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  • 1 Nov 2023 9:17 AM | Chris Ouellette (Administrator)

    (I Studied) The Routes I Took

    by Chris Ouellette

    NEALS' President

    Director of Learning Support, Emma Willard

    Hello Folx,

         Happy November to you! I hope that your spooky season went smoothly as you supported our youth! We recently received our mid-term grades for the first term, and it's no surprise that this is the period when an increasing number of students proactively reach out to schedule meetings to discuss and enhance their study habits. Before I embark on sharing my insights with these young individuals, I took the time to seek out inspiring quotes on the subject of studying. Whether the wisdom originated from notable figures such as Malcolm X, Gandhi, Abigail Adams, or KRS-ONE, the underlying message remained consistent: achieving a successful education requires dedicated effort and profound thinking. When considering how to impart my guidance to students, I draw inspiration from the words of Jay-Z who aptly reminds us that "nobody's built like you, you design yourself."

         We recognize that every learner is unique, with individualized systems that work best for them. However, it's all too common in the independent school environment to find systems that tend to favor a one-size-fits-all approach. Students are often encouraged to participate in structured study programs, allocate more time for teacher meetings (even when teachers are unavailable), and are advised to put in extra effort to create flashcards or dedicate more time to reviewing their notes. Independent schools frequently impose the same structures on all students who have earned a C- or below during a reporting period. If I cannot deconstruct these review structures in favor of transforming them into personalized conversations, I must redirect my attention towards reforming these one-size-fits-all systems. While we should strive to individualize our approach as much as possible, there are a couple of slight shifts I recommend each student take a look at attempting:

    Length of Time

         Many students come in to tell me that they are devoting hours and hours of time towards studying for a specific test, and oftentimes they report finding success that doesn’t match those hours of studying. I almost always ask students if they are cramming or spacing. Most of my students end up sharing stories of filling the two to three nights before a big test with multiple hours devoted solely to studying (memorizing). I choose to share with them that they may find better results if they shifted to studying using the spacing technique. Exactly what it sounds like, spacing is centered on multiple smaller study sessions spread out over more days:

    (Hendrick and Caviglioli, innerdrive.co.uk)

    One of the interesting pieces that I encounter are the student reactions to the idea of only studying for 30 minutes at a time. I ask students to do a quick search which yields results on our ability to maintain focus at anywhere from 10-90 minutes before a break is needed.  I then remind them that it is whatever works best to maximize their results, and we move on.


         Students often report receiving instructions to reread their notes or review practice problems if they wish to prepare for the next assessment. However, we understand that these approaches are rather passive when it comes to engaging with information. To significantly enhance retention, it's crucial to adopt a more active approach. Some quick and easy recommendations I provide include trying to summarize each concept from memory, attempting to teach a subject to someone else, or partnering up for quiz-style studying. One of the newer concepts I've discovered and started recommending is the idea of interleaving which involves mixing up your study of concepts within a broader topic. Instead of studying each full concept within a topic in a linear fashion, you intertwine concepts with each other:

      (Busch, Watson, Bogatchek, @Inner_Drive).

    This approach helps students accomplish three specific things. First, it provides an opportunity for discrimination learning, allowing them to identify differences between similar things. Second, it assists in remembering the similarities between different things. Third, it naturally creates spacing within concepts (Busch, Watson, Bogatchek).

         There are numerous changes that students can make to improve their study habits. They don't necessarily have to make major shifts, especially if they are uncomfortable doing so. However, the willingness to adapt their habits is just as crucial as acquiring new tools. If a student can recognize that their current habits aren't yielding success and can also identify which adjustments might be comfortable to try out, then they are well on their way to achieving success. 



