More Than Pen Pals

Max Sherman has been in the classroom for 35 years, and a large chunk of that time has been spent preparing his students to be global citizens. He and wife Linda team-teach in Oregon at Tillamook High School, located in a small, rural town of 5,000. The husband and wife team sees the value in global awareness no matter where the kids come from or what their plans are after high school.

During Sherman’s tenure as an educator, he has worked with many international agriculturalists and educators. Currently Tillamook students are 21st-century pen pals, mentors and partner researchers with students in Kenya.

“It is eye-opening for our kids, and it leads to great conversations. We first had the students trade letters on their impressions of each other,” Sherman said. “Our American students wrote their impressions of the African students and the African students wrote their impressions of American students. Items that came out about Americans from the Africans: ‘They don’t go to bed hungry; not a lot of orphans; can go to the doctors.’ In our program we have 10 computers and a set of iPads. In Kenya, the teacher collects what they have written and then heads to town to use a computer to type and send.”

Tillamook FFA members have conducted fundraisers and have supplied a computer for the Kenyan agricultural classroom. Sherman agrees that it would be great to use Skype, but even now that the classroom has a computer, they don’t have enough bandwidth to support video conferencing.

“Getting these facts and perspectives out in the open allows the students to move these conversations into real relationships. Knowing these perceptions make the students more aware of issues and become overall better global citizens,” he said.

Sherman believes this project is so important, he involves all of his classes to some extent. They have found that the Kenyan teachers are active in agriscience. Students conduct research projects in their programs. Tillamook students often serve as mentors, even conducting joint research projects in both countries.

Tillamook FFA members are currently working to send the Kenyan teachers soil-testing kits. Simple things like soil composition make a big difference in production. Providing these kits to the school could make a huge difference in their yields.

Sherman is also working with the local farm bureau to bring two Kenyan agriculture teachers and a director to Tillamook in April. While in Oregon, they will tour different sectors of agriculture as well as agricultural education programs. Sherman’s international agriculture class is involved in the itinerary and the hosting of their international visitors.

“Having them here is a dream come true. After 10 months of fundraising, we now are seeing the reality,” he said. “It isn’t as simple as getting your passport and plane ticket; they must apply for a visa, participate in multiple interviews, write letters to the U.S. Embassy in Kenya, etc. But it’s all worth it. The students are so excited.”

Tillamook is also a two-year recipient of a Food For All Grant administered by the National FFA Living to Serve Team. Because of their tireless work in the area of hunger and food security, Jeff Simmons, the president of Elanco, brought Sherman and one student on stage during last year’s National FFA Convention & Expo.

“Our big dream with Kenya is to get enough funds together to build a greenhouse at a couple schools,” Sherman said. When Sherman was in Kenya in February, 2014, “40 percent of the students hadn’t returned to school after Christmas break because local corn profits were down and that is how the families paid for their children to attend school. These greenhouses would help them raise produce to help more of them pay their tuition fees.”

2 comments on “More Than Pen Pals

  1. Pingback: Question for the Profession: How do you bring the world into your classroom? | National FFA Organization Blog

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