School notebook: Video chat with Ghana

  • Sixth-graders at JFK Middle School listen to Northampton teacher Phil Cote interview Naa Imori Gomah II, Paramount Chief of the Wechiau Traditional Area in Ghana on Tuesday morning. GRETA JOCHEM/STAFF PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/25/2019 2:12:07 PM

NORTHAMPTON — About 65 sixth-graders at JFK Middle School packed into a classroom Tuesday morning to hear their math and language arts teacher, Phil Cote, interview Naa Imori Gomah II, Paramount Chief of the Wechiau Traditional Area in Northern Ghana. 

Last summer, Cote spent a month in Ghana because his wife, a nurse, received a Fulbright grant to do work there. Now, he’s in Ghana again visiting for about a week.

Gomah speaks in the local dialect, so two Ghanaian students, one who was wearing a JFK T-shirt, translated for Cote during the video chat. Gomah oversees an area of 200 communities about the size of Hampshire County and his duties involve picking new leaders and helping settle disputes, the students learned through the interview. As for the perks, Gomah gets to live in a palace, he told Cote through the translator.

Students just started studying Africa, said social studies and language arts teacher Laura St. Pierre. Sharing Cote’s experiences, “allows a unique window into life in West Africa that might otherwise be unavailable to our students in Northampton,” she explained of the project.

St. Pierre has been showing videos and photos Cote took of Ghana with the students throughout the week. Cote made connections with the local school in Ghana and set up a pen pal program with JFK students.

Since the fall, the two schools have been exchanging letters. During Tuesday’s video chat, one student got to meet his pen pal, who happened to be one of the translators and came to the front of the room to greet him. 

When Cote asked Gomah what advice he has for JFK students, he replied through the translators: “You should take your education seriously and study hard,” which prompted everyone in the room to break out into applause. 

$1 million goal

Northampton Education Foundation is in the middle of a campaign to raise $1 million dollars for its endowment by the end of 2019. The money would allow the organization to roughly double the amount of funding for their endowment grants, said Mandy Gerry, co-president of the foundation. The group publicly announced the campaign last year and so far, it has raised more than $600,000, said Martin Wohl, chair of NEF’s Development Committee.

The endowment started in 2004, and money is invested with the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, with some interest put toward projects. Through its grant program, NEF has funded initiatives such as robotics and gardening projects in the city’s schools. 

"We’re really excited to be able to support the public schools in this way and safeguard public education in Northampton and continue to work with the schools and the teachers and the students,” Gerry said.

She added, “Strong public schools make for a good community, a thriving community, to live in.”

The most important meal of the day

Bridge Street Elementary and RK Finn Ryan Road Elementary schools recently received a total of $4,000 to provide breakfasts to students from Project Bread, an anti-hunger organization. 

Starting in the fall, the two schools will provide free breakfast for all students, said Mistelle Hannah, food service director at Northampton Schools. Currently, the city’s schools offer breakfast but have discounts only if students qualify. Grant funds will go toward refrigerators and administrative costs. 

"It’s exciting to be able to expand this … And be able to provide free breakfast to everybody," Hannah said.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com




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