Tracey-Ann Lafayette

Robert J. O’Brien STEM Academy, East Hartford CT

Research in Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa, the history of apartheid as influenced by Nelson Mandela to empower elementary students in social activism and restorative justice.

Where I've Been

  • Cape Town, South Africa
  • Johannesburg, South Africa

My Fellowship in Images

This picture was taken outside of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory. We had an amazing private tour there. We were able to see many of original artifacts from Mandela’s life and visit the office that he worked in after his presidency!
Here we are with Joe Schaffers at the District Six Museum. This museum was created to honor and pay tribute to the families, including Mr. Schaffers, who were forceable removed from their homes under the apartheid government.
This is the statue of Hope located outside of the Women’s Jail at Constitution Hill. Constitution Hill was a prison where Gandhi, Mandela, and other political prisoners were held. We learned so much about the injustices people faced under apartheid.
Here we are with the Mr. Meyer, the principal of Klipfontein Primary School. I loved visiting this school because in many ways it reminded me of O’Brien. This was one of our most meaningful visits, I loved seeing the school and meeting the students!
Here I am at the Robben Island Museum. Robben Island served as a maximum security prison under the apartheid government. We learned so much about the history of the island where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years as a political prisoner.
I wish you all could have met Vernon Rose. He is the amazing gentleman who put together all the experiences that we had while we were in Cape Town. Thanks to him we were able to see the beauty of South Africa, meet with Non Profits and visit schools!

Igniting Personal and Professional Growth

What changed as a result of your fellowship? Why was it vital for you to pursue this particular opportunity/experience? What learning gaps (yours and/or your students’) were/will be filled as a result of your fellowship?

As a result of my fellowship, I gained a greater understanding of the impact of apartheid on South Africa. It was vital for me to pursue this experience because it allowed me to understand that though apartheid ended- its legacy lives on through societal injustices. This trip became so much more than I was expected. I went in expecting to simply learn about apartheid but ended up learning about the passion, drive, and resilience of the people in South Africa in the face of adversity.

How do you see your teaching evolving after your fellowship? Your students’ learning?

My teaching will evolve as a result of this experience because I will now spend more time centering my work around social justice and advocacy. My students will be able to empathize with people who are different from them. They will learn how to stand up for themselves and others. I’ve learned that while teaching the basics is essential, I also have the opportunity to prepare my students for the future.

What were some unplanned or unexpected experiences or outcomes of your fellowship?

An unexpected experience that impacted me during this trip was a visit to Guga S’Thebe. Guga S’Thebe is an art based community center in the heart of Langa, a black township. This experience meant so much to me because it represents hope and healing. Apartheid created an unequal, unjust society. The people it left behind have not been given the support and resources they deserve but still, they have risen above that and created opportunity and healing for themselves in their own way.

Impacting Your Classroom, School and Community

How will your students learn differently because of your new knowledge or skills?

As a result of my knew knowledge, my students will learn in a way that acknowledges the fact that they are global citizens. They will learn more about their own identities and about people who are different from them. In the past I have included stories related to social justice in our work but moving forward I plan to do so in a more systematic and planned way. I will focus on incorporating social comprehension into the fabric of our classroom.

What specific events, projects or deliverables will your students experience related to your fellowship?

My students will experience Global Dignity Day and a Human Rights Day Celebration. These two events will give my class the opportunity to work on projects that focus on the rights of people around the world. Students will also conduct research on individuals that have impacted the world positively. They will also have the opportunity to research a cause that is important to them and develop a plan that will help improve that issue.

How, specifically, will your fellowship extend beyond your classroom? (e.g. families, school-at-large, afterschool groups, surrounding community, colleagues, etc.)

This fellowship will extend beyond my classroom in a variety of ways. Our school community will be impacted because Nicole and I will be putting together a social justice based literacy curriculum for the 3-5 grade students at our school. Our colleagues will have the opportunity to dive deeper into thoughts about their own identities as they begin this work for their students during PDs. Our school as a whole will get to take part in various events throughout the school year.

Inspiring the Future

Why was this opportunity transformative for your teaching on a macro-level?

This opportunity has been transformative for my teaching because it has allowed me to engage in authentic learning experiences. It has made me curious about the local histories that are surrounding me that I haven’t considered. It has solidified the importance of teaching students about social justice and social comprehension. It has reminded me of the power that passionate individuals can have. It has showed me the impact that children can have on their communities.

Why do students benefit from this type of teacher learning?

Students benefit from this type of teacher learning because it allows teacher to learn more about their passion. When teachers are able to bring their passions into the classroom it is contagious. A teacher that is excited about a particular topic can create of room of excited students. Students can get first hand stories of their teacher’s experiences which is so incredibly valuable and can help to improve student engagement.

How would you describe to a friend or grant funder the fundamental ways in which your fellowship changed your personal and/or professional perspective?

It’s easy to read about something and feel like you understand it. It is completely different to travel to that place and experience history first hand, to sit with and talk to people who experienced the very thing you are trying to learn about. This fellowship changed me because it brought history to life and gave it a face. I learned about the history of apartheid while also learning about the present and future of a resilient people. I will forever be changed by this experience.