The work of the ‘Nobel of education’ with immigrant students

Last June 27 the Global Teacher Prize winnerKeishia Thorpe, visited Uruguay to tour educational centers, exchange ideas on how to improve the quality of education in vulnerable context areas and, in between, talk with The country. Thorpe is a teacher in the United States and works with immigrant students and low socioeconomic levels.

Generate changes in education.

Thorpe was born and raised in Jamaica, but later won a scholarship to study at a university in the United States. “I started mentoring boys and girls from low-income backgrounds and it reminded me of where I come from,” she said. So, she felt that it was her “obligation” to help them achieve her dreams, just as someone had once done with her.

As a teacher, she chooses to teach students who are immigrants because she can identify and empathize with them. Her work methodology is based on “creating an environment in which they feel valued, safe and respected,” she said.

In 2021 she was the winner of the Global Teacher Prize, an award created by the Varkey Foundation that is awarded annually to a teacher for having contributed to their profession. Thorpe won the award for having redesigned the English curriculum for her students who come mainly from Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean and Latin America, managing to integrate her cultural identities. In this way, they have been able to have a 40% improvement in reading, which positioned them in the highest record of the district for non-native students.

For Thorpe, this award represents “the work of a body of teachers, both inside and outside the classroom.” At the same time, she understands that she can be the hope for many little girls who look like her and “let them know that you can be an immigrant and successful.” She also knows that this is an opportunity to be in contact with education and political authorities and “promote changes in terms of inclusive education and equity.”

Keisha Thorpe
Keisha Thorpe.

Integrate cultural identities.

Thorpe students go through many challenges. First of all, they are young people who come from countries where English is not spoken, so language is a barrier for them. And although it has a small percentage of students who were born in the United States, they are children of Spanish-speaking immigrants and only Spanish is spoken at home.

They also have cultural and economic barriers and many of them bring trauma with them. “Most have experienced situations of violence, rape or displacement and some have come without their parents, being minors,” said Thorpe. According to the teacher, 98% come from low socioeconomic backgrounds and carry the trauma of having had to escape poverty.

In general, immigrant boys and girls go through different stages that require “a lot of attention and different strategies so that they can learn.” For example, the period of silence, where the student does not yet speak, but can process the language that she is learning.

To advance her students’ learning, Thorpe designed a curriculum that takes their cultural identities and integrates them in practical ways. This implies “including things that they bring from their countries, their points of view and literature”. As an example, she worked with a book whose story is set at a time when women in the United States had no rights. She asked the young people to interview women from different cultures about how they are treated in their countries. “Being part of a global community of teachers was very helpful because I was able to connect with teachers from all over the world,” she mentioned to The country.

In addition, in one of the first units, students must write their personal story and then share it with the rest. “There they realize that similar situations occur in their countries and those who do not find those similarities still empathize through trauma.”

Once, a girl from the Middle East said that in her country women cannot drive if there is no man in the car, and another from Africa said that she had run away from home because she was being forced to marry an older man: “So, they cry and hug each other, in a way of saying ‘I understand your pain.’”

Thorpe also focuses on teaching them critical thinking and a global perspective on events.

For example, propose a research paper in which each student selects a topic of general interest and uses the academic skills learned to write a paper with facts and statistics that validate the chosen problem. Then, they should identify who the leaders are in the school council, politics or their community to write them a letter showing what the problem is, what factors support it and what their idea is to solve it.

Recognize teachers who promote education.

The Global Teacher Prize is organized by the Varkey Foundation with the support of UNESCO. It is awarded annually and the chosen teacher receives US$1,000,000. In 2021 the seventh edition was held and Keishia Thorpe was chosen from more than 8 thousand applications from 121 countries.

In Uruguay there is a local version of this recognition, known as the ReachingU Award. It has been organized since 2019 by Fundación ReachingU, an NGO that supports, finances and co-creates educational projects in public and private centers in vulnerable contexts throughout the country. This year the finalists will be defined on July 20 and the prize will be awarded on August 11.

It was through the ReachingU Foundation that Professor Thorpe was invited to Uruguay.

Global support.

“What I love most about my job is that I get to be one of the vehicles through which they can get a better life and better opportunities,” said Thorpe. Many know her as “the changer of lives” and, in fact, she has won the 2018-2019 edition of the LifeChanger of the Year National Award.

During his visit to Uruguay, the disparity he observed in educational centers reminded him of the conditions he lives with in the United States.

“I think we have a long way to go to level the playing field for students and teachers,” he said. However, he stressed that “the fact that everyone here has access to technology is something that does not exist in the United States.”

In this sense, “each educational system has something to contribute and that is why it is important to know what is being done around the world,” he assured. Indeed, one of his goals is to be able to share his experience with others and learn the best experiences of his colleagues.

Through your NGO US Elite International Track and Field January 2023, will organize a summit of teachers in Jamaica “to work together and build scalable strategies to advance inclusive education.”

Keisha Thorpe
Keishia Thorpe in Uruguay.

Continue helping youth after school.

Along with her sister Treisha Thorpe, Keishia Thorpe runs the US Elite International Track and Field Inc.a non-profit organization that offers students from around the world the opportunity to earn full scholarships to universities in the United States based on athletics.

According to data provided by the ReachingU Foundation, the organization has helped more than 500 students and has managed to get more than 90% of them to graduate from university, with approximately 20% completing a master’s degree and 8% obtaining a postgraduate degree. .

Once, a young Jamaican woman contacted the NGO around the end of August, since classes in the United States start at the beginning of that month, but they were able to get her a scholarship and she only missed two weeks of class. “Ella Today she is a doctor and returned to Jamaica to work in the public hospital,” said Thorpe.

For the teacher, one of her goals is “to continue ensuring that students have access to tertiary education for free.” In this way, she seeks that all young people can achieve her dreams, just as she was able to achieve hers.

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The work of the ‘Nobel of education’ with immigrant students