Lakeland College

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Lakeland College M.Ed. Program

July 22, 2015 In Malawi Blog

Last week, the students of Cohort 2 completed their first two graduate courses, and as described below, the material has them thinking deeply about reading instruction in Malawi . This week, they have a break from regular classes, but are in sessions with Dr. Bidemi Carrol, a consultant from Washington D.C. who will talk with them about early grade reading instruction in developing countries. The week also holds off-campus opportunities. The students will visit the Early Bird Rotary Club of Sheboygan, the service organization that provided them with welcome baskets of bedding, toiletries, and other personal items when they arrived. They will also explore Bookworm Gardens, the interactive reading park for young children in Sheboygan.  I look forward to sharing their impressions of this unique place for young readers in a future post. Today, let me introduce Edson Dzimwe and Mavuto Chiwale.


Edson Dzimwe

IMG 1719Edson lives and works in Machinga. He and his wife, an elementary school teacher, have four children, a 15-year-old girl, 8-year-old twins (a boy and a girl), and a 3-year old boy.

At the Teacher Training College where he works, Edson teaches two subject areas: English and Chichewa. Before becoming a trainer of teachers, he worked for five years as an elementary teacher at Chigodi Primary School in Lilongwe. It was through working directly with young children that he gained a deep understanding of the many struggles with reading that children in Malawi face, and the challenges teachers have in assisting them .

“In Malawi, we have some successes and some challenges. We need to better train our teachers,” he said, “and also work on providing them with more resources.” Edson is eager to address the needs that learners have—to be taught to read fluently and to read with better comprehension. “We also need to empower parents. Some parents are illiterate in remote areas. It’s a big challenge.”

Edson said that he learned of the opportunity to come to Lakeland from an advertisement in the local newspaper. In addition, he told me that he is good friends with Michael Simawo and Elymas Tembwe, two of the students in Cohort 1 and colleagues of Edson’s at the TTC in Machinga.  In mentioning them, he said, “They triggered my passion to find a way to be here.”

Edson looks forward to successfully completing his studies. He plans to “attend classes, study hard, and go to church.” Like all of his companions in the program, he is eager to return home and do what he can to improve early grade reading instruction in Malawi. “That is why I am here.”


Mavuto Chiwale

MavutoMavuto lives in Blantyre with his wife, an elementary school teacher, and their two boys, one 7 years old and the other just 18 months. 

Mavuto began his work as a primary school teacher in 2000 in his birthplace, Chikwawa, at Tomali Elementary School. While there, he had the experience of attempting to manage 130 students in one classroom. He went on to obtain his bachelor’s degree at Domasi College of Education in Malawi, graduating in 2011. He was assigned to work at the TTC in Blantyre, beginning in 2013. “The experience of being a teacher and then getting further training really helped me understand what teachers need.”

When I expressed how impossible it must be to work with 130 students at once, he said, “It is possible, but very difficult. The infrastructure is not enough. There are too many learners.” He echoed what Edson Dzimwe had said, that teachers need better training and more resources. Mavuto’s goal is “to train teachers to suit the environment in our country.”  

I asked him what comments he had heard about the Lakeland program before coming here. He said, “I heard it’s a good program to teach teachers and teach learners. We heard from our colleagues [in Cohort 1] that we will learn good things.”

After having experienced the first two graduate courses at Lakeland, Mavuto said confidently,” I see that we will go deeper into teaching in the content area. Our students are failing, not because they are not smart, but because they are not instructed well.” He noted that if better training of primary school teachers can be accomplished within the structures that exist, the teachers will flourish and so will their learners. “If you assist [the teachers], they will start loving the job.”

Mavuto said that part of what made him want to study here is that he has a desire to experience Western education, and to bring new ideas home. He also wants to learn how to interact with different people from different cultures. “There are a lot of resources [in the U.S. and at Lakeland],” he said. “Life is much easier. For example, Internet is accessible. In Malawi, in a graduate class, you might have one text book that the entire class must share.”

