Heritage education offered by the Center for African Studies

By Maria Ines Zamudio

The Center for African Studies at the University has implemented an outreach program for K-12 teachers in local schools.

“The outreach for us is definitely a high priority and one that I find most rewarding,” said Jamie McGowan, assistant director for the Center for African Studies.

The outreach program works with teachers to enhance their curriculum based on the Illinois Educational Standards. The program also provides resources and material so children have a better understanding of Africa.

Every Friday, Tage Biswalo, a graduate student, and McGowan, go to the Youth Detention Center to teach the detained teenagers about African culture as part of the program’s outreach.

The Detention Center houses teenagers between the ages of 10 to 16, said Connie Kaiser, Youth Detention Center superintendent. She said the majority of the teenagers at the Detention Center are black.

“It is very beneficial,” Kaiser said. “They (the African Studies center) have done a lot to inform the kids about African issues and heritage. They do it in a lot of modes; lectures, games, videos and discussions. They even brought activists, artists and musicians.”

The guest lectures and musicians usually have talked or performed at the University, and before they leave, the African Studies Center brings them to the Detention Center, Kaiser said.

One of the greatest accomplishments of the outreach program was taking 12 teachers to Ghana, Africa.

A “number of the teachers were local, but we also had teachers from Chicago, California, Wisconsin and North Carolina,” McGowan said.

This initiative was part of the summer grant for teachers, which helps teachers develop their curriculum and allows them to better understand Africa.

Penny Hanna, an Urbana high school teacher, was one of the 12 teachers who traveled to Ghana. She was amazed with the people’s generosity in Ghana.

“The openness was overwhelming,” she said.

One of Hanna’s fellow teachers from Urbana High School brought several books from Ghana. She is a literature teacher, and during her stay compared the literature the teenagers where learning in Ghana to what students study here. She brought books back to the United States to teach the material here.

Hanna will teach a world studies class next year that includes a literature and geography component. This world studies class will focus on different parts of the world, including Africa. She will also teach an African Studies course as an elective.

Traveling to Africa “makes a lot of what you hear and read real,” McGowan said. “It builds an enthusiasm for learning more.”

The majority of the funds from the outreach program come from the U.S. Department of Education. However, the center also seeks funding from external sources.

The Center for African Studies works in collaboration with other departments on campus, such as the Center for Latin American and Caribbean studies, Asian studies, Russian, East European and Eurasian studies among others.

The implementation of this program has been aimed to educate children in a subject that otherwise would not be a part of the curriculum.

The most important aspect of the program is that “it gives kids and teachers a better appreciation of Africa, and it enhances what they are learning in school and often contrast in what they are seeing in the media,” McGowan said.