I'm not trying to kill your dreams...

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Brandon Copeland is a linebacker for the New York Jets and has an interesting side gig. Last spring semester he spent Mondays in a University of Pennsylvania classroom teaching a class in financial literacy with Dr. Brian Peterson. The class, called “Life 101,” was created to give college students practical lessons on finances, such as budgeting and investing, like understanding the benefits of a traditional 401K or a Roth IRA. Copeland is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, interned 2 summers at UBS and runs his own real-estate business. 

“I don’t care if you’re an engineering student, a nursing student, if you’re going to build rockets when you grow up or if you’re going to sweep floors,” Copeland said. “You’re going to have to use something in this class.” Copeland practices what he preaches; he has saved 90% of his income. Copeland has a special way of connecting with students and many of them were surprised at his teaching skills. "The point is to go through the realities of life and all these things we have to deal with," he said. "If you make a financial mistake, you can end up paying for that mistake for 30 years of your life. The goal is to have the students in my class be able to make these big decisions and make them more confidently. I tell them, 'I'm not trying to kill your dreams — I'm trying to enable your dreams.'"

Financial literacy is not just important to college students in the United States. Impact Network has partnered with Mwabu and Financial Sector Deepening Zambia (FSDZ) to deliver a financial education curriculum for both school learners and young women in Zambia. The project, started earlier this year, involves creating a blended learning and certification program that combines face-to-face and virtual education. The lessons have been well received and appreciated by each group involved, with participants feeling that what they had learned would help them to plan, save and budget their money.

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The aim of the project is to reach 15,000 learners and it will wrap up later this year. Project facilitators are excited about the impact, as one of them noted, the content includes “knowing the basics of money, being financially fit, developing good financial habits and being able to save money. Financial education is important to women and girls of Katete because it will help them become confident and make good financial decisions. My greater hopes for this project are that women and girls will have greater income opportunities across Katete and Zambia at large.”

-Katie

We do language

This week, the world lost one of the greatest writers of our time.

The first time I picked up a Toni Morrison book, I was in my late teens and was assigned The Bluest Eye for a class I was taking. I remember feeling drawn into the myriad of stories that she crafted skillfully – but also feeling like I was learning about someone else’s experience for the first time. It felt like I was reading poetry, but I didn’t have to work quite as hard at it. The Bluest Eye was Morrison’s debut novel, written in the early morning hours before her children woke up. She went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved in 1988 and the Nobel Prize in Literature just five years later.

I could go on and list her never-ending list of accolades, but the most impressive thing about Toni Morrison to me is how much she paved the way for other writers. So many of the books I enjoy today were influenced by Morrison’s storytelling, her honesty, and her identity. She found a way to break through the surface, to be prolific and beloved, to be critically acclaimed but also a best seller. She told history through fiction and before her words, I didn’t know that was possible.

I spent some time this weekend reading and re-reading some of her words, and in particular, her Nobel Prize acceptance speech. In it, she says:

Be it grand or slender, burrowing, blasting, or refusing to sanctify; whether it laughs out loud or is a cry without an alphabet, the choice word, the chosen silence, unmolested language surges toward knowledge, not its destruction. But who does not know of literature banned because it is interrogative; discredited because it is critical; erased because alternate? And how many are outraged by the thought of a self-ravaged tongue?

Word-work is sublime, she thinks, because it is generative; it makes meaning that secures our difference, our human difference – the way in which we are like no other life.

We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.

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I sort of wondered at that last statement – We do language, that may be the measure of our lives. In today’s world, it was a reminder to me, to be more careful with the words I choose, the words I choose to consume, and maybe most importantly – the words I choose not to consume. May she rest in peace.

The full speech is available here: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1993/morrison/lecture/

-Reshma

21st Century Skills for the Future

Over the past month Impact Network has actively been thinking about how we can expand upon our existing curriculum to ensure that we set our students up for success in the years to come. But how do you prepare young people for the future, when you don’t know what the future will look like?

In the past, a mastery of core academic subjects was a testament to a good education and would ensure a pupil a job upon graduation. But in today’s increasingly globalized, interconnected and rapidly changing world, the value for content knowledge and memorization is less important with access to information available to anyone with a smartphone. Today, 21st century skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration are more important for students than ever before!

