Former employee shares expertise and Clerc Center products with school in Senegal
After a lifetime in education, including 20 years as a teacher, researcher, and program supervisor at Clerc Center, Angela Bednarczyk was searching for a new mission for her retirement years. By a serendipitous twist, she found a new path during a church mission trip to Senegal in July of 2010. While staying at the Tribal Mission Guest House in Dakar, she noticed a calendar for the L'École Renaissance des Sourds, a school for the deaf also located in Dakar, and decided to arrange a visit. The meeting with the school administrator, Jane Penney, led to an invitation for Bednarczyk to come back to Senegal to offer literacy training for their teachers for two weeks in February 2011. The success of that training led Bednarczyk to decide to return as an unpaid volunteer at the school for one year starting in September 2011.
The school interested Bednarczyk not only from her background in education, but also because on her trip to Senegal in 2010 she was to meet for the first time the World Vision child she had sponsored for four years. World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide. The 12-year-old boy Bednarczyk sponsors is deaf and lives with his family in a village four hours north of the capital. Bednarczyk had learned that the boy had tried to attend the local school without success because of communication barriers. She wondered if the school for the deaf in Dakar might be a more successful educational environment. While discussing the needs of Bednarczyk's World Vision child, the school administrator became aware of the many educational gifts Bednarczyk had to offer and invited her to return to help train her teachers to create a more visual learning environment-the invitation was readily accepted.
When Bednarczyk returned from her initial trip to Senegal, she planned what literacy resources she wanted to bring back with her. She stopped by the Clerc Center to purchase Shared Reading Project (SRP) book bags and literacy manuals for training teachers and working with students and families. SRP is designed to teach parents and caregivers how to read to their deaf and hard of hearing children using American Sign Language, and to use strategies to make book sharing most effective. Each of the 110 titles in the SRP Book Bags series contains a copy of a popular children's story book, a DVD with a deaf adult signing the story, and an activity card to extend the ideas of the story.
The first book the teachers used out of the Shared Reading Book Bag was Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed. Not only did the students enjoy the story but the teachers found it quite amusing especially when they dramatized the story. The school plans to translate the books into French. "I could see that there were many needs in the school program, from program development, to curriculum, to behavior management, student assessment, and a continuation of training for the staff," said Bednarczyk. "I spent two weeks working with the staff-teaching them about using such things as predictable books to help children feel successful with reading, language experience stories to provide students with reading material about their own experiences, and making the classroom environment a place rich with print."
At the school, Bednarczyk taps into not only the material resources from the Clerc Center but also the experience she gained here as a teacher, program supervisor, researcher, and contributing author of two Clerc Center publications called Access for All: Integrating Deaf and Hard of Hearing Preschoolers and Issues in Access: Creating Effective Preschools for Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Hearing Children. "I am finding my Clerc Center experience valuable here, especially the work that I did with the Clerc Center Language Arts program, my work with the preschool teachers for seeing how the objectives which were to be taught were infused into the daily program, and the work that I did with Gallaudet's Child Development Center for running a successful an integrated deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing preschool program."
The Renaissance School for the Deaf was founded in 2007 and follows the Senegalese national curriculum with instruction based on the use of the Francophone West African sign language. The school currently serves 35 students and has five classrooms, five teachers, and a deaf teacher in training. Each year, the students' ages range from 4-to-16 years of age. "Materials and resources are limited and that is why the school administrator Julie Penney readily accepted my offer to volunteer my educational services," said Bednarczyk.
Bednarczyk has an apartment now near the school and sends back reports to family and friends on the progress of her training at the school and life in Senegal. She continues to try and convince her World Vision child's family to send their child to the school for the deaf-a difficult decision because transportation is expensive and the distance considerable. The African proverb "It takes a village to raise a child" is often quoted in education circles. Ironically, in Bednarczyk's case, it was one deaf child from one village that brought her to Africa. Now she works as a "villager" to contribute what she can to the well-being and educational opportunities for a school for many deaf students.