Stephanie Diaz

Margarita Muniz Academy, Jamaica Plain MA

Join Boston Public Schools' professional cohort in South Africa for a comprehensive look at successful and transferable approaches to education that will further students' skills critical for developing into thoughtful, questioning, and conscientious citizens who better their communities.

Where I've Been

  • Cape Town, South Africa
  • Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Pretoria, South Africa

My Fellowship in Images

Posing outside of Nelson Mandela's house in Soweto, a township that plays a central role in our class novel. It is on the same street as the home of Desmond Tutu, another Nobel Prize winner. Students study speeches of both Mandela and Tutu.
On Robben Island, our guide Sitho was a former political prisoner here. His inspirational story, especially about the importance of literacy while in prison, would have been really meaningful for my students to hear.
This is one of the "shantytowns" that have sprung up as natives attempt to take back the land. It is very reminiscent of the neighborhood described by the main character in our class novel and will help the students to visualize the environment.
These are student leaders from South Peninsula High School, formerly designated as a "Coloured" school. After making connections, I hope my students can correspond with their peers at SPS!
Rosina was the first black woman to race against whites in track in South Africa. Although she achieved great success, she also experienced significant discrimination, only recently being recognized for her achievements. She is now a teacher!
The natural beauty of the Western Cape. Often, my students come in with a view of Africa as poor, hot, grasslands, when in reality many parts of the land and society are rich and beautiful.

Your Personal and Professional Growth

How have your knowledge, skills and capabilities grown?

Having the opportunity to meet and hear the intimate stories of people who were affected by apartheid gave me a deeper understanding of the toll these policies took and continue to exact on the citizens of South Africa. I also learned a great deal about the languages, customs, and histories of several of the native tribes of South Africa, about which I had very little previous knowledge. Interacting with South African educators also gave me insight on their challenges and successes.

As a result, in what ways will your instructional practice change?

I will be able to introduce some of the stories that people shared as primary sources with my students, who can view the videos and quotes as part of their exploratory learning on apartheid. I also plan to focus more deeply on the background of the tribes, particularly the Xhosa and Zulu people, by incorporating kinesthetic learning through an African dance lesson that centers on dance as resistance, such as the one we participated in at the University of Cape Town.

What is the greatest personal accomplishment of your fellowship?

This fellowship allowed me to stretch in several ways. I was able to give a presentation on Boston Public Schools to colleagues from various aspects of the South African educational system at the U.S. Consulate, which was an amazing opportunity that allowed me to reflect on the joys and challenges of our system. Also, I became pregnant after applying for the fellowship and was a little nervous about traveling so far at 5 1/2 months, but I had a very successful experience and grew personally!

Impact on Your Classroom, School and Community

How will your experiences positively impact student learning in new ways?

Students' learning will be much richer for the primary sources (such as the album from the Apartheid Museum and the video of a guest speaker from the Langa Township describing her son's arrest for political resistance) that I was able to obtain. These sources, as well as photos of Johannesburg, where our class novel is set, will bring learning alive and make it relevant and current for my students. Additionally, correspondence with a local high school will give them insight into current issues.

What are your plans for working collaboratively with colleagues?

I plan to share information with my colleagues on dual language education in South Africa that I gained from my networking with educators there. I will work with my principal to schedule time during our weekly professional development to share on this topic, which is extremely relevant for our own work in a dual language high school.

Imagining the Future

How do you envision celebrating of your students’ new learning?

Currently, I am working with The Dance Complex in Cambridge to organize a class in African dance and its history as a form of resistance for my students, which I will certainly film and share with our school. After completing a rhetorical analysis of speeches by Mandela, Tutu, and Biko, students will use these techniques to write their own speeches encouraging a change they would like to see in their own communities, which will be filmed and shared with community organizations.

Are there issues or challenges in your school, community or the greater world about which you and your students might try to make a difference?

A common thread between South Africa and the United States is that racism has led to incredible inequity in wealth and opportunity which has persisted long after legal changes to the racist policies have been made. As a result, when my students complete their Speech for Change project, they will address issues that stem from this larger problem, drawing comparisons between South Africa and Boston. Hopefully their videos will help to inspire change!

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

Having the opportunity to go to South Africa, which this fellowship allowed me, has profoundly impacted my belief in the importance of elevating personal stories in our teaching of history. I have amended my class's focus for the year from simply "Pursuing Justice in Africa and the Middle East" to "Storytelling as Justice in Africa and the Middle East", which will guide our explorations through the lens of ordinary people affected by the events which they are studying.