  • 2 Oct 2023 9:19 AM | Chris Ouellette (Administrator)

    More Curious than Certain, Though Still Human

    by Chris Ouellette

    Director of Learning Support, Emma Willard

    NEALS' President

    Hello Folx,

    Happy October to you all! I hope that your September was both reinvigorating and fruitful as the students returned to being within your walls! When I was selected to become a Leadership + Design fellow for the 2021-2022 school year I was asked to live the phrase “Be More Curious than Certain”. This phrase was one that I wrestled with at first because I thought, of course there were moments that could have certainty. How could we ignore facts? The phrase really clicked in for me when I realized that being more curious than certain was important when there was a human element involved. I was so excited to go back and try out my new phrase. As you can probably imagine, the first time I led with “I am curious about the choice to…”, I was met with some frustration at my choice of words. My colleagues did not believe that I was actually curious about the choice, and felt as if I was just sugar-coating the fact that I thought they were wrong. 

    The truth is, my colleagues were right. I learned that once your colleagues feel that you are telling them that they are wrong, it doesn’t matter if you were actually curious. This fact was challenging to wrestle with. Last year, we had Monica Guzmán come to campus to discuss her book I Never Thought of it That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times. Similar to L+D, Monica encourages her readers to lead with curiosity. Many of my colleagues asked questions about how to respond when “it feels like the other person already has an opinion”. Her answer was simple: “Of course the other person has an opinion already, they are human, and that doesn’t mean that they aren’t curious”. While I felt validated by this response, it meant that I also had some significant work to do with my colleagues. 

    My task was clear: how could I help my colleagues see that I cared about what they had to say, even if my previous actions would indicate that I disagreed? Clear, definitely not simple! My ultimate decision was to dive more deeply into the relationships I was developing with my colleagues. It felt right to show how much I cared, and how much I valued their input (which wasn’t any different than when I first said “I am curious”). I also took a pause from leading with “I am curious about the choice to”. I hadn’t lost my curiosity, in fact, it had grown. I just wanted to make sure that my colleagues felt my care first and foremost. 

    This year I have been committed to a return to leading with “I am curious about”. It has landed with mixed results, though they have been far more positive. Most recently, I was having a conversation with a colleague about a choice around a student’s strong Covid concerns. Before I could share that I was curious, my colleague felt my disagreement. Though they felt judged initially, after a quick reminder about humans and opinions, we dove into my curiosity around the choice. This allowed us to create a stronger solution together! I am committed to seeing this phrase through. I know that the journey will be bumpy at times, and it helps me to continue remembering the words of the GZA, “live a life full of humility, gratitude, intellectual curiosity, and never stop learning”. 



  • 1 Sep 2023 7:21 AM | Chris Ouellette (Administrator)

    Back to School with NEALS

    By: Chris Ouellette, President of NEALS and Director of Learning Support at Emma Willard School

    Happy September Folx! As I sit here thinking about our upcoming orientations for new faculty and the full school, I can’t help but hope for a shared and worthwhile experience. Priya Parker reminds us in The Art of Gathering that, “the first step in convening people meaningfully” is “committing to a bold, sharp purpose”. That purpose for opening meetings is to engage with the evolution of our communities as new and returning folx merge with the goal of best serving our students. Equally as important as thinking about coming together is the need to remember who you are bringing to your community, your signature presence. I wanted to share three tips that could help you reflect on your role within the start of the year using the Liberatory Design mindsets from the National Equity Project as a framework. 

    -Practice Self-Awareness: We have to start by looking in the mirror if we want to be an effective partner for our colleagues. We should want to see how “our perspectives impact our practice,” so we need to examine our biases to “increase our capacity to work with humility, curiosity, and courage”. The Leadership + Design sticker on my water bottle, “be more curious than certain”, provides a mantra that can support the start of the year, should we all strive to reach it.

    -Share, Don’t Sell: We are often bringing a set of knowledge and skills to the group that many of our colleagues might not have experienced on their journey to the current spot. We work in a world that requires a yes from our teachers. It is tempting to want to try “to convince them of value” with the information that we provide. The work of the learning specialist will only be strengthened through the partnership with teachers. This is also where I struggle the most.