Students need to be able to navigate increasingly complex societies with a critical lens, creativity and effective communication. To be able to thrive they need to collaborate with their peers and engage with information and communications technologies to solve multifaceted problems. Moving away from rote-memorization and archaic ways of teaching and learning, young people need to be equipped with foundational literacies (literacy, numeracy, ICT literacy, financial literacy etc.)key competencies (critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication) and a range of character qualities (curiosity, initiative, persistence, adaptability, leadership), which will allow them to conquer challenges thrown at them in the future.

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In addition to utilizing 21st century skills, Impact Network wants students to care more for the climate, human rights, gender equality and leading healthy and happy lives. Being a global citizen and caring about everyone’s collective wellbeing feels more important now than ever before.

As we take on this project to expand upon the values, content and skills promoted through our classrooms and curriculum, we are redefining what we want young people to be able to do in the future!

Over the coming months a team of staff at Impact Network will be grappling with all of these questions and ideas on how to make them a reality within our context. Stay tuned to how the project unfolds, with more updates to come. Onwards and Upwards!

-Felicia

The language of mathematics...

Next month marks the birth date of a somewhat obscure mathematician – Giuseppe Peano. Born in 1958 in Piedmont, Italy, Peano was born and raised on a farm, going to school locally before attending the University of Turin. It was in Turin that Peano realized his love and talent in mathematics, and graduated with a doctorate in maths in 1880.

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While you likely have not heard of Peano, you most definitely know and have likely used his inventions. That’s because Peano essentially was the founder of symbolic logic – using symbols to convey mathematical equations. In 1891, Peano started The Forumulario Project – designed to be an Encyclopedia of Mathematics containing all known theories and formulas using a standard notation that he invented. The first five book sets were released in 1895, and contained much of the notation we use today – including ∃ and ∩. Peano wanted to create a language of mathematics that was more easily understood by individuals, regardless of their mother tongue. To that end, he went on to create an international auxiliary language called Latino sine flexione, which used Latin language but simplified the grammar and removed inconsistencies.

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Peano’s work is a simple example of the thousands of inventors, mathematicians, linguists, and scientists who have brought mathematics and the language of mathematics to where it is today. When our Impact Network scholars learn about sets, algebra, etc. they learn the same mathematical language that I learned, and that you learned. When mathematicians from around the world work together, they can do so by practically speaking to each other in one common language. Both of these things happen because of Peano and his followers and their quest to create an international language. In my time with Impact Network, I have observed scores of teachers and hundreds of lessons that cover multiple subject areas. But the ones that are the most engaging for me to watch are the lessons in maths, because regardless of the language of instruction, I can follow along, and I can see whether our students are following as well. And more than that, this universal language ties together nations towards a common goal of understanding and progress.

-Reshma




Congrats to the USWNST!

Soccer / football is hands-down, the most popular sport internationally. While I was living in Comoros, the sport became my life – young boys in the village playing pick-up games by my house, watching Messi on a projector at a corner store and even rooting for the national Comorian team as they played against Mauritius in the season finale. Everywhere I went, I saw this brotherhood of men of all ages coming together under a common cause. Soccer was a blessing for everyone in Comoros; it gave them something to look forward to after a long day of school and work. And I was lucky enough to experience that – as an outsider, and more importantly, as a female. I was in spaces that other women were often neglected from, and I took those times for granted.

It was until two weeks ago that I saw women playing soccer for the first time.  Now, I’m not the biggest soccer fan, but when the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNST) achieved their glorious victory over the Netherlands, I did my due diligence to post it all over social media (in true Millennial fashion).

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But aside from their big win, it was the deep and complicated discussion around gender equality, pay and other rights that continued to permeate the public sphere long after the celebration. Even before the major win, players like Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, made headlines with their demands to the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) – more resources, higher salaries, better promotions and training. Long before that, all 28 members of the USWNST filed a lawsuit against the USSF for the same demands on International Women’s Day of this year. Not only did this draw attention to the inequities in major sports leagues, but it garnished a larger group of people (fans of soccer or not) that supported the team’s actions off the field. In just months, the USWNST has transcended sports in an unparalleled way, creating a larger cultural war with a lasting impact for women in the sports domain and beyond.

