Students develop lesson plans for teachers in Zambia

Student project receives funds to train special education teachers abroad


Third-year Engineering students Lauren Baesten and Emily Nemec and first-year College student Amanda Halacy are working on a project to train special education teachers in Zambia that has received funding from Jefferson Public Citizens and the Center for Public Health and has been awarded the Davis Prize.

Third-year Engineering students Lauren Baetsen and Emily Nemec and first-year College student Amanda Halacy have been working since September to put together a special education training program for teachers in Zambia — an effort which culminates this summer when the three travel to the southern African nation for four weeks to implement their project.

The students have been working with the Special Hope Network, an organization supporting children with intellectual disabilities in Zambia. The project focuses on allowing teachers more autonomy in the classroom and helping them create effective lesson plans.

“We’re going into this with an open mind and [we know] that not everything is going to be perfect and go according to plan, but we are planning for that,” Halacy said.

The girls received three different grants for their work through Jefferson Public Citizens, the Center for Public Health and the Davis Prize. Assoc. Education Prof. Paige Pullen is the trio’s faculty advisor, in addition to several doctors who have been assisting them with their project.

Nemec has a sister with Down syndrome. She also volunteers with the Virginia Institute of Autism and worked at a school over the summer developing individualized lesson plans for students with disabilities.

“I just, in general, have a lot of experience working with kids with disabilities,” Nemee said. “So I think that is really going to help me in being able to work with the teachers and really understand, maybe not all of their needs, but understand more of where they are coming from.”

She said she hopes to go into Occupational Therapy and work with children who have disabilities later in life.

Halacy spent her past few summers working with refugees on the Thai-Burmese border. She hopes to continue this work after college by doing fieldwork for NGOs and eventually beginning her own.

“I feel very strongly about building a relationship [with the teachers] at first, especially [because] a bunch of undergraduates coming in and saying ‘Okay, this is how we can help you’ can lot of times probably be perceived as ‘You’re doing it wrong, let’s fix this’ which is not the case at all,” Halacy said. “These people are so passionate and they are doing an amazing thing.”

Baetsen principally focuses on the practical design aspects of their plan. She hopes to build a lasting relationship with the Special Hope Network, so someday down the road she can work with them in developing medical devices for people in Zambia.

“I am more about the what can we feasibly do while we’re over there and going through things step by step and how can we narrow it down so we are the most efficient we can be with our time and also helping people the most that we can,” Baetsen said.

Though the project will specifically help the teachers develop lesson plans, the three said the project is a mutually beneficial endeavor.

“We are going to be learning more from the teachers than they ultimately learned from us,” Nemes said, “just in terms of understanding the way that their system works and the environment that they are working in.”

Published April 8, 2014 in Life

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