    -Build Relational Trust: This one feels obvious, and it is also good to remind ourselves of this. When we “invest in relationships with intention”, we are better able to ensure that students receive the support that they are needing within those grey area moments. During orientation and beyond, make sure to work to “invest in each other” so that you can “develop trust, share openly, and collaborate authentically”. 

    Doug E. Fresh tells us that “hip-hop is supposed to uplift and create, to educate people on a larger level and to make a change”. We can’t begin to make that change happen within education if we don’t start and attend to the continuous process of building and shaping our communities from the jump. 



  • 10 Aug 2023 10:29 AM | Laura Foody (Administrator)

    Happy August Folx! 

    It is with great excitement, hope, and humility that I share with you that I have stepped into the role of President of the NEALS organization for the 2023-2024 year! My name is Chris Ouellette, and I have been involved with NEALS for nearly a decade, serving as regional and communications coordinator, vice-president of the board, and most importantly, a member.

    I am about to begin my 22nd year working in the field of special education, working in public schools, and in therapeutic, alternative, and girl-centered boarding schools. I have worked in independent schools for the last 12 years and have served as a program director for the last six.

    My current position is as the Inaugural Director of Learning Support and as a Learning Specialist at the girl-centered community of the Emma Willard School in Troy, NY.

    My NEALS mentors are two wonderful humans who set phenomenal examples for me to learn from. Their hard work sets a high bar, and it would be impossible to detail all their accomplishments in this letter. As I watched Susan Cole Ross lead NEALS up to and through our 20th anniversary and watched Laura Foody lead us through a global pandemic and a shift to virtual programming, my admiration and respect grew. They are indeed education leaders to emulate.

    The NEALS board will be holding our annual retreat in August, and we are looking forward to the following:

    • Getting back to being in person together regularly. One of the best parts about NEALS for me is the connections we can foster with the other humans doing this work. While the virtual world allowed for connection in crisis, it was a meager substitute for the energy generated when we are together in person. Please look for more in person regional meetings to begin populating as the school year begins. These events can be found on the NEALS Events section of our website. 

    • Continuing virtual NEALS’ Table Talks. We saw strong attendance at our virtual offerings this past year, so we are committed to continuing these. Particularly since we know some of our members still can’t connect in person for various reasons.

    • We have started a relationship with Red Purse Marketing to deliver better communication and content to our membership. This President’s Letter is coming to you in the first newsletter curated by the wonderful team at Red Purse.

    • Sharing the resources from our annual conference in April 2023, focused on: Harnessing the Power of Evolving Technology with Rachael ‘Shelley’ Haven. 

    • NEALS’ 25th Anniversary! It is quite awesome that this organization has been around for so long bringing Learning Specialists and other special educators together. We are planning on being in person at this year’s annual conference. Please stay tuned for more information to come! 

    This organization has been a strong place of knowledge, information, and camaraderie for me since I discovered it just under a decade ago. I look forward to continuing and strengthening those things that I believe we do very well.

    Rick Ross tells us “How many people you bless is how you measure success”, so I look forward to supporting this group of educators as we grow both individually, and together as a community of learning specialists.


  • 5 Jun 2023 3:47 PM | Laura Foody (Administrator)

    Dear NEALS Members and Supporters,

    I am sitting at my desk writing my last President’s letter for NEALS.  My term is ending this month, and I wanted to thank all of you for helping NEALS stay strong these past three years.  It was a challenge to pivot over and over to continue to provide services and support to our members; I am proud to say that we continued to provide excellent programming and networking opportunities while the world processed the COVID pandemic.  Working with the NEALS Board helped me stay afloat during the pandemic and I urge all of you to consider taking on a more active role with this wonderful organization.

    I am now looking forward to my professional growth and wanted to share some of my summer plans with you.

    I am beginning my summer break with a quick sentence writing workshop by Think SRSD.  This evidence-based program breaks down the writing process into explicit steps.  I am looking forward to better explaining to students how to write high-quality sentences.