I asked him if he had felt nervous to come here. He said, “a little.” Then he added that it is the people at Lakeland who have encouraged him that have made him feel differently.  “You need a team. You need support from others to envision solutions to big problems. People here are so willing to help.”


This post is written by Lisa Vihos on behalf of Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID or the United States Government.

July 14, 2015 In Malawi Blog

In the coming weeks, the blog will introduce each of the eleven graduate students of Cohort 2. We begin with Mike Kumwamba, who received his undergraduate degree from Lakeland in 2007, and Frank Mbwana who is in the U.S. for the first time.

Mike Kumwamba LC ‘07

IMG 1720Mike lives in Blantyre in southern Malawi with his wife, an elementary school teacher, and his two daughters, ages 10 and 3. Since 2008, he has worked at the Teacher Training College there. Mike is excited to be back at Lakeland. He said that although there are some very noticeable physical changes to the campus since he was here eight years ago, “the feeling on campus is the same. It is a home away from home.”

Mike reminisced about the many important things he had learned during his undergraduate years from professors like Khodavandi, Hilke, and Elzinga. He spoke highly of all of them and has tried to impart to his students the many lessons he learned here. First and foremost, he learned from Dr. Khodavandi that the teacher is a model for the learner. “If the teacher misbehaves, the learners will follow suit,” he said.

Mike acknowledged that he had very good role models when he was growing up, mainly his own father, mother, and brothers who helped to raise him. “The spirit to upgrade myself was in me for a long, long time. This spirit came from my father, who said, ‘for you to be independent, you need to work hard in school.’” Mike’s sister is also far from home, working on her master’s degree in education in Australia, and will complete her studies this coming December. “When I talk to my sister,” he said, “we always remind each other what our father said.”

Mike knows that the learning he will do at Lakeland is going to be condensed and very challenging. He said, “I believe that perseverance pays. Sometimes it looks like the fight is not going your way, but like it says in the Bob Marley song, “You can get it if you really want it.” He is confident he is up to the task of obtaining his master’s degree in education in order to bring new knowledge about early grade reading instruction home to Malawi.

Frank Mbwana

IMG 1721Frank is married and has three children, two sons, 18 and 14, and a daughter, 9. His wife runs a small family business. He was recently re-assigned from Kasungu to the newly opened TTC in Phalombe. “I miss my family,” he said, “but I’m so excited to be here.”

Before being posted to Phalombe, Frank worked in Kasunga for six years. Prior to that, he was a primary school teacher for nine years and then a secondary teacher for four more years. It was at that point that he went to Domasi College in Malawi to receive his BA degree and become a teacher of teachers.

I asked him what his first impressions are of Lakeland. He replied, “For me, this is an ideal college. Even though I have been here a very short time, I can tell that being out in the country, it is a setting that allows students to focus on their work.” As far as what made him want to come here, he said he has always wanted to travel outside Malawi. He also pointed to the example of his friend and co-worker Ndamyo Mwanyongo, one of the graduate students in last year’s cohort. “She inspired me a lot,” he said.

When I asked Frank what his hopes are for his time at Lakeland he said there are two things. First, he wants to successfully achieve his masters degree. Second, he wants to be instrumental in helping to bring about change in Malawi to improve early grade reading instruction.

Frank reported feeling very at ease and happy to find that people are kind and helpful in Wisconsin. Whereas Mike recognizes Lakeland as a “home away from home,” having been here before, Frank has a slightly different take on it. Feeling the warmth and friendship extended to him by new friends, Frank described Lakeland as “a home in another home.” However one describes it, Lakeland is certainly that, a home to many of us, near and far.


This post is written by Lisa Vihos on behalf of Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID or the United States Government.

