How 50 classrooms used Skype to help save a school in Kenya

Ben Honeycutt is the Executive Director of non-profit Open World Cause and a Social Studies Teacher at Woodland Park Middle School in Colorado. As an educator, Ben’s mission is to provide his students with real world opportunities, so they can learn more about the world around them and take action to make a difference. One of their latest achievements was to help fund the construction of a school in Kenya. We met with Ben to learn all about this amazing, life-changing learning experience:

 

It all started with a Skype call

 

In June of 2015, we had a Skype call with Livingstone Kegode, the director of HIPAfrica, and were so impressed with his work that we were committed from the moment the call was over. A little over a year later, Livingstone informed us that the country of Kenya had changed its zoning standards for schools, and unless HIPAfrica could raise over $14,000 for three new classrooms, a new washroom, and new fencing, HIP would have to close its doors to the 59 children who attended its school.

We traveled out to Kimilili to survey HIP and the surrounding community in May of 2017. We surveyed that over half of the students would no longer be able to attend a school if HIP closed down. Additionally, we observed that 10 of the students had descended stomachs on Monday morning, and teachers had guessed that up to 15 of them received their only meals at the school.

The structures the school were using were deteriorating, as they were using semi-permanent structures for their classrooms. We found through conversations with a local architect that the bathrooms were about to collapse. It was at a point where it was creating unsanitary conditions for the entire student body.

HIP’s administration was completely committed to doing all they could to help their students. We were inspired to not only help lead a campaign to save HIP, but to look into providing sustainable clean water, nutrition, and educational programs to ensure that HIP’s students were receiving the best long-term education possible.

At the time, when we found out about the challenges facing HIP in 2016, I couldn’t conceive how to start a successful initiative to help solve this problem. Instead, I focused on what I could do on a micro level to start helping from my classroom. Two of my middle school students, named Amelia and Christina, came up with an idea to start a project called “Kenya Help?” where they collected shoes on behalf of an organization called Funds2orgs – “Kenya Help?” collected over 1,000 pairs of shoes and in exchange received over $1,000 toward HIP for their efforts.

It was after seeing my students go above and beyond that I started wondering about how this movement could go from my classroom to classrooms around the world. I designed and published a Collaboration on Skype in the Classroom’s website, calling for classrooms all around the world to join. In six months, over 50 classrooms from around the world got together and helped raise $8,000 for HIP, helping us collect a total of over $16,000 to fund the construction of three new classrooms, a washroom with hand-washing and sanitizing stations, and fencing. All this allowed HIP’s students to continue their education.

The new washrooms

After this experience, I would encourage every educator to start their own global projects and give their students real world issues to solve. Take the leap and don’t look back!

I was inspired early on from Dr. Neil Gershenfeld’s 2005 work, FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop—from Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication. Gershenfeld talked about how students have the potential to create “laboratories of learning” when they have ownership of their projects. Gershenfeld articulated that when students have this ownership, they often go above and beyond their outlined expectations. It’s 13 years later, and I believe Skype in the Classroom can be a platform for what Dr. Gershenfeld was advocating. In the “Day in the Life” project, when middle school students had the agency that Dr. Gershenfeld advocated, they soared past the outlined goals and propelled each other to do something as impactful as saving a school in Kenya.

With resources like Skype in the Classroom and the tools that universities provide, teachers can have their students not only start incredible real-world projects that they will remember for the rest of their lives, but also ones that make a real impact around the world. I’ve seen students go on to use technology to help people, start businesses, and take a classroom project and turn it into a worldwide campaign. Students today have the power to change the world from the screens of their devices – what’s stopping them?

Contact me through the Microsoft Educator Community to learn how your class can help teachers and schools in Nepal and Kenya today!

P.S. I’d like to thank our partners Jacqueline Jumbe-Kuhara, Fredrick Manzugu, Livingstone Kegode, Michael Soskil, Eric Crouch, Garrett Wilkinson, Sue Levine, Dr. Joe O’Brien, Professor Melissa Collum, Professors Beth and Jeremy Gulley, and acknowledge the works of Dr. Eric Hartman, Dr. Neil Gershenfeld, Dr. Paul Farmer as well as our many supporters who make our work possible.

Teachers: Explore all the available Skype Collaborations to connect your students with classrooms around the world to work on projects, explore different cultures, and build greater compassion and empathy for one another. You can also create your own Skype Collaboration—learn more by taking the Skype collaboration course.

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