A glimpse of life at Benito Menni School
A return visit to our partner school in Ghana last term highlighted the remarkable changes which have occurred as the two schools continue to share experiences and ideas.
In 2012 Whitefield entered a partnership with the Benito Menni School in the Obuasi region of Ghana as part of the Global Schools Partnership initiative run by British Council. Since then, staff have travelled both ways six times and it has been an eye-opening experience for both schools.
Benito Menni, for example, places great emphasis on practical and vocational work; students grow food in a substantial vegetable garden and make a variety of craft and practical items that are sold to the wider community. Joanne Sweeney, head of Peter Turner Primary school explains that it was observing the enriching effect of this work that informed Whitefield’s efforts to grow its own craft-making activities and expand its horticultural efforts – the school acquired its first allotment last year.
Joanne visited Benito Menni School, together with teacher and craft-ace Erin McCarthy late last year. They bought back further ideas, including ideas for outdoor games, which have proved a hit with students at break times.
But it was clear that Benito Menni School was also embracing the things that it had learned from Whitefield. “When we first visited in 2012, the differences in teaching style and the way that the students were perceived in the community were very apparent ” Joanne explains. While Whitefield tends to encourage independence in students letting them ‘have a go’ even if the results weren’t perfect, the Benito Menni approach was more complex. In the classroom, lessons commonly involved students watching and studying passively. “On the one hand students were allowed to use machetes in the vegetable garden and razor blades to trim palm leaves to make brooms, on the other there was nervousness about them using scissors in the classroom, it seemed quite incongruous to us back then”.
Moreover cultural attitudes to disability made the schools work difficult, some families revealed a sense of shame at having a child with special needs and there were times where buyers at the market simply refused to buy the items from the school, once they found out who had crafted them.
On the most recent trip however, there was something of a transformation. The school’s principal, Sister Odile Edoh has been working hard on finding ways to bolster the students’ independence. Not only did the students cook meals for the visiting teachers, but all the activities around the meal had been woven into a learning opportunity with the students making shopping lists, learning about money and then visiting the local market to buy food from the stalls – which is now a fortnightly event. As a result attitudes towards the students – and the way that students thought about themselves – are beginning to shift. “It was clear that attitudes in the market are changing” says Joanne “the students were enjoying themselves and the people in the community could see what they are capable off”.
Other changes at the school include an apparent strengthening of partnership with parents and a move to try and build places for the adult students at the school to live independently.
“It was wonderful to see the way things are moving” Joanne says, “We look forward to seeing where our continued partnership takes both schools in 2015”.
At the market
Working in the garden
The finished product drying in the sun.
The finished product!