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Calvary Baptist Christian Academy
Gwen Smith instructs a classroom full of students at Wesleyan Primary School in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Published March 05, 2007 10:07 pm - Gwen Smith is taking a big leap of faith.Gwen Smith is taking a big leap of faith.The Meadville resident is starting her own project with the vision of transforming a country's education system.It's a vision that she, along with a small team of volunteers, hopes will inspire community members and educators to join in the effort. Through EduNations and World Hope International, two worldwide organizations providing relief, education and development to the poor, Smith sets off April 21 for Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, in West Africa, to improve the country's primary education system.Smith will return to the United States on a yearly basis during her five-year project, known as Transformation Education.In a country plagued by poverty and poor education facilities, Smith said she wants to demonstrate interactive teaching methods and creative arts by providing various workshops and mentoring the teachers. "They (the people of Sierra Leone) have developed a poverty mindset," she said.To mend the low literacy rates, Smith said she'll demonstrate ways to improve classroom management, learning styles, creative and participatory teaching methodology, as well as character education."Ever since I was young, 5 actually, I heard of people in underdeveloped countries, so I wanted to help," Smith said.Smith, who has made four trips to Sierra Leone, served as a receptionist for Mercy Ships in 2002.When it comes to making her dream a reality, Smith has her feet on the ground running.She has already submitted a five-year project proposal to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in Sierra Leone and is in the process of submitting the proposal to WHI.For the project's first year, Smith said that she and another individual will work with more than 72 teachers and at least 3,600 students from six schools in Sierra Leone. Smith, a long-time Meadville resident and 1992 graduate of Meadville Area Senior High School, welcomes the opportunity to broaden her educational experience.She taught for one year at Calvary Baptist Christian Academy in Meadville and served as a substitute teacher for schools in Titusville and Crawford Central School District.A 1996 alumni of Penn State University, Smith did student teaching in England in college and earned a degree in elementary education.She has also taught in North Carolina and Virginia schools."The best way (to improve Sierra Leone's education system) is for the teachers to learn who their students are, have a good understanding of the subject content (they're teaching), and know how to use the resources around them to do problem-solving and critical thinking," she said. Although Sierra Leone natives are primarily Muslim, Smith will integrate a Christian world view within the classrooms to encourage students to love and value each other, especially in a nation struggling with issues such as poverty, hunger, AIDS and child trafficking."I'm bringing Christ in my message and they're (Sierra Leone natives) open to that."Through donations, the students in Sierra Leone will be shipped a container of supplies, including notebooks and pencils.Smith is also talking with area school districts to make contributions.Funds will also support costs for training, literature, transportation and meals for the teachers."I want to grow in wisdom, so I make wise decisions that augment development in love, knowledge, understanding and discernment of what is life-enhancing for all," Smith said about her upcoming trip."I want people to understand that everyone is created in a loving image of God and to maximize the gifts they've been given to love others and ourselves." Anyone interested in getting involved with the project or making a donation may contact Smith at 337-0628 or 547-4533, or by mail at 21914 Hobbs Road, Meadville, Pa. 16335. Read more >>