    This summer, I am working with Horizons at Dedham Country Day School.  I will be providing reading support to students from Boston and Dedham Public and Charter Schools.  This is a great program.  I love to share my joy of learning with students who are not familiar with the independent school experience.  I urge you to investigate whether there is a Horizons program near you and find out how you can help support it. 

    I am also taking an online course created by our own member, Caryl Frankenberger.  She has made a wonderful certificate program about how to better address the needs of our diverse learners at independent schools.  Here is a little blurb about it:

    Understanding Diverse Learning Profiles is a six-modular online course that people can take at their leisure. We cover the most salient learning challenges (dyslexia, ADHD, executive functioning, processing speed/working memory, anxiety, pink flags of autism spectrum) because all schools have students who have some of these issues.

    Our other modules address misconceptions we bring to our work about students who have learning challenges; how to read and interpret psychoeducational/neuropsychological evaluations; questions you can ask in the admissions process or in the classroom to get a clearer understanding of the students you interview/teach; classroom strategies for all learners; and then a case study.

    I am looking forward to sharing this program with my school colleagues so that we can learn more about how to accept and support all our students and hope you investigate it as well.

    And finally, I am taking a summer course through the Harvard Graduate School of Education on Instructional Leadership.  This program is helping me learn how I can better mentor, coach, and support my classroom colleagues.  I have been very pleased with the coursework I’ve done with Harvard GSE and encourage you to investigate their programs.

    Thank you all for being a part of NEALS.  I wish you a wonderful summer and I look forward to seeing you at our events during the 2023-24 school year.  


    Laura Foody

  • 13 Apr 2023 11:18 AM | Chris Ouellette (Administrator)

    The Intentionality of Gathering Together

    by Chris Ouellette, NEALS VP, Director of Learning Support at Emma Willard

    Happy April Folx! 

    Last night, the NEALS Board finished up our final meeting before the April virtual conference on 4/28. I greatly appreciate the connections that I have been able to form through my work with this small group. Priya Parker tells us in the first line of her book The Art of Gathering that “the way we gather matters” (2018). She goes on to define gathering as “the conscious bringing together of people for a reason” (2018). My thoughts have been focused on coming together and building community for quite some time now. When Covid shut the world down in March of 2020, my partner Jennifer and I hosted all of the members of the Darrow campus bubble regularly throughout the Spring and Summer for outdoor frivolities. We were able to keep morale and spirit up through the conscious effort of building that community bubble. The great privilege in having the ability to do that is not lost on me.

    Recently over Spring Break, Jennifer and I spent time in Boulder, CO. working with the Leadership + Design folx as participants in their Badass Facilitator Training. The days spent building community and learning by doing with other school leaders feels like it is already lending itself towards positive momentum forward! One of the most simple phrases that was shared with us from the mouth of Greg Bamford was that “when facilitating, your main task is to show up and be helpful” (2023). This certainly does not mean that you merely fly by the seat of your pants as you go with the flow, “don’t be a chill host” Parker reminds us. It means that you are ready to read the room and shift as needed, leading the group on “their journey, not yours” (L+D, 2023).

    I have begun to meet more regularly with some of our younger leaders. I had been having conversations in the fall where my colleagues were sharing similar frustrations to the ones I had been having, and by channeling the “go get your learning” L+D mantra combined with the idea that “leadership is lonely” (Center for Creative Leadership), I have been offering up articles, clips, books, and time so that we can begin to gain a shared understanding around pedagogy and approach, and begin to build our community within a community, just as Dr. Ruha Benjamin told us to do it when we were lucky enough to have her visit our campus back in the fall. 

    The NEALS world has been mostly virtual for a couple of years now. This year we have decided to utilize a two-pronged approach for our annual conference: A virtual offering on Friday 4/28/23, followed by in-person regional gatherings that have already started to populate on the website. Friday we will have the opportunity to work with Rachael “Shelley” Haven, ATP, RET, BSME, as she leads us on a journey through the world of Generative AI and technology to support our own practices! As we move forward into the month of May, the following gatherings will be happening in person:

    -NH/ME/VT will see a regional gathering on 5/10 at 4:30p at SawBelly Brewing in Exeter, NH. Register through the events page on the website.  

