Royal Palm Educator Shares Her Passion For Teaching In Kenya

Mildred Acosta leads a lesson with Kenyan first-grade students.

Royal Palm Beach resident and Rosarian Academy teacher Mildred Acosta spent a portion of her summer fulfilling a longtime personal goal to volunteer and contribute to the educational development of global communities.

Acosta and her son, seventh grader Santino Merchan, traveled across the world in July to immerse themselves in the culture of rural western Kenya, teaching and collaborating at a school run by the Kijana Educational Empowerment Initiative.

Kijana, a nonprofit founded by lifelong educator Jim Cummings, operates locally and in Kenya promoting and cultivating youth empowerment through educational development, cross-cultural dialogue, and sustainable and environmentally friendly economic growth, among underserved Kenyan and American school communities.

Acosta first heard about Kijana during the 2021-22 school year from Cara Hansen, the parent of one of her first-grade students, who has been connected to the global-impact agency for the last 15 years. She provided information on the Kijana Global Innovation School, a modern pre-kindergarten through 12th grade independent school that Kijana is in the process of building. Hansen was impressed by the school’s unique, experiential environmental education program and their accomplished goal to plant 500,000 trees to combat climate change.

“I strongly connected with Cara’s passion for this initiative,” Acosta said. “The conversation ignited a longtime personal goal for me.”

Once Acosta expressed interest, a meeting with Cummings was arranged. Within months, Acosta booked flights to Nairobi for herself and Santino, and the planning for a cross-cultural teaching and learning experience began.

Acosta became involved with Kijana School’s Care, Share and Explore Program, which aims to teach students to protect and value all life on earth — human, animal and plant — and share their teaching and learning with neighboring communities. Acosta and the Kenyan teachers collaborated on classroom set-up, lesson development, and new teaching strategies for presenting phonics lessons and hands-on experiences.

To educate the students on how to care for the earth, they selected The Lorax by Dr. Seuss as a springboard for teachers to use when introducing environmental awareness. Acosta worked side-by-side with the teachers at Kijana School on how to identify environmental themes, such as air pollution, deforestation and water pollution. Further, she guided the teachers in developing the themes into hands-on experiences for students.

First, they began by making personal connections to the story, by empathizing with the characters and imagining the characters’ experiences in a real-life setting. Next, they led a class discussion on how one thing affects another to introduce cause and effect within the story. To further assist students in understanding cause and effect, they analyzed the ramifications of particular decisions and how they can affect the community. Finally, the students incorporated movement and music to share with the school community what they learned.

Santino worked collaboratively alongside his mother and the teachers. He helped with crafts and activities and assisted the students with developing their skit. In the evenings, Santino interacted with the children who lived nearby, creating objects from recycled materials and exploring the compound.

“The cross-cultural experience was enriching. I learned that globally, we are seeking the same goals in developing critical thinkers and problem solvers,” Acosta said. “The Kenyan government’s current Competency Based Curriculum seeks to implement hands-on learning to provide students with authentic experiences that can lead to a more meaningful level of proficiency.”

Acosta plans to continue this cross-cultural relationship.

“I hope that in the near future, I have the opportunity to reconnect with the teachers and students in Kenya,” she said. “As the school year progresses, I would love to develop a pen pal program focused on collaborative discussion on important environmental topics.”