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March 10, 2010
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Alternative spring break: Doctoral student to focus on early childhood education in Kenya

As a sixth-grade language arts teacher at Woodland Elementary in Olathe and in her 12th year in education, Jonann Ellner always seizes an opportunity to enrich her professional and personal paths.

For spring break next week, Ellner will join nine other colleagues for a trip to Africa to assist with the HOPE Kenya preschool. The group will represent educators from Kansas working in collaboration with the Kenya American Institute of Education to continue to develop the Children Helping Children program to enhance, improve and facilitate early childhood education in Kenya.

“The HOPE program is under the Free the Children campaign, and the message is powerful,” said Ellner, an adjunct instructor at Baker University’s School of Professional and Graduate Studies and also a doctoral student at Baker’s School of Education. “It allows young people to connect globally and have a voice in social injustice surrounding education, health care, human rights and environmental needs.”

Ellner’s group will begin the weeklong trip in Nairobi before spending most of its time in Machakos, a poor, rural community outside the city where residents speak the local tribal languages of Kiswahili and Kikamba.

In preparation for the Kenyan trip, the group has received immunizations and met monthly since September, aligning its mission and vision as well as becoming familiar with customs and foreign affairs. In addition to holding informal meetings, the group has read “a ton of literature” on the schools in Kenya and focused on the six essential characteristics of the Professional Learning Communities — common mission, vision, values and goals; collaborative culture; collective inquiry; action orientation; focus on results; and continuous improvement.

“There has been a lot of planning to ensure our safety, to preserve our mission and sacred understandings of trust,” Ellner said. “We have to know each member of our group really well to embark on this type of journey.”

Ellner enjoys working at Woodland, a new school that opened in 2008, after working eight years at another elementary school in Olathe. Stacy Shipley, the principal at Woodland, will also travel to Kenya.

“Stacy’s vision and dedicated leadership to serve all children is a professional dream come true,” she said. “The diversity of education is fascinating if you allow yourself to truly believe that a school's role is to ensure ‘everyone learns,’ both students and staff.”

At Baker, Ellner teaches speech communication and hopes to eventually teach a writing course.

“SC115 is about all forms of communication, which gives me the opportunity to connect adults with the importance of continued learning,” she said. “Adult learners are amazing; they bring a wealth of experience to the academic setting.  They also remind me that public education impacts peoples’ lives long past the grade level you teach.  After completing my Ed.D., I would love to become a permanent part of higher education.”


Baker University is committed to assuring student learning, and developing confident, competent and responsible contributors to society.