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By Cara Scarola Hansen, Kijana Public Relations Council
September 6, 2022, West Palm Beach, Florida – Mildred Acosta, fourth-grade teacher at Rosarian Academy, spent a portion of her summer fulfilling a longtime personal goal: to volunteer and contribute to the educational development of global communities.
Mildred and her son, seventh-grader Santino Merchan, traveled across the world in July to immerse themselves in the culture of rural western Kenya, teaching and collaborating at a school run by the Kijana Educational Empowerment Initiative.
Kijana, a nonprofit founded by lifelong educator Jim Cummings, operates in the United States, including North Palm Beach, Florida, and in Kenya, promoting and cultivating youth empowerment through educational development, cross-cultural dialogue, and sustainable and environmentally friendly economic growth, among under-served Kenyan school communities and U.S. school communities.
Mildred first heard about Kijana during the 2021-22 school year from Cara Hansen, the parent of one of her first-grade students who has been connected to the global-impact agency for the last 15 years. Knowing her combined passions for teaching, caring for Earth, exploring global and cultural differences, and serving others, Cara shared information about Kijana’s work in altering the educational landscape in Kenya.
More specifically, Cara provided information on Kijana Global Innovation School, a modern pre-kindergarten through 12th grade independent school that Kijana is in the process of building. Cara was impressed by the school’s unique, experiential environmental education program and its accomplished goal to plant 500,000 trees to combat climate change.
“I strongly connected with Cara’s passion for this initiative,” Mildred said. “The conversation ignited a longtime personal goal for me.”
Mildred met with Jim Cummings of Kijana and, within months, booked flights to Nairobi for herself and Santino, and the planning for a cross-cultural teaching and learning experience began.
During her visit, Mildred became involved with Kijana School’s Care, Share, and Explore Program, which aims to teach students to protect and value all life on Earth – human, animal, and plant – and share their teaching and learning with neighboring communities. Mildred and the Kenyan teachers collaborated on classroom set-up, lesson development, and new teaching strategies for presenting phonics lessons and hands-on experiences.
To educate the students on how to care for Earth, they selected The Lorax by Dr. Seuss as a springboard for teachers to use when introducing environmental awareness to their students. Mildred worked side-by-side with the teachers at Kijana School on how to identify environmental themes such as air pollution, deforestation, and water pollution. Further, she guided the teachers in developing the themes into hands-on experiences for students.
Santino worked collaboratively alongside his mother and the teachers. He helped with crafts and activities and assisted the students with developing their skit. In the evenings, Santino interacted with the children who lived nearby, creating objects from recycled materials and exploring the compound.
“The cross-cultural experience was enriching,” Mildred said. “I learned that globally we are seeking the same goals in developing critical thinkers and problem solvers. The Kenyan government’s current Competency Based Curriculum seeks to implement hands-on learning to provide students with authentic experiences that can lead to a more meaningful level of proficiency. Similarly in our community, we also strive to present the curriculum in a manner that is impactful with long lasting results.”
Mildred continued: “I hope that in the near future I have the opportunity to reconnect with the teachers and students in Kenya. As the school year progresses, I would love to develop a pen pal program focused on collaborative discussion on important environmental topics.”
Students and teachers from 20 schools attend a celebration of the planting of 500,000 trees at Kijana Global Innovation School.