Teacher Julie Siftar Journeys to Ghana for Summer Professional Development

  • Dyslexia News
Amy Dempster

Two cornerstones for how Carroll School fulfills its mission are (1) to engage faculty in professional development that enhances the education of its students and (2) to inspire teachers to encourage and embrace multiple points of view that enrich the school’s diverse community.

This summer, Lower School Studio Arts teacher, Julie Siftar, took these to heart as the 2021 Maureen McGuire Myers Fellow, journeying to Ghana with the Witness Tree Institute. The Maureen McGuire Myers Endowment for Professional Development was established by alumni parent Stewart Myers to honor the legacy of his wife, Maureen, and to recognize the exceptional commitment of our Carroll educators. In the 1990's, Maureen was an active volunteer and member of the Board of Trustees, known best for her 'unbounded love of Carroll School.'

The Witness Tree Institute, Ghana (WTIG) is a nonprofit organization founded by Carroll School Board Member Tete Cobblah to engage educators in multidisciplinary learning through travel and exposure to Ghanaian culture, history, and education.

Mr. Cobblah described,

“One of the incredible gifts I and other members of the WTIG cohort 2021 gained was the myriad of experiences and expertise that participants brought to Ghana. The Arts allowed the WTIG cohort to explore topics such as identity, history, colonialism, race, education, and personal challenges. Julie embraced the experience. As emotional as she would get when faced with tragic indicators of historical pain and injustice, especially at slave forts and other sacred places, Julie showed steadfast determination to return to her art classroom with a renewed sense of justice, culturally sensitive pedagogy, and inclusive and thought-provoking lessons.”

Julie shared her thoughts with us,

The Witness Tree Institute of Ghana's mission resonated with me deeply and I applied immediately for the 2021 educators' program. I was drawn to the opportunities of hands-on experiential learning and the potential for deep exploration with other motivated educators that the two week trip to Ghana would provide. I hoped to gain insight into my own culture and that of my students by exploring the culture of Ghana and our shared history. Travel always provides opportunities for looking out new "windows" as well as in new "mirrors" for reflecting on one's own life.

The program surpassed my expectations. We did not waste a moment. Our group included five educators from Ghana and seven from the US (Texas, PA and MA). From before sun up to after sun down we attended lectures at renowned universities, participated in dance workshops, ate delicious local cuisine, visited kings and national cultural treasures, taught in Ghanaian classrooms, learned traditional crafts at the source of their creation, explored ecological wonders, and toured heartbreaking dungeons of the international slave trade which spanned 500 years.

Besides the oodles of rich hands-on projects I can use in my Art classes, this trip to Ghana leaves me with countless takeaways.

Like the United States, Ghana is made up of many regions with many languages, religions and cultures. Yet as a country Ghanaians deeply know that their diversity makes them strong and wise. They include the voices of their ancient ways as well as select institutions of their former colonisers into a respectful forward-looking fusion. I believe my students at Carroll School are each their own unique combination of gifts and challenges, and I believe our diversity makes us stronger and wiser, too.

Through our Art projects we can explore different aspects of our world, helping to understand the context of our here and now, while celebrating its beauty and variety. In my teaching, I am supporting kids in developing their own set of skills for living out their own unfolding stories, adding their unique, curious, creative voices to our one collective story.

I look forward to sharing my experiences with my Carroll community for years to come.

Said Mr. Cobblah, “As a board member of Carroll School, I can say without any hesitation that nobody could have represented Carroll School, its students and their abilities more than Julie did this year at the Witness Tree Institute. Her presence as an educator who has experienced learning differences created deep interest and reflection among the Ghanaian teachers and the entire WTIG cohort.”

Here are a few photo highlights:




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