Kecia McDonald from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, is the EL Resource Teacher for the West Hawai’i Complex Area. She is one of 49 public school educators chosen to be a 2022 Global Learning Fellow by the NEA Foundation. The fellowship includes a two-day professional development workshop in the fall and a ten-day international field study to South Africa, where Kecia lived for 14 years. She was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Lesotho and also lived in Zimbabwe and South Africa.
To help create the conditions that allow others to succeed at what they are being asked to do, and support them to go beyond and pursue what they want to do.
Joe Sanfelippo talks about focusing on the “get-to”s instead of getting completely mired in the “must-do”s and this is part of my WHY, too. We all have things we must do, and I love to help people succeed at those, but then also to help them utilize their gifts and talents to go beyond the “must-dos” and enjoy the “get-tos.”
Your background, where you grew up
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, more specifically the East Bay. My dad was born and raised in Oakland, California, and was a career firefighter there. I lived in Castro Valley and went to HS in Hayward, California. Castro Valley was very unique, as it was part of this larger, more cosmopolitan area yet had a small-town feel. We still had a rodeo and a festival every year, there was a saddlery shop in town, etc. So it was the best of both worlds, growing up with a small-town sense of community then also running around Berkeley and San Francisco, getting exposed to more urban, multicultural trends.
What it was like for you as a student
I was a traditional, successful student. Straight As, involved in sports and clubs, student leadership, and the whole package. Success at school came easily to me and I totally conformed to the system. Now I can see that the ease of navigating school does not come naturally to many, but at the time I just thought it was straightforward and how “everyone” experienced school.
Your journey as a teacher
My journey as a teacher has not been traditional or straightforward. Teaching is something I came to later in life, and I never had any intention of becoming an educator. In fact, I was that person who would claim loudly and vehemently, “I could NEVER be a teacher!” I didn’t think I had the patience or the ability to instruct. I felt like if I knew something, I would not be able to break it down in pieces to help others understand. Of course, I have since discovered that it’s not about imparting knowledge but facilitating learning.
I completed an alternative teaching program and started as a Teen Health teacher at an intermediate school. I have since served as a Curriculum Coordinator, Test Coordinator, Title I Coordinator, and Student Support Services Coordinator at the school level and currently am a Resource Teacher for English Learners at the District Level. I do love being in the classroom, and I also really enjoy creating systems of support for the bigger picture programming pieces.
Your experience in the Peace Corps
My teaching career partially started in the Peace Corps, where I served as an agricultural volunteer in Lesotho. Part of my assignment was doing garden demonstrations and food preservation sessions at different villages. I can’t say how effective I was as a teacher, but serving in the Peace Corps influenced the rest of my life, especially in my perspective and how I see equity and access. You can’t live in a mud hut without running water or electricity for two years and not be changed by it. I ended up living in Africa for 20 years altogether, and it is a big part of who I am.
Your moving to Hawaii
I moved to Hawai’i 8 years ago to provide my children with different opportunities. Their childhood in Africa was rich with diversity and broad experiences, but the access to university is limited and I wanted to make sure my kids had every opportunity to attend college if they wanted to.
My parents had relocated from the Bay Area to the Big Island of Hawai’i in 2000. When we made the decision to move to the United States, I knew I wanted to be near to my family. It has been a good fit because of the slower pace of life, the value placed on family, and the range of outdoor activities – all things in common with our life in Africa.
The Importance of Mental Health
Becoming a Health teacher is what led me to become a strong advocate for socio-emotional health, and for mental health awareness in particular. The health standards were the basis of my classroom teaching, and I saw how engaged and interested my students were in learning more about themselves and exploring the so-called “soft skills”. As both a teacher and a mom, I could see the impact of mental wellness or lack thereof on academic performance and the ability to learn. Our reflection on the importance of mental health was a wonderful opportunity to explore this critical issue. The pandemic has thrown a spotlight on mental health, but they need to prioritize SEL and wellness has always been there. Until we make our schools’ places of wellness we will never succeed at making them places of learning.
Check out Reflection #4 on Mental Health Awareness with Kecia and Barbara
Wellness and mental health will always be a priority of mine, and I am also learning more about global education and global competencies. I feel the two fit well together, as having a greater understanding of the world and perspective of how others live will fuel the empathy needed to work toward holistic wellness for ourselves and for our planet. I am currently an NEA Foundation Global Learning Fellow, and through this program, I am building my capacity to learn and teach about global issues. The fellowship is a year-long professional development opportunity focused on global competencies and includes learning modules, a capstone project, and a travel component. We were meant to travel to South Africa as part of the program, but due to the pandemic, we are being rerouted to Peru. It is a wonderful opportunity to bring the world into the classroom and explore what education looks like around the globe.
What’s next for you?
I will continue to work for the Hawai’i DOE for a number of years, yet I also long to return to a different kind of service. I plan to return to the Peace Corps as a volunteer and possibly seek to become a trainer for them, living and working overseas. I might also choose to return to the US and work for the National Parks Board or in a museum, giving tours or building awareness of our natural resources. In one form or another, I will continue learning and teaching, and connecting with others in the pursuit of wellness and understanding of our world.
Contact information for Kecia
Interested in checking out more of the Rethinking Learning podcasts, click on the podcast tab at the top, the logo below, or go to https://barbarabray.net/podcasts/
For more information about Barbara’s book, Define Your WHY, go to this page or click on the new image of the book for resources, questions, and links.