Prep-school interns teach - in Africa
By Montine Rummel

 St. Gregory seniors work in Kenya to fulfill graduation requirement

While many seniors at St. Gregory College Preparatory School fulfilled their internship required for graduation at a local restaurant or radio station, six students chose to spend a few weeks in Africa helping teach youngsters.
"How many seniors can say they went to Kenya?" asked 18-year-old Sara Puchon, who recently graduated from St. Gregory.
She and Josh Hamra, 17, Ian Donnelly-Taylor, 18, Candace Wetmore, 18, Jessica Medwied-Savage, 18, and P.J. Matthews, 18, traveled to Naro Moru, a small town three hours outside of Nairobi, Kenya, from April 27 to May 16.
"A goal I had was to get students out of their comfort zone," said Fred Roberts, 44, the director of student affairs and outdoor education at St. Gregory. This is his first time teaching the class and taking students on their three-week internship to Naro Moru.
The St. Gregory students learned about the culture of East Africa and fielded some interesting questions about their life back home.
"We were asked how many cows we have," said Donnelly-Taylor.
Teachers in Naro Moru usually have one or two cows and make around $180 a month.
Hamra said she remembers "how shocking we were to them," he said. "They liked to touch our skin."
For many of the children in school, it was the first time they saw a white person.
The St. Gregory students did more than learn about East African culture; they also went on two safaris and studied the African wildlife.
While seeing gazelles, zebras and giraffes in the wild was new and exciting to the students, they shared a poignant moment after watching some elephants.
Matthews' mother died in August after a seven-year battle with breast cancer, Roberts said. She and her mother loved elephants and Matthews wanted to do something special to remember her mom.
When Matthews told her teacher she wanted to get out of the jeep, Roberts thought that she should stay in the vehicle where it was safe.
Matthews then pulled out a film canister of her mother's ashes and Roberts had a change of heart.
"We couldn't get her out fast enough," he said.
Matthews sprinkled the ashes where the elephants had walked in honor of her mother.
Roberts said he wanted to show his students "kids who don't have shoes and can't bring lunch to school because they don't have any food at home" to remind them how fortunate they are.
Roberts lived in Kenya for 13 years. He was a student at the National Outdoor Leadership School's now-defunct East Africa branch from 1986 through 1989 and served as its director in 1990. Roberts bought the 7.2 acres that had belonged to NOLS and he and his students lived there during the trip.
He introduced the idea of taking students to Africa to St. Gregory headmaster Bryn S. Roberts as a way to improve some of the school's graduation requirements.
"It put meaning into the internship program," Roberts said. Many seniors, he added, tend not to take their internship too seriously. But those students who wanted to go to Africa had to put in a lot of extra effort.
"These guys worked hard," he said. "They were pushing it all the time, and then they wanted more."
The teens began preparing for their journey in January by taking East African Studies, a class that Roberts taught for the first time at St. Gregory last semester. The course taught them about the development of Kenya and its fight for independence.
The seniors also learned Kiswahili, Kenya's national language. English is Kenya's official language and was the primary form of communication at the schools where the St. Gregory students taught. Sometimes, however, communication was difficult.
"We were teaching to students who are taking English as a second or third language," said Wetmore, who helped teach English and physical education.
"There are over 40 tribes" represented at the schools, Roberts said. Each tribe has its own language and uses Kiswahili to communicate to other tribes.
British English is taught to students in Naro Moru when they begin school. Each intern assisted in classes that had between 20 and 40 students.
Speaking American English also gave the young interns a new trait they might not have experienced before - speaking with an accent.
"I learned to speak slower and enunciate," said Donnelly-Taylor.
He helped teach English, social studies, math, physical education and Christian religious education to his classes.
Roberts said the trip was successful and he could see a change in his students from the experience.
He said he feels that his students will help educate people in Tucson, as they did in Naro Moru, and will help people here view Africa in a positive way.
Roberts said he plans to keep taking students on trips like the one to Kenya.
"I'll do it forever," Roberts said.
● Montine Rummel is a free-lance writer in Tucson.