July 8, 2015 In Malawi Blog

This blog is called Takulandirani, which means “welcome” in Chichewa, Malawi’s native language. Lakeland College is pleased to say “takulandirani” to the second cohort of graduate students, who began their stay in Wisconsin on June 12, 2015. Only two days after Cohort 1 had left campus, Cohort 2 arrived to begin their year of intense graduate study in the Masters of Education program. It was not long before they found their way to Lake Michigan to enjoy the sun, sand and water.

cohort 2 at the beach
Photo courtesy of Valerie Elzinga

Like their predecessors, the members of the new cohort are committed to improving early grade reading instruction in Malawi. I had the opportunity to speak with four of them last week: Mavuto Chiwale, Edson Dzimwe, Mike Kumwamba (Lakeland College B.A. graduate of 2007), and Frank Mbwana. All shared how energized they are by the opportunity to gain knowledge at Lakeland. All are passionate about education and their purpose in being in the graduate program.

Indications so far are that the group has eagerly jumped into their first two courses: ED741 Reading in the Content Areas and ED790 Literacy and Second Language Acquisition. Along with Mike Kumwamba, there are three other students in this cohort who received their undergraduate degrees at Lakeland. They are Alemekezeke Chitanje, Elizer Kalilombe, and Nancy Nyirenda. As Mike reported, for them, coming to Lakeland is like returning home.

The other members of this cohort are: Margret Mandala, Mary Mzama, Henderson Ngwira, and Yowasi Nkhambala. All eleven previously worked as teacher trainers at one of the seven teacher training colleges (TTCs) in Malawi. Four are from the TTC in Blantyre, two are from Lilongwe, two are from the newly-opened TTC in Phalombe, and one each is from Kasungu, Karonga, and Machinga.

Before leaving campus for the final time, the students in Cohort 1 founded a group called the Forum for Reading Education (FREE) to help them network with colleagues throughout Malawi. The forum has a Facebook page, which already has 167 “likes.” Please look at it and “like” the page so you can keep up with the activities of the group. This page will also be where students in Cohort 1 and students in Cohort 2 can share ideas with each other.

In addition to FREE, an advisory board was formed to support the work that FREE will undertake. Lakeland faculty and staff members serve on this board, and they are joined by two of the adjunct reading specialists who taught in the M.Ed. program last year. The purpose of the board is to provide advice and direction to FREE in its efforts to improve literacy and reading in Malawi.

The graduate students of Cohort 2 say they are looking forward to an amazing year. In the coming weeks, follow this blog to meet each of them in more detail and to witness how they are faring, what they are learning, and what they plan to do to support the improvement of early grade reading instruction in Malawi.

This post is written by Lisa Vihos on behalf of Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID or the United States Government.

May 29, 2015 In Malawi Blog

The graduate students of Cohort 1 are getting ready to return to Malawi and will leave the U.S. on June 10.  Because so much of their experience at Lakeland relating to professional development has been shared on this blog I thought it might be interesting to ask them some different kinds of questions to bring this academic year to a close.  This is what I asked:  “What differences or commonalities have you observed between cultures in America and Malawi? What have you learned about yourself in this past year, living so far from home? How have you changed?” Here is what the graduate students shared with me. 


As Margaret Mulaga pointed out, there are many differences in dress, food, and traditions when comparing the U.S. and Malawi, but there is one “important commonality,” she said, “that is the friendliness of the people.” In Malawi, she reminded me, people are very welcoming. In fact, Malawi is referred to as the “warm heart of Africa” for this very reason.  But people in Wisconsin also showed a warm heart.  The hospitality and kindness shown by everyone here helped Margaret get past her initial challenges, she said, past everything from not liking cheese (she has since grown accustomed to it) to feeling homesick.  

Overton Simbeye said that he too had a problem with cheese in the beginning. But now, he will miss it. And hamburgers. He also remarked on the wonderful visits he has had with this host family this year and the variety of experiences that he might never had had otherwise. In fact, every student mentioned his or her host family and the warmth and generosity of spirit that has been shared in so many homes, backyards, parks, and on trips to Milwaukee, Oshkosh, Chicago, and elsewhere.  

