Mixtapes, Chicken, and the Liberal Arts Tradition: A Nairobi-Ohio Exchange

May 28th, 2021 | By and | Category: BLTN Global, BLTN International, Spring 2021

Editor’s Note: In Fall 2020, mid-pandemic, Gregory Booth of Sheridan High School in Ohio, and Sheilla Lupao of Rusinga School in Nairobi, Kenya enacted plans following the time-honored BLTN tradition of fostering meaning-making through written dialogue, scaffolding that dialogue from personal exchanges of perspective to more academic forms for thinking. What follows is a set of testimonials about the significance of this work, in spite of many pandemic-related challenges.

I’d like to mention that I have always wanted to correspond with someone from another state, or better yet, another country since I was a little girl. Little did I know that going into Mr. Booth’s 10th grade English class would bring me that opportunity, but man am I glad it did. The words I would use to briefly sum up the experience would be: it didn’t last long enough….The experience as a whole was very eye-opening and enjoyable. The main thing that stuck with me was that I always had the assumption that people in different countries strictly listened to the music produced in their own country. Being a penpal to someone in Nairobi completely opened my eyes regarding that and let me feel appreciation of just how much their culture is as similar as it is different from our own.

-Brayden, Thornville OH

Gregory Booth: A Connection and a Call to Creativity

I spent the better part of a decade in a Wordsworthian pursuit of first principles, of trying to see old things in new ways, of reinvigorating through reinvention (at least that’s what I told myself). But when the world turned upside down, the rush of newness felt more like chaos than a call to creativity. My students, I think, felt the same way.

Even though we returned to school in-person full-time at the start of the academic year, there were enough changes in protocol to make the experience many students already thought they hated even worse by their standards. They thought schools prisons before they had to sit in rows, wear masks, stay away from others and avoid group work. What made school worthwhile for so many, connection to other people, became even more difficult during these times. 

For that reason, this year’s BLTN collaboration, though short lived, was, undeniably, a success. I partnered with Sheillah Lupao, a fellow BLTN member and teacher at The Rusinga Schools in Nairobi, Kenya. 

Sheillah and I exchanged emails and talked with each other over Zoom before the school year began. We decided to partner her class with my College Prep Sophomores with the express purpose of trying to connect and keeping it small. Our students wrote letters of introduction to one another and exchanged photo essays that gave their correspondent a glimpse into their world.

After pairing our students, we had them exchange a few more letters to one another before shifting to a more academic essay, an assignment I found online where students would think through and decide what the point and promise of schooling is and whether or not the school system served the purpose it purported to. Using a John Taylor Gatto essay and a commencement address given by First Lady Michelle Obama as the two sides of the argument, students would choose a side and defend that position.

Sheilla Lupao: Personal and Collective Discoveries

Greg Booth’s students at Sheridan High and my students at Rusinga School had a writing exchange that provided a path for a memorable cultural exchange. Our students began by exchanging introduction letters, giving details of who they are and where they come from. 

Creative ways like introductions through favorite songs, and ten pictures with captions and narratives were explored and I must acknowledge I got to know a lot more about my students’ backgrounds and their interests from the introductions they wrote.

I am thrilled BLTN was the avenue for personal and collective discoveries. Students felt the need to connect more via social media and most of them exchanged their social media names and continued to collaborate informally. We later got them to read interesting articles on education and present their arguments on the title, We Don’t Need No Education {Or Do We?}. The insightful perspectives students shared got me reflecting on how different yet how similar education in the 21st century is from the 18th century. Our main mode of communication was through email, and students’ work was shared through Google Drive. We had hoped to have some Zoom sessions but this wasn’t possible because of the time differences between Kenya and the USA.

My Life in Pictures: From Dani (Nairobi) to Corben (Ohio)

My Life As an Image: From Corben (Ohio) to Dani (Nairobi)


In a book titled The Liberal Arts Tradition Ravi Jain and Kevin Clark state that ‘education is more than the transfer of knowledge, it is the transmission of values and cultures’. Year 11S had the opportunity to experience this for themselves this term, taking part in a writing exchange with students from Sheridan High School in Perry County, Ohio. We were curious to explore what would be uncovered as well as what would result from this opportunity. Altered perspectives? Intriguing stories? Or perhaps the simple complexity of learning about a place most of us have only ever seen on TV. Our first exchange was an exciting one! We were asked to respond to introductory letters the students had sent each one of us. The pen pal format this writing exchange took attached a personal feel to each assignment. To get to know each other better, we constructed a “Mixtape to our lives” filling it with songs that we love. It was interesting to find common ground on music as well as experience once again, the role music plays in connecting the world. 

Engaging in a discussion on the aim of education, be it to make us conform or rebel, was a highlight. It nudged us to approach the topic in an in depth manner, asking ourselves what we define education as. Can it be separated from the term “schooling?” Is it merely the memorizing and regurgitation of facts? From it I discovered that perspectives vary. My knowledge of the effects of belief systems was deepened as I read my pen pal’s essay on why he believes education is designed to make us conform and why conforming is the way to ‘save yourself’. Despite disagreeing with many of his views I understood his perspective. This further emphasized the value of learning where others are coming from, the importance of considering others’ argument regardless of whether or not you agree with it. 

This experience was very much needed. It allowed us to step away from the heavily emphasized upon PETER and PDD paragraphs we use for our everyday writing in the lesson. Veering off exam technique to apply the English subject in a practical sense provided insight on critical topics. It has simply been fun! I speak for all my peers when I say that we are grateful our teacher, Ms. Sheillah, not only understands the need for cross-cultural learning, but appreciates it enough to incorporate it into the subject. We also discovered that Perry County, Ohio is filled with cornfields and that the state is known for its chicken! We hope to continue with this writing exchange and possibly include such programmes into more of our classes.

Dani, Rusinga School, Nairobi Kenya

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