    -CT/Eastern NY will see a regional gathering on 5/12 from 12:30-2:30p at the Kent School in Kent, CT. Register through the events page on the website.  

    -Northern MA/NH will see a regional gathering on 5/16 from 2:00-4:00p at the Pike School in Andover, MA. Register through the events page on the website.

    As we get ready to connect again, I will leave you with another quote from Priya Parker, “Every time people gather, they are being brought into the opportunity to help one another, to do what they couldn’t do, think up, or heal alone” (2018). 

    I am truly looking forward to the opportunity to do something together!



    *We are looking for passionate humans who will be able to help us expand our board. If you have any interest in joining the NEALS board for 2023-2024, please reach out to Chris Ouellette, couellette@emmawillard.org.

  • 31 Mar 2023 1:49 PM | Chris Ouellette (Administrator)

    Spring Into Your Reading!

    by Chris Ouellette, Director of Learning Support, Emma Willard, NEALS VP

    Hello Folx!

    Happy final day of March! I hope that the start of your spring season has gone as smoothly as you need. If not, I appreciate your resilience and power! 

    As I close out this incredibly hectic month (multiple conferences and a hiring process), I thought it would be good to take a moment to pause and think about my own professional development. One of the ways I am able to stay current is through reading. I dive into articles regularly, though, oftentimes I find myself lacking the time to fully engage with books. In an effort to “go get my learning" (Leadership + Design), I find myself in the midst of reading several books that I believe will be useful going forward. Since NEALS has been delivering book talks through the Table Talk Discussions, I wanted to share the list of books I am reading or re-reading currently:

    -Grading for Equity by Joe Feldman (2016)

    -Equity-Centered Trauma-Informed Education by Alex Shevrin Venet (2021)

    -Visual Thinking by Temple Grandin (2022)

    -How to Walk by Thich Nhat Hanh (2015)

    -A School Leader’s Guide to Standards-Based Grading by Tammy Heflebower, Jan K. Hoegh, & Philip B. Warrick (2014)

    -The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker (2018)

    -Design for Belonging by Susie Wise (Stanford d.school) (2022)

    -Neuro Teach by Glenn Whitman and Ian Kelleher (2016)

    -15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, & Kaley Warner Klemp (2015)

    Good luck as you dive into April, hoping we see you on the 28th for our virtual conference!



  • 2 Feb 2023 8:23 AM | Chris Ouellette (Administrator)

    How to Help Your Child with Homework

    By Sarah Bramble, M.S. 

    Grades 5 and 6 Learning Specialist

    Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart

    (Adapted from a letter to parents at Stone Ridge, an all-girls independent school in Bethesda, Maryland.)

    Parents often ask how they can best support their children with homework. Should I step back completely? Should I let her be completely independent? Should I ask if she would like assistance? Should I just check in occasionally? As with most questions relating to our children, the answer is: it depends. 

    From a brain-science perspective, the middle-school years are an opportune time for children to acquire and hone good study skills and homework habits. 

    Homework is assigned as a natural extension of the educational program, as well as to promote self-discipline, responsibility, and decision-making. Homework is a formative assessment tool, designed to reinforce what has been taught in class, to prepare students for upcoming lessons, and to help students develop good study habits, time management, and organizational skills. It should be completed individually and without parental involvement or oversight, unless otherwise noted.

    Ideally and aspirationally, students will have–or move toward–full autonomy in the realm of homework. However, for students who are new to a school or are still developing their time management or organizational skills, a bit of parental guidance may be needed temporarily to help scaffold the sort of executive function toolbox needed for effective homework completion. So, aside from completing homework for children, which sends the message that the child is incapable of doing the work, what might a parent do if he or she sees that their child is struggling either with a specific assignment or with homework completion in general? 

