewee Giah, reached out to her family and friends to start a fundraiser. See her original: Storytime here:

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It reads:

Storytime: Wahjay-STEM visited Liberia in September 2016. The kids were taught basic engineering via building a base robot. Each student wrote about their experience in constructing that robot. They worked as a team and were encouraged to articulate the concepts that they learned and their sentiment toward the program to a large congregation of onlookers on the ‘Launch Day’ hosted by Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence.

My heart tore a bit after reading their experiences on paper. It was not what they said. It was HOW they said it. They were not able to spell their references correctly. They were unable to conjugate and use standard English grammar (The national language of Liberia). I took a look around and realized that there was no way for them to know these things. They did not have books. They learned via only lecture.

I remember going home with a pile full of books in my backpack when I was a young student. My in-school curriculum required me to spell terms correctly and use correct grammar to articulate a variety of concepts. The experience is what has given me the necessary skills that I need to do any job.

Buying a single book for these Wahjay-STEM students will be a stepping stone toward enabling those basic communication skills for our students while they learn STEM concepts.

Wahjay-STEM was not able to raise all that it needed (235 out of 500 USD). However, it was able to raise enough to cover books for all 25 students participating in the in school Wahjay-STEM program. We truly appreciate our donors and hope to obtain an office color printer to use for next year so that we would not have to purchase books and instead print for half the cost of supplying each student with a book.

On the last day of the four-day training, right before the students received their books, the students asked Giewee when they would have the books in order to refer back to the material learned in class. Giewee explained to them the reason that they did not have the books and that they would get the books that they needed in a short time. If you, the reader, could only see the exasperation on their faces. They really wanted to learn more, they wanted to retain the knowledge from class, they wanted ALL of the information. It was heart-wrenching. However, through the help of the community, we were able to supply them the books that they needed on February 2, 2017. If they made substantial progress without the books, we cannot wait to see the progress that they will make with the material. A heart filled thanks from Wahjay -STEM to you, our supporter, for your financial support. You ARE making a difference. This a small step in the grand scheme of the foundational education challenges in Liberia, but it is a GIANT leap forward.

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Special thanks to our individual donors. For privacy, they will not be named here.

 

 

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