Prep-school interns teach - in Africa
SPECIAL TO THE ARIZONA DAILY STAR
St. Gregory seniors work in Kenya to fulfill
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
"We were asked how many cows we have," said
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
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
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
"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
"I learned to speak slower and enunciate," said
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.