With springtime and sunshine FINALLY in the air, our travel teams are in full force as they gear up for their upcoming trips. May through August is when the majority of our teams travel to Sierra Leone. Each year we welcome new travelers. However, we are also thankful for the consistent travelers who come back year after year. They are able to make deeper connections with the kids and the kids look forward to reminding them about what they did the last time they visited.
At the end of May, our education team spent the week in Sierra Leone. Our education teams have been a staple in our travel schedule for many years. Susan Blankenship is a familiar face on the education team. She has traveled for seven years and led the team numerous times. This year, she will be leading a team of eight. Before their trip, she took the time to share about their upcoming trip and to give everyone a better understanding of how an education team differs from a general mission team.
While you do not need to be a teacher to travel, many professionals from the education field have been a part of an education team. Regular classroom teachers, special education teachers, speech-language pathologists, assistant principals and principals, and physical therapists are often staples on the education teams. They bring their unique knowledge and expertise with them to Sierra Leone, working with both the children, teachers, and staff.
The education team is different than many of the other teams that travel throughout the year. Because of their unique agenda, under the guidance of Susan Blankenship, the team meets once a month for six months leading up to the trip. This allows them to strategize and plan. Each year, they have a specific focus. One year, they completed a themed unit called, All About Me. The kids had the opportunity to measure their bodies, make self-portraits, and make fingerprints. The past two years have included a focus on the HOPE room, equipping the caregivers with special education strategies and ways to engage the special needs students. Last year, they completed a variety of S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) activities.
The purpose of the education team is not the same each year. They have spent time training teachers. Sometimes this includes observing the teachers and providing feedback as well as letting the teachers observe the team. Additionally, they have also offered some specific training opportunities for the teachers. The team has also completed reading assessments on the children. They primarily focused their reading assessments on children who were being adopted by families in the U.S. The information gathered from these assessments was used to help adoptive families understand where their children were academically to prepare for their homecoming.
The goal of the education team is to provide the kids with engaging, hands-on, learning experiences. This year, the team has created a variety of “grab bag” math and reading activities and games. These activity bags will be filled with the supplies needed for a specific activity. Each bag will include a one-page instruction sheet explaining how to use the bag. When teams are visiting, they will be able to check out the bags and complete the activities with the kids during free play. These types of activities will help to reinforce critical thinking and comprehension skills throughout the year. Susan shared, “We have noted that a lot of the kids lack reading comprehension and critical thinking skills. It is amazing to engage the kids in authentic learning opportunities and see those skills come alive.”
While on the ground, the education team will also be meeting with the two head caregivers. They are looking to implement a reading and journaling program with the aunties. In May, they will take the time to introduce it. In a collaborative effort, teams will continue to work with the staff and children to implement it throughout the summer. We are looking forward to sharing an update on the bags as well as photos from the education team’s May trip.
Over the last three years, a local business in Brentwood, Tennessee has also partnered with them. The Corner Pub has been sharing their proceeds from the first Monday of each month with the education team. This generous donation will help the team to purchase supplies and materials for the activity bags, additional journaling notebooks, and some general school supplies to donate to the school. We are incredibly grateful for their generous contributions!
As our teams begin to travel in the coming weeks, please join us in prayer. We pray that their hearts are prepared to serve our children in Sierra Leone. We pray for their safety while traveling and while in-country and we pray for the impact they have on our kids at the center. We are looking forward to an exciting travel season and sharing the experiences with you!
The Raining Season