‘How I Spent My Summer’: Xylecia Taylor
Our “How I Spent My Summer” continues with Xylecia Taylor, a third-grade teacher at Dobbs Elementary. Taylor used her Fund for Teachers grant (through the Atlanta Education Fund) for a trip to Ghana, where she was involved in a range of activities including learning how to harvest bio-diesel fuel. Here’s her story, in her own words …
From the moment I stepped off of the plane, I knew that my life had been blessed and privileged in a most powerful way. On July 6, as I exited the airport in Accra, the capital city of Ghana, I was awe struck by the sights, people, scents, sounds and energy. I vividly remember riding to the Hansonic Hotel feeling a sense of nostalgia for a place to which I had never been. Not only had I received a grant from Fund for Teachers to complete a service learning project and to volunteer my services at an elementary school, but I had the opportunity to discover Ghana, Africa, for myself.
For the four weeks that I stayed in Ghana I was impressed by the compassion of Ghanaians coupled with their sense of community. One of my colleagues at the Youth Institute of Science and Technology (YIST) simply wanted me to feel “as if I had returned home.” In many ways I did feel as if I had returned to a place with which I held some meaningful connections. My awakening began with my service learning project at YIST. Daily I traveled from my hotel in Konongo to the hills of Agogo. Upon its inception, this school was designed to provide a science- and math- based education for Ghanaian female students. School founders were most eager to combat the illiteracy rates among Ghanaian women. However, due to parent demands, the school now services both male and female students. I was compelled to visit this school because of my growing interest in environmental protection and conservation, as well as alternative and renewable energy. The faculty and students, along with a team of scientists and engineers, had successfully constructed a bio-diesel generator to harvest fuel using palm kernel. Not only did I witness how this project benefited the students of YIST, I also considered how this type of initiative and engagement would enhance the learning of my third grade students.
The Youth Institute of Science and Technology is housed in a modest building. Daily the students are attired in purple and yellow uniforms. The faculty and staff are stern and diligent. Students are jovial and confident in their quests for academic excellence. Despite not having contemporary technological devices, or extensive classroom resources and materials, the students at YIST were tenacious and ardent learners. Even as they sat crowded in their classrooms, the students demonstrated a profound capacity for creativity, resourcefulness and critical analysis. I spent a great deal of time doing teacher observations and analyzing student-teacher interactions. Many of the classes that I taught were designed to assist the students in developing reflective journals and critical analysis of their individual learning processes.
Students began their arrivals to school by 6 a.m. for morning cleanup. Chapel and prayer were scheduled for 7 a.m. A breakfast of porridge and bread was served around 8 a.m. While I enjoyed the cuisine in the many restaurants that I frequented, I most enjoyed the meals prepared in the school “cafeteria.” Each day, Auntie Maggie and Auntie Naomi prepared rice or yam and a local stew or sauce. The food was fresh, robust, and energizing. My experiences with the students and colleagues at YIST were invaluable to me as a professional and as a life-long learner.
The town of Cape Coast proved to be a highlight of my journey. As I hiked through Kakum National Park, I experienced the mesmerizing effects of the African rainforests.
However, it wasn’t until I visited the Cape Coast Castle that I reflected deeply on my life in its broader context. My visit to the Cape Coast Castle resulted in feelings of grief, gratitude, and determination. It is all so true that as you enter the slave dungeons, the holding cells, you can still smell the stench of deplorable and dehumanizing conditions. You can hear the echoes of dying voices. As I stood in a dark dungeon, I caught a glimpse of the miniscule hole that served as the drainpipe for the bodily excretions and fluids of ancestors sold into slavery. I entered into the suffocating cell designed to incarcerate the disobedient and rebellious captive. I closed my eyes and walked through the “Door of No Return” to stand at the port on which slave ships lodged. As I walked back through, I did so with an increased sense of determination, faith, and gratitude.
On July 21, I traveled to Garden City College in Kenyase, Kumasi. Faculty members and students from YIST participated in a college-bound program modeled after the Upward Bound Program. Students in grades 3 through 6 took classes in science, math, and computer technology. Students were exposed to college and campus life. During this initiative, I taught alongside a team of Ghanaian and American instructors. Throughout this experience, I continued to be inspired by the seriousness and vigilance of students and faculty.
Thank you to Fund for Teachers for making this life-changing experience a reality. I am a better educator, student, parent and human being because of my awakening. I am enthusiastic about sharing my new understandings with students and colleagues. My students will have the opportunity to have pen pals with Ghanaian students from YIST. Furthermore, I am developing a learning unit designed to encourage students to be more responsible in their uses of energy and their interactions with our environment.
Entry filed under: Community partners, Teachers. Tags: Atlanta Education Fund, Cape Coast Castle, Dobbs Elementary, Fund for Teachers, Garden City College, Ghana, Kakum National Park, Xylecia Taylor, Youth Institute of Science and Technology.