Elymas Tembwe said that during his year in the U.S. he has become aware of the value of having a sense of humor, and of being direct and open. He said, “People here [in the U.S.] are very free to interact . People are not closed. They come to you open.” He appreciated this American tendency to be more direct in speech, in planning, and in action. He felt it was something he had found in himself that could be put to good use in Malawi, where people generally tend to approach things more indirectly.  

Benjamin David said that the most important thing he has observed here time and again—in his professors, his fellow students, his church members, and his host family—is that people in the U.S. have what he called “a hard working spirit.” People here strive for things, develop personal goals, and then work to meet them. He said, “At home [in Malawi], the majority of people rely on goals made by others,” and it sounded as though Benjamin is determined to bring what he has learned at Lakeland to change that back home.

Elias Lyson echoed this same notion when he said he admired that people here commit to whatever it is they are passionate about. “They do it to their best,” he said, “and they join together to solve problems as a team.” He hopes this sense of passion he has witnessed is something he can take home with him. He said, “Passion. That is the spirit we want to see in Malawi.” 

Ndamyo Mwanyongo, who received her undergraduate degree from Lakeland in 2008, shared that she feels she has “grown up” this year, becoming more confident in herself. As she walked across the stage at the May 3 Commencement ceremony, she was reminded of a motto that she learned at Phwezi Girls Secondary School: “Accept the challenge, God will guide.”  It is something she has said to herself many times in her life, and now, it has new meaning for her. 

Like all his friends, Michael Simawo said he has learned and grown a lot over the past year. He was grateful to have experienced in person the extremity of all four seasons , not just through movies or photographs. He also observed that “people here prioritize what belongs to the group, putting the group first.” It is interesting to note that while some of us might describe American culture as “me first,” Michael actually witnessed many signs of the exact opposite. 

Bertha Singini had some especially difficult challenges here this spring. In March, she lost her beloved father in a bus accident in Malawi. Soon after that, she found out she had a mass in her throat, pushing on her wind pipe, which needed to be surgically removed. The mass was removed just ten days before graduation, and fortunately it  was not cancerous. Bertha proudly walked with her cohort in the ceremony. She said to me, “It is a fact that I got better medical care here than I would have at home.” Bertha got through all this with her strong faith in God and the kindness of her friends. She is happy to be going home, but knows she will miss everyone here. She is grateful for email and Facebook. 

I will end this post with the observations of Phillip Nachonie, who graduated from Lakeland in 2006. Phillip shared how impressed he has been by the amazing passion that Wisconsin teachers have for education and for their students. He observed at various elementary schools that teachers really work over and above their duty to ensure that their students learn, and he hopes to bring this kind of commitment home to Malawi with him.

Phillip was looking for a word to describe how it will feel to leave Lakeland a second time and I offered, “bittersweet?” He jumped in his chair, “Yes! Exactly, bittersweet.” He expressed a wish that he could somehow have his family and friends back home be in the presence of his host family, his church family, and his many new friends here. And although it seems unlikely that this would ever happen, Phillip reminded himself that things can happen that we never could have dreamed.  “When I said goodbye to my friends in Wisconsin back in 2006, I never thought I would be back here, but here I am. You see, anything is possible.” 

The graduate students wish to thank all of their professors and the staff of Lakeland College for an amazing year. They also would like to thank their host families and their church communities, all in Sheboygan: Holy Name Catholic Church, Sheboygan Seventh Day Adventist Church, and Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Thanks also goes to First Congregational United Church of Christ. 

group at the bean resized

This post is written by Lisa Vihos, the Director of Sponsored Programs and Research at Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID or the United States Government.

April 29, 2015 In Malawi Blog

The graduate students are coming into the final stretch of their time at Lakeland. They anticipate one last May Term class and several workshops designed to sharpen various skills in topics such as persuasive writing, grant writing for early grade reading programs, and reading assessment. On May 3, they will participate in the 153rd Lakeland Commencement ceremony, even though their degrees will not be conferred until they defend their thesis projects in Malawi this coming December. The next several weeks will be filled with an array of experiences designed to help them prepare for the work that awaits them at home.


