Many teachers broaden their skills over the summer, but few have gone as far as Mary Wurzbach – literally.
The Penn Manor High School agricultural education teacher ventured to Africa to spend a month immersed in the culture and classrooms of Uganda, both teaching with and learning from her colleagues.
Ms. Wurzbach was one of 10 teachers from across the United States accepted into the Teach Ag Uganda project, sponsored by the Fulbright-Hays Program, to support agricultural education research and training efforts overseas.
Teachers were in Uganda from July 6 to August 4, with the goal of increasing their understanding of global agriculture and food insecurity and learning about Ugandan culture and teaching methods. Participants were paired with another American teacher and assigned to different schools in the country.
Uganda recently implemented a new curriculum that emphasizes hands-on learning and 21st century skills, such as problem solving. Language was not a barrier, as the students and staff spoke English.
The group started in the capital city of Kampala, traveled north to Sipi Falls and spent 18 days in Lira, where Ms. Wurzbach was assigned to St. Katherine Secondary School. She taught lessons on sustainable development goals, agriculture and entrepreneurship.
She also assisted with a project to raise 400 layer hens and taught alongside her Ugandan colleague about growing corn, or maize, which is grown on small farms in each village.
“The methods and techniques for growing are completely different in Uganda,” she said. “When I asked students about the common pests they need to watch out for when growing maize, they responded, ‘Monkeys.’ I was not prepared for the answer!”
Another eye-opener was the layout of classrooms, which typically have 80 to 110 students who sit on wooden benches and remain in the same room the entire day. It’s the teachers who move about.
The school day stretches from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., with some labs held on weekends.
Among the highlights of the trip, Ms. Wurzbach said, were seeing giraffes less than five feet away, along with hippos, water buffalo, elephants, antelope and jaguars, on safari in Murchison Falls.
But what she learned from her colleagues had the greatest impact.
“Spending 30 days with amazing educators was the biggest highlight,” she said. “I will hold the lessons I’ve learned from each one of them close forever.”