Travels with Bart: Guest Post by Dr. Liz Davidson
As part of their secondary school science curriculum, Kenyan students are required to learn the bones of the human skeleton. This is made difficult by the fact that they have a limited number of shared textbooks, and no models or other visual aids. To help remedy this, we brought along “Budget Bart” on our recent Kenya Keys trip. Bart is a nearly life-sized plastic model of the human skeleton, and he became a well-loved member of our team.
Bart’s first adventure was getting through airport security in Nairobi. The rest of our bags sailed right on through, but Bart’s suitcase was pulled aside to be examined. When we opened it, the security guards discovered a human skeleton buried in sanitary napkin kits. Looks of concern were exchanged. It was explained that I was a teacher and that this was a model to be used in teaching. The guards did not look convinced. Brent broke the tension by saying, “He doesn’t have a boarding pass,” which brought wide Kenyan smiles and laughter, and Bart was let through. It was my first experience with the quick sense of humor that lies just below the Kenyan peoples’ outward seriousness.
Bart’s first school visit was to Egu Primary School. At first, the students were wary of Bart, but they soon warmed to him. Children were lined up outside the open windows of Bart’s classroom, hoping to get a glimpse of him. Younger pupils were allowed to rotate into the classroom for a few minutes each, so that everyone could get a chance to see Bart. I have taught the human skeletal system in a variety of school settings, but have never seen such fascination with it. We take visual aids for granted in our schools, but they are scarce in Kenya, and the students love to be able to see and touch something as part of the lesson.
On the day that Bart was scheduled to visit the secondary school, I was laid low by a stomach bug that left me unable to teach. Lucky for all of us, we had some Kenya Keys students working with us that day, and they stepped in to help.
Emmanuel has recently completed his doctorate in pharmacy and Salim graduated from secondary school last year. On very short notice they stepped in so that Bart’s show could go on.
I was sorry to miss it, but by all accounts they did an admirable job, and the silver lining is that it allowed the secondary students to see what students just like them have been able to accomplish.
When we got on the plane to return home, Bart was not with us. We had left him behind in the care of Taru Secondary School, where he will help teach future classes of students about the human skeletal system. We had all grown fond of Bart, but he belongs in Kenya, where he will continue to help bring the curriculum alive in a way that no teacher or textbook is able to do.