    First, consider all the pieces our children are beginning to juggle as middle schoolers. Often students have a different teacher for each content area. Their days are full, and many have a full roster of activities after school. We ask our children to plan ahead for assignments, projects, and assessments, more of which are long-term assignments as they progress through the grade levels. They must master these new skills alongside navigating big social, emotional, and physical changes. No wonder it’s challenging! 

    Also, remember that helping a Grade 5 student is very different from helping a Grade 8 student. Whereas a 10-year-old may enjoy organizing and be fairly conscientious about doing homework, she is still developing the necessary skills to be successful and may need guidance. A 13-year-old, on the other hand, may crave independence and want to decide which school supplies she prefers and where she likes to study. You’ll be in a good position if you spend some time standing on the sidelines and observing. Avoid rushing to help at the first (or second) sign of distress. Our kids are resilient, and most have the means to traverse road bumps on their own when given that space.

    If you (and your child) feel that some help is needed, carefully limit your assistance to the organization of time, processes, materials, and space. 

    • Start with modeling. Think out loud as you’re breaking down your own tasks. You might make a list and then think out loud about how you will divide them up and in what order you’ll do so. As your child hears your mental processes, she’ll likely begin applying them to her tasks. Additionally, walk through your approach to multistep tasks. This will demonstrate how to chunk tasks to make them more manageable.

    • Establish routines. For example, imagine your child is expected to spend between one and two hours (depending on grade level) on homework each night, including weekends. One option is to dedicate a time frame to homework completion and stick to it as much as possible. That might mean she works from 4 to 5 pm, and again from 5:30 to 6:00, with a break in between. Many homework assignments are given over several days, so a set amount of time working toward homework will help a student manage her time. If your child has finished early, she might check to see if she can begin to prepare for upcoming tests or review the work done that day. The only way to develop habits is to practice them. In addition, having a set and quiet place equipped with school supplies and dedicated to homework is ideal. For one family, this place might mean sitting at the dining room table; for another this might mean working in the bedroom.

    • Know your child. Some students like to have a little snack break right after school before starting their homework. Some students like to start with the easier homework and check it off the list before tackling the more complex homework; others like to start with the more challenging assignments while they’re fresh and save the easier ones for last. Talk to your child about her preferences, and let her know you’re on her team. If her strategy isn’t working, let her know it’s OK (and beneficial) to change it!

    • Take the first step with your child. If you notice your child chronically procrastinating or avoiding homework, it could be a sign that she doesn't know where to begin. Start with the planner. Take a look at what assignments are due and when, and ask if there are any upcoming tests or projects. Help your child prioritize. Will some tasks take longer than others? Would it be useful to estimate how long each assignment will take? Would it be helpful to make a list of materials needed for each task? You can then look together and decide what to do first and what materials are required in order to begin. If your child seems to be struggling with homework concepts or directives, have her contact her teacher. If she has an exceptionally hectic evening or finds herself not feeling well, find out if she can request a homework extension. 

    • Remember the goal. Ultimately, we want our kids to take the reins in managing their out-of-school work. Some kids acquire these skills quickly, and others require a bit of support. Helping kids hone their learning habits–assuming the child is receptive– is very different from doing the work for a child. As your child learns to organize her time, space, processes, and materials for herself, gradually strip away the scaffolding as she becomes more independent and let her fly on her own. There may be a bit of floundering, and that is OK. Resist the urge to help with content, fix mistakes or edit homework for your daughter; teachers’ ability to see where kids are struggling will inform their instructional decisions.

    • Keep in touch: If you find that your child is resistant to homework routines or is consistently struggling to finish in a timely manner, reach out to her advisor, teacher, or learning specialist. Work together to figure out the stumbling blocks and to create a productive way to move forward.