Although we all can’t be the next Rapinoe, this small feat seems to help young women from all walks of life feel empowered to question the status quo. The timing couldn’t be more perfect as Impact Network kicks off another season of NetGirls, a netball tournament exclusively for girls in rural villages around Katete district in Eastern Zambia. Like in the U.S., NetGirls proves that giving girls the opportunity to play sports has awesome benefits, including: breaking down gender stereotypes, building leadership skills, expanding social networks, providing female mentorship and role models, teaching teamwork, building self-esteem and improving happiness through healthy, social organized activities.

With 100 teams and over 1,200 girls, each new season only gets better!

Congratulations to the USWNST and to each and every one of our players facing off on Saturday.

-Sabrina Taveras

Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit

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There is an old saying "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy". Learners are not machines, they can lose focus and concentration if extracurricular activities are not incorporated. Academics may agree that covering a rigorous academic curriculum is important for students to achieve their academic pursuits, but they can also agree that concentrating on class work alone may leave some learner talents unfulfilled. So while students are focused during the school year on doing the hard work of learning, reading, and preparing for end-of-term and end-of-year tests, we also recognize that even the great footballers of our country discovered their talents while they were at school during extracurricular activities. And they have excelled, become heroes and survived on their talents.

It is against this background that Impact Network is nurturing the learners to not only excel academically but also in their social wellbeing. During week 7 of this school term, we held activities that revitalized our students and teachers, and re-committed their minds to carry on with the rest of the term’s school programs. These activities were aimed at promoting the physical, social and emotional wellbeing of our incredible students, and included activities such as football, netball, debate and quiz. They have energized and helped our students relax their minds and rejuvenate their brains. With this, students will refocus their energy towards the academic goals and tasks ahead. It is our belief that a balance between schemes of work and recreation is the proper way to keep the mind and body in trim shape. Just as B.K.S Iyengar said “Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit”.

Across our Katete West schools, a well-organized tournament was conducted and students across all schools participated in both football and netball. The knock-out games were conducted on Thursday and the final games were hosted at Joel. It was a great opportunity for the learners and teachers to showcase their sports talent. The tournament saw Zatose School emerging netball winner and Mkale emerged as football champions. Congratulations to our incredible students!

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-Amos

A ribbon cutting for the ages!

On June 18, we had the incredible opportunity of hosting a ribbon cutting ceremony at the recently constructed classroom block at Kanyelele. The much-needed structure was one of three made possible by a grant from the Bayer Fund, with the other two located at Joel and Chadzuma schools.

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A huge thanks to the Katete site managers who did a fantastic job of making arrangements for our esteemed guests! Our team has gotten so amazing at hosting visitors and they certainly did a fantastic job with this one.  The teachers and students took great pride in tidying the grounds and making a welcome sign for the honorees. The students’ excitement was palpable and they were so thrilled to participate in the momentous event.

An impressive attendance list included parents and PTA committee members, local headmen, a representative of the District Education Board Secretary, our incredible students, and visiting guests representing the Bayer Fund. 

For entertainment, the school choir sang 3 songs, students in full costume performed a comedy that had everyone laughing, and last group of students performed a lovely poem their teachers helped them prepare that expressed their gratitude. To top it all off, a Nyau was performed, much to the delight of the students and community members!

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Ndavi Muia from Bayer and Ms Mbewe cut the ribbon together and the key handover followed. It was great day and the classroom block will be appreciated for many years to come. The generosity of our donors and supporters allows us to continue to serve our 6,000 scholars each year. Without them, we would have to turn students away and would not be able to serve all of the communities within our reach. A huge thank you to the team from Bayer who supported us during this time!

-Karly

Fostering a Love of Reading

Happy Readers – A Targeted Reading Intervention Laying Strong Foundations and Fostering a Love for Reading

As an educationalist I am continuously exploring how to improve literacy levels in schools. I wake up in the morning and endlessly ponder what Impact Network can do to ensure that our students are given the best opportunities of learning how to read. I spend my days looking at data, reviewing student assessments, talking to staff and researching interventions. (Yes – some would absolutely call me a nerd.) But in a country where reading levels remain very low, with only 63% of the population literate, the importance of gaining the key and basic reading skills in primary school is more important than ever.

For the past year and a half, Impact Network has been experimenting with reading interventions for students in grade 4 and 5 across schools after initial assessments showed that students in grade 5 were significantly struggling to read at the required level. At the start of grade 5, as required by the Government of Zambia, the language of instruction changes from Chinyanja (the local language) to English, which is a particularly challenging transition for students. By starting with targeted English reading interventions in grade 4, the idea has been that students will be more prepared for this transition. After one year of testing different resources, the team finally settled on one approach to be rolled out across schools.

