Three Oaks teacher and class connect to Africa

While many VBCPS employees were counting down the days until spring break, Three Oaks Elementary School first-grade teacher Debra Morgan was looking beyond the week off. That’s because she will spend two and a half weeks team teaching in Africa following the break.

“We’re one of the Virginia Beach Global Pathway elementary schools,” Morgan said. “As a result, I applied for a Global Teacher Fellowship and was accepted, and that’s why I will be traveling to Africa after spring break.”

The Virginia Beach Global Pathway Schools (VBGPS) initiative addresses elements of the division’s strategic plan, Compass to 2020. Teachers in these schools incorporate global content and themes into their classroom lessons.

For Morgan, participation in the initiative has created the opportunity of a lifetime. “This is very cool. I took a 10-week course that was very rigorous. Each night I was up until midnight, working on that and still planning for the school day.”

Morgan will teach in Senegal, a country on Africa’s west coast.

“I’m going to Dakar, the capital, first and get a cultural education. Then we will be teamed up and sent out to little towns,” she continued. “We will meet a host teacher and we will team teach. I will be teaching English.”

The entire trip is sponsored by the State Department.

“I hope to learn more about their cultural traditions and observe their educational system,” Morgan said. “And then bring it all back to share with my students.”

Morgan’s first-grade students have their own African tale to share as well. For a second year, her class is fostering four orphaned baby elephants in Kenya.

“One of our global competencies is taking action,” Morgan shared. “So, it’s teaching them that what happens in another country affects us here. So, if the elephants should disappear, it could interrupt the ecosystem, it could affect things that happen here. It’s just to get them exposed to things in the world and elephants and animals are a good thing to do with first-graders.”

It all began when the class sent Flat Stanley to all of the United States embassies in Africa. Flat Stanley is a paper doll that accompanies written notes from students and is sent around the world. Photos of Flat Stanley exploring the world are sent back to the students.

Morgan and her students were excited by one of the responses. “One of ours came back from Ambassador to Kenya Robert Godac. He sent us information about the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT).”

The mission of DSWT is to protect and conserve wildlife and habitats in Kenya, particularly endangered species such as elephants and Black Rhinos. Because one of the global competencies is taking action, the students did just that.

“We tied it into economics and writing,” Morgan explained, “and the students made playdough. They actually made it themselves. They rolled it up, put it in a bag and then sold it here in school. They raised $233 which allows them to foster four baby elephants.”

Most of the elephants are orphaned because of poaching activity in the wild. In addition, large wells dot the Kenyan landscape and some of the elephants fall in and have to be rescued.

“We do this so the elephants will survive,” said William, one of the first-graders. “Because poachers killed their moms and dads for their tusks.”

Morgan added, “We receive reports from Kenya throughout the year. It’s just a great thing for the children.”

The students even took time to say thank you.

“We’re writing letters to the people who are taking care of the elephants,” said first-grade student Carmen. “We are doing this so elephants can live more. I want elephants to live more.”

Morgan hopes the trip will create new ideas to bring back to her classroom.

“I’ve never been to Africa. I have wanted to travel there since I was a little girl, you know, back in the days of Born Free and Save the Lions. Now, it’s happening. I’m getting to go. I can’t wait!”

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