When Hurricane Maria roared through Dominica in 2017, nearly all of the Caribbean island’s infrastructure was damaged or destroyed. As Dominican schools seek to rebuild, critical information technology and skills are needed for students. Merry Franz, a social studies teacher at Willow Creek Composite High School, volunteered last summer to contribute to Dominica’s educational rebuilding efforts.
“Computers are needed for these students’ learning and progress,” says Merry. “But the teachers need to understand how to use the programs and applications in their classrooms. That’s where we come in.”
The “we” Merry refers to are Alberta teachers who volunteer with I.T. for Dominica, a foundation that provides technology and training to the educators and students in Dominica through the support of the Alberta Teachers Association. In July 2023, four teachers from Alberta spent two weeks with Dominican educators from elementary to high school, all of whom volunteered their time.
Merry, who has been working with Google Apps for Education in her classroom for the past 15 years, taught teachers some of what many of us consider the basics of Google in education, including Gmail, Drive, Slides, and Classroom,along with other tools and apps to create interest and engage students. Other Alberta teachers taught intermediate and advanced courses during the two weeks. With a donation of computers and technology plus school supplies, the Alberta and Dominican students worked in classrooms for hours each day. But it wasn’t only IT they discussed.
“We talked about the commonalities in education, such as working with parents and other teachers to help a student,” says Merry. “And they were eager to learn pedagogy from us, such as how we teach good computer use, how we differentiate for students, and what to do with behavioural issues.”
To prepare for the experience, Merry and the other volunteers met virtually leading up to the trip to plan lessons and objectives. While on the island, they also met each afternoon to evaluate the courses and make adjustments for the following day. In the evenings and on weekends, the teachers explored Caribbean culture and tourist attractions and met with locals. Merry has brought this experience back to her classroom.
“I now have more understanding of what way colonization happened in this part of the world. I use this not only in my Grade 10 courses, but link these ideas to nationalism in Grade 11, and how they impact ideologies in Grade 12 curriculum,” Merry says. “It was a really interesting experience and has certainly expanded my role as an educator.”
A representative from I.T. for Dominica shared that “Without the support of the ATA and ATA Local #19 we would not be able to conduct the important work achieved last summer.” Teachers in Dominica who understand and can teach with technology will help students. It seems certain that they, like educators from Alberta, are working for ‘Every student, every day.’