At the start of 2019, the Happy Readers project started with a new approach and new reading resources for all students in grades 4 and 5. All students were assessed in reading and grouped by ability. Since February, all reading groups, which consist of 5-6 students have met multiple times a week and read books appropriate for their level with the support of a School Support Officer.

Over the past 2 weeks, a team of assessors have gone back the schools to see how the reading levels of the students there have changed in the past 5 months. Although reading levels take a lot of time to improve, the preliminary results after only 5 months look promising. The number of 0-scores has decreased significantly and students are reading faster and with more confidence. Looking at the results, I am so proud of all the students who made incredible strides in learning to read English.

Even though I am profoundly excited about how this intervention is equipping our students with the necessary reading skills, the point that has really stuck me is just how happy our students are to read. Witnessing a group of grade 4 students last week giggle hysterically when reading how the main character Hippo falls into his birthday cake was such a joy to see. Not only are our students gaining the skills that will transform their lives, but they are having a wonderful time exploring books and opening their minds to a world of possibilities.

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-Felicia Dahlquist

The scholars who broke the spelling bee

Last month, while I tried to follow the NBA championships from Zambia (hurray Raptors!) – I was also captivated by another championship. The Scripps National Spelling Bee is held each year in Washington, D.C., pitting students under the age of 15 against one another in a fierce competition of language – a competition so intense that it airs on ESPN.

And this year, something unprecedented happened. 

The judges ran out of words to challenge these young scholars and declared an eight-way tie. The champions and the words they spelled correctly:

·         Rishik Gandhasri, age 13: auslaut

·         Erin Howard, age 14: erysipelas

·         Saketh Sundar, age 13: bougainvillea

·         Shruthika Padhy, age 13: aiguillette

·         Sohum Sukhatankar, age 13: pendeloque

·         Abhijay Kodali, age 12: palama

·         Christopher Serrao, age 13: cernuous.

(I admit to knowing none of these words).

While some may claim that the words themselves were too easy for this Spelling Bee – the main consensus is that spellers have gotten that good. It’s hard to challenge them. It’s increasingly hard to challenge them on words that have not been used in previous spelling bees. And more than both of those, they now have better tools to study. Students preparing for the spelling bee often have coaches who help them identify study techniques, help to prepare them, and give them the resources and skills they need to compete well. And, there is now a computer program that helps to drill students on difficult words – in fact SpellPundit (as it’s called) claims that 6 of the 8 champions from this year’s competition used it to study.

What’s remarkable about this story is how eerily simple some of this seems – it comes down to tools, teachers, and time. These 8 champions didn’t get lucky – they put in extraordinary amounts of time, they engaged and focused, and they had incredibly support around them. And so it is for our 6,000 students – providing that support to our students is what motivates each of us, every day, to improve, to change, to innovate, and to endure.

-Reshma

As iron sharpens iron

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

—Proverbs 27:17

In the same way that iron sharpen iron, teacher sharpens teacher – these are the words we live by every term during week 7. Teachers gather to sharpen their skills and their peers’ skills to improve lesson delivery. There is mutual benefit in the rubbing of two iron blades together; the edges become sharper, making the knives more efficient in their task to cut and slice. Likewise, teachers sharpen during communities of practice – a leveled platform where all teachers, both struggling and excellent, share their classroom issues and burdens, advise on how best to handle them, and get relief when best practices are shared.

During the daily grind of teaching, most of our teachers’ time is centered on lesson preparation and delivery, not on honing their skills and serving as a sounding board for their peers and mentors. In far too many instances, the only time that a teacher is helped is during teacher training and coaching. However, this inhibits the teachers from sharing all of their challenges – there is not always the time to go into detail on the issues a teacher is facing in a classroom. However, during the communities of practice, teachers tend to open up and share on their specific obstacles to success in the classroom. They share these challenges in small groups, and then other teachers help provide positive solutions.

A knife that has been sharpened will also shine more because all the dullness has been rubbed off its surface. Likewise, Impact Network teachers have a chance to shine once they have been able to receive support, guidance, and mentorship through communities of practice!

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-Amos