Quaker Valley teacher trains other educators in Africa

Thursday, September 5, 2019 | 6:01 AM

Two years ago during a mission trip to Kenya, Stacy Tessaro saw first-hand some problems in Africa’s education system.

The focus is on memorization of facts, she said, not understanding and thinking through a problem.

So, when the Quaker Valley Middle School life science teacher was given the chance to head to Sierra Leone this summer to help train teachers, she jumped at the opportunity.

“I have this passion for encouraging teachers to teach and understand,” said Tessaro, 55, of Wexford.

Tessaro joined four others from her church, North Park Presbyterian, for 10 days in July when they visited the nonprofit EduNations schools in Sierra Leone, and helped train 105 teachers and administrators.

Founded in 2004, EduNations provides education for students in rural areas where they would otherwise have no access to schooling. The organization runs 15 schools and serves about 3,000 students in six different communities in Sierra Leone, according to its website. It is currently building a high school.

Still, some children walk as far as 13 miles to get to school, Tessaro said. The organization gives away bikes so kids with the longest commutes have a mode of transportation to school.

One of the main missions of the Evangelical Presbytery of the Alleghenies is to support EduNation. Every church supports the organization in different ways.

North Park, through congregation donations, raised enough money to send five people to Sierra Leone to train all teachers and administrators from EduNations schools.

That included Tessaro, who taught for three days the difference between understanding and memorization.

Others on the trip were a Grove City professor who taught about design thinking and teaching; a former Head Start teacher who taught lessons on early childhood education; an IT professional from Carnegie Learning who brought laptops to help train school administrators; and a marriage and family therapist, who talked about classroom management and teacher and student interactions.

Tessaro said students not being trained to think through problems plays into larger issues in a country facing economic troubles.

“You need to be a problem solver. You need to be able to come up with solutions. But they haven’t been taught to do that,” she said.

Tessaro said she’s grateful for the professional development and trainings she’s received in Quaker Valley, and for the opportunity to be able to take what she learned and help those in Sierra Leone.

She collaborated with colleagues before heading abroad to get their insight on how the topic relates to various subjects.

Her colleagues and students have benefited from her trips, said Margot Bruno, a seventh-grade life science teacher at Quaker Valley Middle.

“It’s been great, just to get our students to think globally and how what they do affects the world,” Bruno said. “I think it’s amazing, all of the time that she puts into this.”

Tessaro gained a new perspective through the experience.

“Just realizing that we have so much and our kids have so much and we really need to do everything to maximize it,” she said.

Returning from Kenya, she came back and rewrote the beginning of her year to emphasize thinking and understanding.

On the trip, she formed many relationships with people with whom she keeps in touch.

In addition to supporting EduNations, Tessaro said their “hope is to continue the dialogue.”