Andover Faculty Team Up with LEAP School, Travel to South Africa

Five Phillips Academy faculty members traveled to South Africa over Spring Break to strengthen connections with the Cape Town branch of the LEAP school. The LEAP school, a math and science focused school for grades 10 through 12, aims to improve education in disadvantaged communities. Peter Merrill, Interim Director of the Global Initiatives Office and Division Head of World Languages, led the group. Merrill said the trip had two purposes: to give the faculty a chance to explore South African history and culture firsthand and to further the partnership between Phillips Academy and LEAP. The traveling group included Andrew Housiaux, Instructor in Religion and Philosophy, Chad Green, Director of Community Service, Kathryn Green, Instructor in Mathematics, and Rajesh Mundra, Instructor in Biology. Mundra is currently on sabbatical in India. “One [goal of the Global Initiatives Office] is to develop opportunities for faculty to learn about things that we might have not learned about in graduate school or college. We essentially hope to work on projects that push us beyond the disciplines we were trained in,” Merrill. Green said, “It was so incredibly intense to actually, for example, go to the Apartheid Museum and speak with guides there who had actually experienced [apartheid].” “Even to go there and experience the post-apartheid world, where people speak openly about race in a way that most Americans would never even think about was eye-opening,” Green continued. In addition to touring notable South African monuments, the group visited the LEAP school. LEAP recruits underprivileged but talented South African children living in neighborhoods known as “townships.” The towns that benefit from the LEAP program consist primarily of shacks and very small houses, often headed by a single parent. The average income is low, and children are without role models. Children often experience the effects of drug and alcohol abuse, physical or sexual abuse, and sexually transmitted diseases at a young age. To help its students cope with the issues they encounter, LEAP holds “life orientation sessions” four times a week, in which students confront and reflect on very intimate problems at home and how these issues affect their education. “They talk about how they interact with one another, what’s going well, what’s not going well, and what’s bothering them,” said Merrill. “What I see as a real value is the honesty that they bring to these conversations. They’re not afraid to deal with uncomfortable situations. You talk about it overtly, which is not something that our culture is very good at,” he continued. Merrill noted that both parties should learn from each other as they have different but “complementary” strengths. “I think [the partnership’s] a really huge thing in terms of professional development,” Green said. “It’s very important to know what’s going on in the world, what’s going on in other schools with other teachers. You can’t just stay in your own bubble and not be aware of what’s happening on a more global level,” she continued. Housiaux wrote in an email, “Learning about another part of the world, at its best, helps us become more reflective and compassionate human beings. Spending time in another part of the world gives us more data: we can have more sophisticated thoughts and understandings of the world and our role within it.” The connection with LEAP came from Temba Maqubela, Dean of Faculty and Instructor in Chemistry. Maqubela is on the Board of Directors of South Africa Partners, an organization which collaborates with LEAP. Since the Global Initiatives Office is a pilot program, there are not yet funds for student programming, though it is in consideration for the next step for the partnership. “The places we’ve been taking faculty, we hope to be taking students,” said Merrill. For this trip, Maqubela and Merrill selected participants based on their relevance to the mission. Mundra had ideas and experiences to share regarding PA and LEAP’s partnership because he is currently running a student program in Mumbai, India while on his sabbatical. Housiaux teaches a nonviolence course with a focus on Mahatma Gandhi, who is connected with South African anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela. He also has participated in Mundra’s program. The Greens will move to South Africa for nine months next year on sabbatical. “This trip really fired us up so much, so we definitely have no regrets now,” said Kathryn Green. The trip was a follow-up to the LEAP teachers’ visit to PA last year.