South Charlotte

South Charlotte physics teacher takes education to Africa

East Mecklenburg High School physics and engineering teacher Deb Semmler plans to take books and experimental equipment with her to Rwanda during a trip to train teachers there. “I have been to Europe but never Africa,” she says.
East Mecklenburg High School physics and engineering teacher Deb Semmler plans to take books and experimental equipment with her to Rwanda during a trip to train teachers there. “I have been to Europe but never Africa,” she says. KATYA LEZIN

Deb Semmler, 56, has been a physics and engineering teacher at East Mecklenburg High School for 18 years.

All three of her daughters graduated from East Meck, and two have followed their mother’s lead to become science teachers in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools system.

But this summer, Semmler says, she hopes to inspire science teachers farther from home.

Semmler is headed to Rwanda for three weeks to teach more than 1,000 high school teachers and female students through purpose-based science projects.

The trip is an initiative organized by Charlotte-based nonprofit Mothering Across Continents. Founder Patricia Shafer, 45, said she was inspired by a service trip to create the nonprofit to support educational projects in under-served and impoverished communities.

Shafer wrote a letter to the editor in The Charlotte Observer about her 2006 trip to Uganda as a volunteer with Save the Children. She found that mainly women responded to her plea – and that of the United Nations – for global educational access. She said those women also called for “a platform for supporting women-initiated projects to support educational initiatives around the world.”

MAC trains volunteers to “develop dream projects that help raise tomorrow’s leaders,” Shafer said. MAC has launched projects ranging from a leadership-development and vocational-skills program for young women in Haiti to a sustainable-garden project at an orphanage and school in Mexico.

Some projects are initiated by a grass-roots idea that MAC helps focus and implement, or, as in the case of Semmler’s involvement, a worthy project is identified and MAC invites someone to guide it.

MAC has initiated projects in more than 10 countries, including the U.S., Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Mexico.

Semmler’s involvement started with East Meck’s Global Initiative, an effort spearheaded by Principal Rick Parker and teachers Martha Deiss and Heather LaJoie last year to improve students’ understanding of world issues while involving them in global initiatives.

Shafer also is sending seven East Meck teachers to Costa Rica this summer for another MAC project.

“We work with a lot of high schools and middle schools,” she said, “but East Meck is the only CMS high school that has a mission of embodying global learning (in) everything they do.”

Semmler’s trip to Rwanda will primarily involve sharing hands-on, lab-based professional development for Rwandan teachers. Many of the lessons will focus on sustainable projects, like the vertical gardens Semmler taught her East Meck students about this year.

“I’ve never been on a service trip,” Semmler said. “I’m very excited. It is an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

Katya Lezin is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Katya? Email her at bowserwoof@mindspring.com.

Learn more:

▪ To make a donation to support Deb Semmler’s trip to Rwanda, visit www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/motheringacrosscontinents/rwanda-science.

▪ For information about Mothering Across Continents, visit www.motheringacrosscontinents.org.

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