At the last bi-weekly group meeting, Phillip Nachonie shared that the graduate students had witnessed something powerful during a recent visit to Parkview and Horizon elementary schools in Plymouth. There, the Malawians observed young children being taught reading and writing. As Phillip described, it was impressive to see how the teachers allowed the students free reign to express themselves in a non-judgmental environment, even if their written texts exhibited errors of spelling and grammar. “This was eye-opening,” said Phillip, “to let young learners express themselves fully and make corrections later.” This is completely different from how reading and writing are taught in Malawi, where a first focus is always put on correcting the student’s errors.


reading stategy 3

This experience led the graduate students to request copies of Wisconsin’s Common Core Standards for Writing. They had a chance to review and discuss this document in the ED 792 tutorial, “Reading: Instructional Strategies” with their instructors Lori Ann Roelse and Geralyn Leannah. Many questions ensued about the early stages of learning to write. One key takeaway for the students seemed to be that more time is needed in the curriculum for writing.  Reading and writing really do go together in any discussion about literacy.


While this distinction may seem elementary, the desire to make changes at the curricular level can be daunting. Lori Ann encouraged the students to “think big, start small.” She reminded them that they are doing all the right work to identify challenges and solutions. Ndamyo Mwanyongo shared a piece of Malawian wisdom: “Kalowa kayanza,” which roughly translates to: “Whatever goes into the ear will stay there.” Meaning, if people hear something, it will stick with them.


As their time at Lakeland draws to a close, the graduate students are deeply engaged in planning. They are discussing the new teaching methods in early grade reading instruction that they will advocate for in Malawi. They look forward to briefing their principals, sharing with colleagues, and conducting their research. The graduate students are determined to stay in close communication with each other and support each other once they return. They plan to create a new reading association in Malawi, an online network they will use to share information with each other and with their other colleagues at the Teacher Training Colleges. Along with some periodic meetings that are supported by the grant project, the graduate students know they will have to find opportunities to meet after they graduate, even if that means paying for travel themselves. As Benjamin David so aptly put it, “We can hardly make lasting change if we work in isolation.”


This post is written by Lisa Vihos, the Director of Sponsored Programs and Research at Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

March 27, 2015 In Malawi Blog

Thank You for Teaching Us


Winter in Wisconsin this year can’t decide if it will go or stay, so from past experience we know this is a sure sign of spring. It is March, and as our graduate students enjoy slightly warmer days, they remain focused on their coursework and preparations to return to Malawi.  Their time in Wisconsin will be over in just three short months.This post highlights a variety of news from the past three weeks.


Professors Elzinga and Frink journeyed to Malawi over Lakeland’s spring break (March 9-15) to attend to administrative details related to the program. While there, they secured office space for the program, hired a research mentor to work with the graduate students when they collect data for their theses, researched sources for school supplies, and met with USAID and other officials

On Thursday, March 19, the grade school students at Longfellow Elementary School held a going away party for their Malawian teachers. As described in the most recent blog post, the graduate students had worked with the children at Longfellow for nine weeks, using a variety of reading strategies that they will incorporate into their teaching practices at the Teacher Training Colleges when they return home.

As part of the festivities, the Longfellow children created special folders and bookmarks for each teacher, and the Malawians brought traditional foods to share with the children: nsima (corn meal), rice, beef stew, and cabbage.

I asked the children as they sat with their Malawian teachers at the party to tell me some of the favorite things they had experienced in their reading groups. Their answers included: “I liked the animal cards,” “I liked the guessing games,” and “I will never forget Bertha’s hugs!”

IMG 1064

I then asked what they had learned from their African teachers, and the students said, “Every sentence has words in it,” “Words are made from letters,” and “Elephants don’t sweat.”

One little girl said she used to read slowly, but now she can read faster. When I asked the class, “What is one thing you would like to share with your teacher from Malawi?” a boy said, “Thank you for teaching us.”