    Working in partnership we can help our children (as stated in Criterion 1 of Goal V at Stone Ridge): “grow in courage and confidence, discover new abilities, cultivate strengths, learn from making mistakes . . . and exercise resilience in meeting challenges.”  Supporting our Middle School students requires us to balance providing guidance with allowing them growth and independence.

    Upcoming NEALS Table Talk Discussion: Grading for Equity by Joe Feldman 3/7/23 7:00-8:15p 

    Led by Chris Ouellette, Vice President of NEALS and Director of Student Support at Emma Willard School

    "Many schools are currently/have made changes after reading and engaging with the book Grading for Equity by Joe Feldman. Whether your school has made a major change to grading policies, or it is offering up Professional Learning Groups (like the group I am leading at Emma Willard), or if you are just genuinely curious about all of the hype, this NEALS Table Talk Discussion is for you! Even though the majority of us do not assign grades, as Learning Specialists we regularly see the direct impact that grading policies can have on our students. It will be important for us to use our lenses to help support any of our institutions who are thinking about diving into and adopting policies presented by Feldman". 

    ***This session will be recorded

  • 14 Dec 2022 9:18 AM | Chris Ouellette (Administrator)

    Teaching at SEGA in Tanzania

    by: Susan Cole Ross (former President NEALS)

    Five days in, teaching is the easy part. I have three 13-year-old girls with extremely limited language in English. Their Swahili is beautiful and so is their handwriting. Two of them are excellent artists, drawing intricate calligraphy, swirls, blossoms, and paisleys. We use an ESL curriculum that layers vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, and social-emotional adjustment to their new school.  Away from home for the first time, the girls introduce themselves to each other in English, tell about their family members, learn  to sing and play “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It” while learning body parts, theirs and butterflies’.

    More girls giggle through yoga, my afternoon activity, and several are particularly drawn to it, perhaps experienced. They’re excited to learn, hungry for books, and devoted to classroom time. Their devotion is quickly directed toward their teachers, and I am touched and honored.  It’s daunting knowing I will have to say goodbye next Friday. It may take them by surprise. We have no shared vocabulary to explain the passage of time, the extreme distance. It’s not easy to get here, but I know I will want to return.

    I meet with the new English teacher: young, kind, and unwittingly debonair. He seems new to teaching but eager to learn as he shadows me in many of my classes. I pull out the Lindamood Bell materials I have brought halfway across the world for him, and he is expressively grateful as it’s hard to come by such resources. I show him pertinent pages in “Solving Language Difficulties” and encourage him to use it with the students who pronounce the silent e, mistake l for r, or don’t understand the syllables that make up English words. 

    A dozen guard dogs and Maasai warriors keep watch over us and the girls by night. We are safe from snakes and thieves in the middle of this beautiful but barren countryside. When the rains come, I am told, life will return to the gardens. I plan a lesson on composting, a critical skill the girls can take home to their villages. 

    Each day we rise by seven for a delicious breakfast: always including avocado toast with honey and scrambled eggs with onions, peppers, and carrots. We collect our girls at a central location and take them, in our case, to the Banda, an outdoor meeting place. They read and write English flashing bright eyes and warm smiles, but they’re reluctant to speak much English. After classes, they rattle Swahili to one another with lyrical fluency.

    Our curriculum is based on the Total Physical Response Approach to English language learning. We start with introducing oneself, first reading in unison, and then conversing in pairs with only keywords as reminders. Daily lessons progress to cover family members, clothing, colors, numbers, plurals, nouns and verbs, body parts, and activities using the present progressive.  We enjoy a book about African animals following our safari to the Mikumi National Park in the Tanzanian savanna.  Many of the girls have never seen Tanzania’s famous zebra, lions, and elephants. During breaks they sing “Make New Friends,” dance the Macarena and the Hokey Pokey for body parts, play “Madame Suz Says,” and “Pick, Pick, Pick Bananas” (for verbs).

    We end with studying and making coffee filter butterflies which the girls use to adorn their hair, shirts, and wrists. They create a musical performance for the rest of the girls based on friendship because they have named themselves, aptly, The Friends.

