Mary Betsy Brenner, Professor and Chair of the Department of Education at UC Santa Barbara’s Gevirtz School, is beginning a second round of fundraising for the BetsyWilliam Community School in Klay, Liberia. Currently the school is undertaking three major initiatives: an upgrade for the classrooms for elementary students, starting an adult education program with a focus on women, and general maintenance and operation of the school. All funds go to help rebuild Liberia as it recovers from its devastating civil war from 1989 to 2003.
The civil war claimed the lives of more than 200,000 Liberians and displaced a million others into refugee camps in neighboring countries. During that period of time, according to the U.S. State Department website, “Unemployment and illiteracy stood above 75%, and little investment was made in the country’s infrastructure. Liberia is still recovering from the ravages of war; pipe-borne water and electricity are generally unavailable to most of the population, especially outside Monrovia, and schools, hospitals, roads, and infrastructure remain derelict.”
At present about 125 children attend the BetseyWilliam Community School. The early grades are full and very crowded. The higher grades have fewer children because they drop out to work or help with their families or because of an inability to keep paying for school registration and supplies, despite the school being the least expensive to attend in the area. It currently costs $2.50 to enroll in the school; some orphans attend for free.
Professor Brenner returned to Liberia fro the first time in over 20 years last May and brought not only a full 80 pound suitcase of books and school supplies donated by friends and colleagues, but also she was able to buy the school a copy machine, a small computer, and a generator, as previously there was no electricity for the school.
Professor Mary Betsy Brenner did her graduate work in Anthropology at UC Irvine. Her dissertation research looked at how the western type schools in Liberia incorporated and conflicted with the local culture in both teaching methods and mathematical topics. After completing her Ph.D., she worked at the Kamehameha Early Education Program in Hawaii. After Hawaii, Brenner taught in the SESAME program at UC Berkeley and continued her research in Liberia on the differences between modern and traditional forms of education. Since coming to UCSB in 1991, Brenner has been examining how algebra can be taught more effectively, particularly for English language learners. She has also been working with several different after school programs (a computer club at the Boys and Girls Club and the Academic Mentoring Program of the Santa Barbara School District) to understand better how different kinds of learning environments can enhance student learning. She has also become involved with comparisons of achievement involving Asian nations and the United States. Her primary teaching responsibilities are in the areas of qualitative methodology, educational anthropology, and mathematics education.
Those interested in donating to the school should contact Dr. Brenner directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. She can even provide information so people can transfer money directly to the school via Western Union.
[Betsy Brenner is available for interviews; contact George Yatchisin at 805 893 5789]
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