Geralyn Leannah, one of the cooperating reading specialists at Longfellow School and an instructor for the course, “Instructional Strategies,” wrote a lovely summation of her observations of the Malawian graduate students:

As long as I live I will never forget the teachers from Malawi who came to study at Lakeland College this past year. These 9 individuals have become masters at the craft of teaching reading, and have shown remarkable courage, integrity and determination.


First, they left their homes and families, committing to 12 months away in a foreign place. Then, they threw themselves into intense study and research with very few breaks, reading and writing well into each and every night. Next, they endured harsh weather, alien to their experience: the snow, endlessly overcast skies and bitter cold of Wisconsin winters. Then, as part of their studies, the Malawian teachers took on 30 elementary school students, practicing reading strategies together for nine weeks. Tight bonding ensued.


Through it all, they demonstrated humor, wisdom and wit in the face of change and unfamiliar circumstances. Clearly, the Lakeland College students from Malawi are extraordinary human beings and their country's greatest asset.

IMG 1090 resized

This post is written by Lisa Vihos, the Director of Sponsored Programs and Research at Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

February 26, 2015 In Malawi Blog

On Tuesday, February 24, I visited Longfellow Elementary School in Sheboygan to observe the Lakeland graduate students working with elementary school students to improve reading skills. Today's post is a photo essay that describes what I saw taking place. 


The graduate students have been visiting Longfellow School every Tuesday and Thursday for the last several weeks as a practicum experience, putting into practice the theories and skills they are learning in the classroom. Their cooperating reading specialists in the elementary school are Geralyn Leannah and Lori Ann Roelse.  Ms. Leannah and Ms. Roelse are also the professors in the Instructional Strategies course the graduate students are taking this term.  Several of the Lakeland students expressed how gratifying and helpful it was to be able to see the various strategies they have learned come to life in a classroom with young learners.  These are skills the M.Ed. students will have perfected while they are here. In the future, they will be able to pass these tested strategies to teachers in the Teacher Training Colleges in Malawi.

The Lakeland students will continue with their same groups of children for the rest of the semester. These photos clearly show the engagement in the learning process that is happening and the friendships that have been made.

IMG 8517 resizedBenjamin David


IMG 1045Bertha Singini


IMG 1037Elias Lyson


IMG 8518 resizedElymas Tembwe

IMG 1017Margaret Mulaga


IMG 1023Michael Simawo


IMG 1021Ndamyo Mwanyongo


IMG 0994Overton Simbeye


IMG 8523 resizedPhillip Nachonie


This post is written by Lisa Vihos, the Director of Sponsored Programs and Research at Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

February 12, 2015 In Malawi Blog

The week starting on February 2 was especially important for the Lakeland College-USAID Educational Partnership.  Florence G. Sepula, Participant Training Specialist at USAID/Malawi, visited campus as part of a longer visit of hers to the U.S. that included training workshops in Washington, D.C.


Ms. Sepula arrived in Wisconsin from Washington just in time for the big snow storm that hit the state on February 1, but she came well-prepared for winter weather with new gloves and a thick scarf.  While she was here, she observed classes and met with key faculty members (such as Jeff Elzinga, Mehraban Khodavandi, and Joshua Kutney) and key administrators (such as President Dan Eck, Academic Dean Meg Albrinck, CFO Carole Robertson, and Controller Sharon Roob). 

IMG 0860Perhaps most importantly, Ms. Sepula met individually with each student, as well as with the whole group, to learn about everyone's progress in the program and about the adjustment to campus, Wisconsin, and the U.S. Ndamyo Mwanyongo said, “Florence Sepula’s visit made me feel a greater impact of the M.Ed. program which I am pursuing…This feeling has made me want to work harder…to finish well.” Bertha Singini was heartened by Ms. Sepula’s “good direction on our plans,” and Michael Simawo was appreciative that Ms. Sepula clarified the “…areas we need to work on, which I intend to share with stakeholders in education when I go back.”

