Summer Fellowships: Building Knowledge and Relationships

Summer vacation usually conjures up images of the beach and barbeque, but for Cherene Fillingim-Selk, a Science Resource Teacher at Cragmont and John Muir as well as one of our 2016 Summer Fellows, last summer for Cherene involved digging dirt and cutting thick rebar to help build a water catchment tank in Shirati, Tanzania.

Through the Berkeley Public School Fund’s support, Cherene spent three weeks not only helping to build the water catchment tank, but also teaching 5th and 6th grade English and Science. She was able to volunteer her time and expertise to the non-profit organization, REACH Shirati, which focuses on rural education and community health.

Cherene taught at a school that REACH Shirati founded called “Tina’s School”. With no electricity and 3-6 students sharing one textbook, the conditions were challenging. One difference she noticed immediately was how all of the students stood up when she entered the classroom and then chimed in unison, “Good morning, Madam!” When she greeted them back, they wouldn’t take their seat. The host teacher had to explain to Cherene that they were waiting for her to give them permission to take their seats again.

Cherene had to modify her teaching style not only due to the language barrier, but also due to the different learning styles. The students, obedient and incredibly polite, were used to being lectured to but not to discussing concepts with peers or the teacher. Although Tanzanian students receive English education in school, they needed time to get used to her “American accent” and dialect. Cherene learned to pare down her language to the most elemental vocabulary which has helped her immensely with teaching her ESL students this school year.

Building the water catchment tank was also an invaluable learning experience as Cherene got to apply her mathematical knowledge to solve real-life problems. The water catchment tank is essential because the nearest free water source is Lake Victoria which is four miles away and polluted. She had the chance to be a part of a team figuring out how to best build the tank with limited resources and tools. With the absence of modern machinery, the team had to be creative about digging out a foundation and building a rebar cage by tying concentric circles of rebar together. The entire experience gave her an extra boost of confidence to teach engineering which is heavily emphasized in the new science standards. Cherene explains, “Engineers are presented with problems and they try and solve them in multiple ways. I plan to have more [classroom materials] and vocabulary building based on that.”

It was a memorable summer for Cherene and she “loved every minute” of her fellowship. She has continued her connection with Shirati after having formed a relationship between Cragmont, John Muir and Tina’s School as sister schools. She is currently organizing a penny drive at Cragmont to have each grade level raise $150 to sponsor a student at Tina’s School for a year. She is also working with the Cal Teach program at UC Berkeley to develop a summer abroad program in Shirati for Cal Teach undergrads in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Her summer may have ended but the relationships from Cherene’s 2016 Summer Fellowship continue on. We are so proud to have funded this inspiring and fulfilling trip!