In November of 2008 four delegates from a suburban Catholic school in the Seattle area traveled to Bamba, Kenya to set up a sister school partnership with an elementary school and a high school. The trip was life changing as we meet brilliant children filled with hope but limited by lack of opportunity. We met parents who wanted a brighter future for their children, who knew that future was dependent on strong educational opportunities. We met dedicated, devoted teachers eager to learn, wanting to provide the best education for their students. But the future of the children we met was filled with challenges. Many of the children were orphans of AIDS, some children worked long hours after school to help provide for their families, girls did not continue school when they began menses as they did not have the proper hygiene items to attend, some children were victims of abuse. But in the eyes of these children, their parents and teachers were hope and a vision for a brighter future through education.
During our visit we had many meetings to listen, to learn, to vision together about our partnership. We signed a covenant of understanding promising to partner with these schools to help them build a brighter tomorrow.
One day a remarkable opportunity was given to Ms. Welch to teach a lesson to a group of high school students, while their teacher and community members watched. The lesson selected by the Kenyan teachers was sexually transmitted diseases. Ms. Welch decided to do an interactive lesson, a skit on how the immune system attacks a virus such as HIV, and how the virus affects the immune system. Students participated as B-cells with bubble soap as antibodies, T-cells with a cardboard knife to represent killer T-cell, a bed sheet for a macrophage. Following the skit, students engaged in a dialogue about how the model represented what happens to a person who contacts HIV. This was a stretch for children who are used to a didactic model of education, which is textbook driven. The most important aspect of this entire lesson was the floodgate of discussion it opened between teachers and MaryMargaret. The teachers asked important questions like how did the teacher assess student learning, how did she cover all of the material, what evidence did she have during the lesson that students were engaged. Teachers told us of their great concern for the low scores student earned on their Maths and Science assessment on their National Exam. They were eager to engage in professional development to learn more about how to make these topics come alive for their students. Ms. Welch couldn’t stop thinking about these teachers, their questions, and the students who sat before her.
In September of 2009, Fr. Lagho came to Seattle for a year-long sabbatical. MaryMargaret and Lagho spent hours discussing how to best partner through educational opportunities. We talked about how to reach the learners in math and science. One day Fr Lagho and Welch hatched an idea to set up a collaborative learning opportunity through math and science that involved student to student and teacher to teacher interactions. Lagho knew that a group of principals were meeting that very day so we called them on their cell phones and shared the idea. They were eager to discuss the proposal further. The eight Vuira partner schools have collaborated on this proposal to birth our vision of a maths/science partnership. They names the organizaiton, SEAVURIA. “Sea” for Seattle and “Vuria” for the Vuria Hills, Kenya, that can be seen from all 8 schools.
Principals and teachers from the Vuria Schools collaborated to determine the scope of the project for the first year. It was determined that the SEAVURIA partnership would focus on an issue of global health significance for this first year and present their findings at the Kenyan Science conference and Seattle Student BioExpo. Technology provides the underpinnings for our project. This collaboration can only be realized through the use of Internet correspondences.