Part of Ms. Sepula’s responsibility is to provide USAID/Malawi with a report on how things are going here. I had the pleasure of driving Ms. Sepula to and from campus each day, so we had many opportunities to talk and get to know one another.  From our conversations I learned that by the end of her visit she was impressed with the progress being made. “From my observation,” she said, “I’ve noted that Lakeland College has demonstrated high standards in the training of these teachers. The faculty and administration at Lakeland College seem very dedicated to student success.”

All the students had met Ms. Sepula previously, at the time of their application interviews, in April 2014. She had been involved in their selection, and she will serve in this capacity again as the next cohort of graduate students is selected in the coming weeks. Advertisements have already been placed in Malawi’s newspapers, at the Teacher Training Colleges, and with other community venues throughout the country. The application process may be even more competitive this year, she said, as it is expected that there will be far more than the 300 applications that were received the first time around.

IMG 0960I joined Ms. Sepula and several of the students for dinner in Bossard Hall on Wednesday evening and then we went together to the class ED 706, “Differentiating Instruction.”  It is taught by Plymouth School District Superintendent, Dr. Carrie Dassow. Discussion that night focused on a group of articles that the students had read. Dr. Dassow asked the class to share insights, surprises, or anything that struck them as they read about the theory and practical application of differentiated learning. A great discussion ensued as everyone shared his or her thoughts. One notion in particular that struck me while listening was the idea of “starting small.”  This seems especially relevant as I continue to think about the large task ahead for the graduate students. How will they implement the many good ideas that they have developed here when they go home to Malawi? Ms. Sepula shed some light on the future when she said, “The students have made tremendous progress in their studies, such that I’m confident that they will make a difference in the teaching of reading in Malawi.”

The students will continue in the coming months to refine their individual thesis projects and their combined strategies for implementing systemic improvements to early grade reading in Malawi. I sensed that Ms. Sepula’s visit brought “home” into clear focus for each of them. She answered their questions, gave feedback on their plans, and encouraged them “to hang on” and continue to work hard. She assured them that their efforts are going to make a difference. Phillip Nachonie summed up the sentiments of the graduate students well: “Florence’s coming was a blessing as she gave us an update of what is going on back home in relation to reading. Now we have an idea of who our partners are, what they are doing, and what it is we can do to put Malawi on the map as far as literacy is concerned.”

IMG 0863Lisa and Florence at the end of the day.

This post is written by Lisa Vihos, the Director of Sponsored Programs and Research at Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

January 14, 2015 In Malawi Blog

On Sunday, January 11, Bertha Singini and Benjamin David answered an invitation from First Congregational Church in Sheboygan to speak at an Adult Forum educational session prior to the 10 a.m. worship service. These sessions are offered by the church every Sunday morning on a variety of topics in order to raise church members’ awareness about issues of both local and global importance. At a recent session, Pastor Jim Hollister shared information about his trip to The Holy Land, where he gained new insights about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On January 11, the topic for the session was “Early Grade Reading in Malawi: A Way Forward.” Eighteen church members attended, and afterwards, commented that they were moved by what Benjamin and Bertha shared about the challenges facing young learners in Malawi.


Benjamin began by presenting basic information about the size and population of Malawi. He shared that there are 17 different ethnic groups within the country, each one speaking its own local language. While Chichewa is the national language, and English is the official language, there are many other languages spoken amongst the nation’s 16 million inhabitants. For some children, English is not just a second language, but sometimes it is the child’s third language.

IMG 0931Benjamin and Bertha described the various difficulties faced by Malawi’s educational system: large class sizes, lack of indoor classroom space, lack of book resources and other educational aids, lack of assessment, and in many cases, a lack of well-trained teachers. They explained that soon after the government changed in 1994 from a single-party to a multi-party system, education became free to all children, and many more girls started attending classes.  One repercussion of this sudden increase in school populations was a decrease in the quality of teaching available to students because there were not enough trained teachers to go around. Malawi’s education sector has been trying to catch up ever since. 

