Associate Dean Raynold Lewis’ devotion to his home country of Guyana is inspiring others in the Worcester State community to get involved. For the past seven years, he has spent part of his summer there training school teachers.
Lewis, who is serving as Worcester State University’s interim dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, is known in the Worcester community for his commitment to teacher preparation and education policy. So it’s not surprising that he is doing similar work in Linden, Guyana through the Linden International Reunion Association’s Summer Institute.
“I started doing this in 2009 because there was a lack of professional development for teachers in the country, especially in the Lindon area,” says Lewis, who is the president of LIRA. Guyana’s economy is very depressed because sales of its primary manufacturing product, bauxite, have been declining for over 30 years.
“Consequently, there’s not a lot of funding for professional development for teachers,” he says. “They would have to go to the capital about 65 miles away to get training.”
Through LIRA, a nonprofit started by Guyanese living around the world to support spiritual, educational, social, and economic development in their home country, which borders Venezuela, Brazil, and Suriname, Lewis would visit every other year to teach mathematics while another education professor would teach literacy. It’s now a yearly trip.
“All of this work is pro bono,” he says. “It’s giving back to that community.”
LIRA provides the teachers with materials, whether it’s textbooks, notebooks, pencils, or sharpeners for their students. Over the years, WSU faculty have contributed to this supply. “It may seem like a small token, but it’s greatly appreciated by the folks there,” Lewis says.
Lewis has been interested in adding a service-learning aspect to the summer institute for several years, and was finally able to do so this year. Working with the John J. Binienda Center for Civic Engagement, he found senior Alicia Pickering to be the ideal first student to make the trip.
“They needed someone who had gone out of the country and who could go alone,” Pickering says. She went on the WSU service-learning trip to Nicaragua twice, over spring break in 2013 and 2014. Plus, she is majoring in mathematics and minoring in secondary education.
Leading up to the trip to Guyana, she helped encourage donations of supplies and certificates of completion for the teachers, and put together workshop materials. Once in Linden, she co-taught the mathematics workshops with Lewis to a total of 19 teachers.
“We also did a little bit of community outreach in different schools and churches,” Pickering says.
That included giving away some donated eye glasses. “Many of the students and teachers can’t read the board,” she explains. Although the optometrist wasn’t there that week, he performed eye tests after they left in order to share the glasses with those in need.
“My biggest takeaways were how important it is to remember where you’re from and how the women were very appreciative of the workshops,” Pickering adds. “They were doing this for no extra pay, just to better themselves.”
She anticipates that the experience will influence her approach to teaching. “I now want to teach in a more urban area, an area with more need,” she says. “It has also taught me a lot of teaching strategies. You don’t need as many resources as you think. All we had was a chalk board and pieces of paper. Sometimes teachers get hung up on, ‘How am I going to make this exciting with technology?’ I was motivated by the teachers down there.”
Pickering’s travel expenses were covered by WSU donors, Professor of Business Administration and Economics Elizabeth Wark and her husband, Steve. They also provided funding for the teacher workshops.
Binienda Center Director Mark Wagner plans to increase support for Linden. He says he has started a partnership with the Lion’s Club to regularly send eyeglasses there “for folks who could use them.”
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