While world leaders met last week at the U.N. General Assembly to discuss goals to improve education in developing countries, Holy Family Academy was coincidentally embracing the same goal. The Inverness school hosted educators from Nsukka, Nigeria, and shared some innovative techniques and best practices they are using.
"In many ways this was a reunion of dear friends," stated Dr. Gretchen Ludwig, Principal of Holy Family. Dr. Ludwig and Mrs. Jeanne Henry, a Holy Family first grade teacher, visited Nigeria in 2007 where they first met many of the nine African visitors. "Chicago's Office of Catholic Schools has a special relationship with Nsukka, Nigeria," explains Esther Hicks, Director of Catholic School Identity and Mission who has been to Nigeria twelve times in the last six years. "We are so happy when our schools build helping relationships with schools in developing countries."
The day spent at Holy Family was just one of many stops during the Nigerian educators visit to Chicago. Dr. Emily Alford, Curriculum Consultant with the Academy, was available to the visitors to present the elements of Inquiry-based learning. It is a hands-on engaging way for students to learn and is a hallmark of science and social studies instruction at Holy Family Academy. "We are excited to learn creative ways to develop critical thinking skills in our students. This method helps them not only increase their knowledge, but teaches them to be curious about their environment. That is how change in education will effect the next generation in Nigeria," stated Sister Mary Brendon Ezigbo, Principal at St. Mary Eha-Alumona primary school.
The visitors toured Holy Family's recently completed lower level which now includes a library, science lab, art room, lunchroom, and seven additional classrooms. They were surprised with the number of computers in the classrooms, considering electricity in Nsukka is unreliable, and Internet connections are rare. Dr. Alford pointed out that Inquiry-based learning can still be implemented without technology. "We encountered the same issue when we shared Holy Family's Inquiry-learning units with schools in Haiti. The key is to engage the students in critical thinking and problem solving, which can be achieved with or without technology," she explained.
To date, Holy Family Academy has shared Inquiry- learning units with a network of 70 schools throughout the Archdiocese of Chicago plus Catholic schools in the Joliet diocese. "Every child deserves to learn in this manner," says Dr. Ludwig. "We have been blessed at Holy Family and we are honored to help educate children in other countries as well."