During the church presentation, the LC graduate students did not focus only on their country’s challenges, of course. They shared a list of initiatives they hope to champion when they return home. At the top of their list is developing new ways to involve parents in their children’s learning process, including teaching parents to read themselves, when that is necessary. Also on their list were ideas about raising the bar for teacher training and bringing to their colleagues and students at the Teacher Training Colleges the best practices for teaching reading across the entire curriculum.

Bertha and Benjamin also mentioned that the Lakeland graduate students have a vision for creating a “model school” in Malawi that could become a center for promoting and disseminating the best practices in early grade reading instruction. They imagine, as part of this model school, a resource something along the lines of Sheboygan’s Bookworm Gardens. They see a Malawi Bookworm Gardens as an enriching and engaging environment in which children and their parents can learn together.

The Sheboygan church members had many questions for the presenters and praised them for their courage and perseverance in addressing the needs of Malawi’s youngest students.


This post is written by Lisa Vihos, the Director of Sponsored Programs and Research at Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

December 22, 2014 In Malawi Blog

I had the pleasure of accompanying the graduate students on Friday, December 19, to Cleveland Elementary School for a music program, “An Eclectic Collection of Holiday Songs.” We were the guests of the school’s principal, Dr. Bill Klein, who is also one of the adjunct instructors in the Lakeland graduate program. He was very happy to welcome the Malawians to his school, and the Lakeland students were very happy to be there.

Visiting Cleveland SchoolDr. Bill Klein, far left, with the Malawi students and front office staff at Cleveland Elementary School.

Upon arrival, we toured the school building and visited the front office, the library/computer lab, the art room, and two classrooms, one for kindergarteners and one for second graders. In each classroom, Dr. Klein introduced the Malawians to the children and explained that these visitors were his students at Lakeland College and that they had come to study in the United States from a place very far away. He explained that the country of Malawi was on the continent of Africa, and he asked the children if they could tell him how one would get to Malawi. “Could you use a car?” he asked. The children were quite sure a person would need either a boat or a plane.
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The Malawians had front row seats for the concert, where about 250 parents had gathered in the gymnasium to listen to their children sing. The music director at Cleveland is Lisa (Landwehr) Whelton, who is a 1988 alumna of Lakeland’s music education program. She led the children, from kindergarteners through fifth graders, in a lively program that featured many fun and energetic holiday songs. The children added percussion, hand gestures, and body movements that created an uplifting and entertaining show. You didn’t need to be related to these children to enjoy their performance. That’s how good it was.

children singing

I asked the graduate students afterward about music in schools in Malawi, and I learned that children do sing in school, as part of the “expressive arts” curriculum. What the Malawians found most impressive about the activity we had just witnessed at Cleveland Elementary was the involvement of parents. It really struck the Malawians how great it was that parents would take time to be present for their children in this way.

In addition, they were curious about the fact that public school students do not wear uniforms (as they generally do in Malawi). Phillip Nachonie pointed out how important it is to teach children things and then give them the opportunity to show off what they have learned. Everyone agreed that this opportunity to “show off” would be something to take home to Malawi with them.

One final highlight of the day was at the end of the concert when we met with Lisa Whelton and a fourth grade teacher, Dawn Wood, who is a 2009 alumna of Lakeland’s M.Ed. program. It was a lovely moment to have these two LC alumnae exchanging stories with the Malawian students about favorite professors: Khodavandi, Elder, Homstad, and Schilcutt to name a few. There was much laughter, a sense of camaraderie, and the invitation from Dr. Klein to return to the school in the future. 

It was such a wonderful afternoon. What better way to celebrate the Christmas season? Songs were sung, cookies were shared, friends were made.

Malawians with Lisa and DawnThe graduate students with Lisa (Landwehr) Whelton '88 at far left and Dawn Wood '09 at far right.

IMG 0908Bertha Singini with two new friends, Christopher and Jacob.


This post is written by Lisa Vihos, the Director of Sponsored Programs and Research at Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

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