    And now I reread their favorite book as I eagerly await the letters their teachers tell me they have sent 7466 miles to my home.

  • 22 Nov 2022 10:01 AM | Chris Ouellette (Administrator)

    SEGA Reflections

    by: Susan Cole Ross (former President NEALS)

    Three of us head out from Logan after checking 300 pounds of donations to the girls at SEGA Girls’ Secondary School**, including 42 scientific calculators sent by my friends. We meet two others in Amsterdam for lattes and chocolate croissants, which I expect will be our last for the coming 3 weeks. 


    During our 10 1/2 hour flight from Europe to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I review the basic level ELL curriculum I will use to teach SEGA’s incoming students.  Their English fluency is limited, an obstacle to higher learning. The curriculum seems a good jumping off spot, but I most look forward to taking the girls out into the sustainable gardens and obsessing, as I do, about plants, compost, and food while pointing, pointing, pointing. Or that is my hope…

    Hope. Enroute I read Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams’ Book of Hope: A survival guide for trying times. Goodall’s gentle but stalwart commitment to the people, the places, and the animals of Tanzania inspire me. When she speaks of hope in her original, increasingly desperate search for chimpanzees, she says, “of course there was a nagging worry - did I have time? I suppose it’s a bit like climate change. We know we can slow it down -  we’re just concerned as to whether we have sufficient time to effectively turn things around.” I share her hope and her concern. I hope that I can make a difference, and I query, “will I have time in just 9 teaching days?” 

    Waking from a five hour bus jostle from Dar es Salaam, SEGA finally looms ahead on the dusty road. For the girls’ protection, we do not share the address.  The girls come from villages where early pregnancy and marriage are common, and young women work relentlessly to access water and food, to create meals and clean homes, and to care for children at an age when, by US standards, they are children themselves.  There is little time for school, often a one to three hour walk away, where the inconsistent attendance of teachers sometimes makes the walk futile. The futility of education is reflected in girls 33% attendance in secondary school in the country, lower still out in the bush. 

    After a day of training we strive to embrace cultural humility and recognize that these girls know things we will never know, and most already speak at least two languages other than English: their native language and Swahili.  Surely they are learners and likely they will be our teachers as well.  We wonder how. 

    A bit of a curveball, we learn that due to changes in the national testing protocols, the new girls will be just arriving, directly from their villages, to work with us starting Sunday.  Sega’s teachers will have no time to meet with them, to assess their English skills, to evaluate their emotional needs, etc.  Young women often bring stories and burdens to set aside when they come to school.  So our English Fluency Program leader hops into action creating a game for us to share with the girls, an opportunity to practice the language and to get to know one another.  She creates a spreadsheet for us to use during the activity, to measure our new students’ English fluency levels as we go along.  Anticipating an exercise of our students’ resilience, I find this is an exercise in our resilience as teachers, as well. 

    But all that will wait until tomorrow.  First, on Saturday, we attend SEGA‘s graduation day. It is a grand celebration of SEGA’s 14th year and 10th graduation, of the girls’ dedication to their studies and to each other, of each of their villages, of heritage, of nationalism, and of joy.  Families, in traditional dress, collect around their young graduates. The Maasai, in particular, stand so tall, proud, and intimidating, but I overcome my reluctance, step right up, and greet them, “Jambo!” Men in their warrior garb, holding their long sticks, turn and smile, “kwiheri!”

    (To be continued.)

    ** "Nurturing Minds (NM) is a US-based 501(c)(3) non-profit whose mission is to support quality education, life skills, and entrepreneurship to help girls in Tanzania become leaders in their communities. Nurturing Minds achieves its mission through its partnership with SEGA (Secondary Education for Girls’ Advancement) for the development and operation of a quality secondary boarding school, a continuing education scholarship program, and a community outreach program that brings elements of SEGA’s Life Skills program to girls in rural communities throughout Tanzania. For more information: www.nurturingmindsinafrica.org."

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