At first, Avery Cole wasn’t sure why the young boy seemed hesitant to accept the sneakers she was offering him. Then she realized that to a child in that region of Ghana, West Africa, who might walk two hours to school, a pair of running shoes was a hugely precious gift. "They seemed hesitant to even take them because they were so grateful," she says.
Cole, a middle-distance runner on the track-and-field team, distributed shoes (shipped by UVM's Athletic Department ) in Ghana and taught integrated science at two impoverished schools, a trip she lined up herself through a non-governmental organization.
Though she doesn't start the official student teaching portion of her education degree until next spring, Cole definitely won't forget her first unofficial one at a private school in Tema, where creativity isn't a priority and corporal punishment is the standard form of discipline.
"They beat the kids who got in trouble," says Cole. "I told students that I wouldn't hit them and I think they respected me for that. They were great kids and I never really had any problems with them. It was nerve-racking at first, because I didn't even know if they would understand me."
Cole later moved to a more rural school without corporal punishment where she taught large classes of about 35 middle school students. She introduced some creative learning exercises that were quite different from the more traditional methods typically used at the school. "The other teachers called me 'crazy lady' for some of the student-involved lessons I gave. They treated me really well, but I think they were like, 'What's she going to do next?'"