February 23, 2009
Africa Trip Offers A ‘Renewed Calling'
By Jenny Jones
Educator’s Journey Affirms Career Choice
PENN LAIRD - Working with middle school students can sometimes be daunting,
but one local school administrator found rejuvenation in an unlikely place.
Drew Miller, assistant principal at Montevideo Middle School, traveled to
South Africa in September and says the experience made him even more
committed to his career.
Since returning from the trip that was sponsored by Rotary International,
Miller has shared photos and stories about the culture and educational
system in South Africa with local students, teachers and community members.
Rotary International sends business professionals to other countries through
its Group Study Exchange. The program provides travel grants for teams to
visit different countries, where they observe how their vocations are
practiced, according to the Rotary International Web site.
Next month, a group from South Africa will visit this area as part of the
Miller said he applied for the South Africa trip because he's always wanted
to visit the nation located at the southern tip of Africa to see how its
people are dealing with issues such as race relations, poverty and crime,
especially in the school systems.
"I've always wanted to go, particularly to South Africa," Miller said. "The
problems that ... they're addressing are problems, really, our whole world
South Africans Face Hardships
Miller and his group traveled to about a dozen different towns and villages
throughout South Africa and stayed with host families the duration of the
When he wasn't visiting orphanages or gold mines, Miller toured schools and
visited with teachers, administrators and students to get a feel for how the
country's education system operates.
During his visits to schools, Miller also shared information about the
United States education system and talked about what it's like to work in
Rockingham County Schools.
The trip, Miller said, was eye opening and unforgettable.
He visited a school that operated out of run-down one-room building with
outhouses, a school where teachers left for the day when the principal was
out at a conference, and a school where teachers were forced to continue
working with a student who assaulted the school secretary.
Despite facing such overwhelming problems as AIDS, poverty, crime and high
unemployment, Miller said he saw a lot of happiness on his trip. Children
who walked to school barefoot in shorts and T-shirts on a 45-degree day
still played and smiled, he said.
"I saw kids playing with garbage and having a blast," Miller said. "I just
wonder if [the South African teacher] comes here and says, ‘These people
have everything and they're not content.'"
‘A Renewed Calling'
As he took in the South African culture and observed its educational system,
Miller said he felt a greater sense of the importance education plays in
All the major problems plaguing the country could be improved through better
education, he said.
"It was like a renewed calling [to my job as an educator]," said Miller, who
is in his second year as assistant principal at Montevideo Middle School. "I
thought, ‘Here's why I do what I do.'"
Supervisor Supportive Of Trip
Lisa Milliken, principal at Montevideo Middle School, said she was
supportive of Miller's decision to go to South Africa and can tell that his
experiences there have only fueled his drive to help children.
"This position can be very stressful and frustrating at times; it can make
you question your purpose as an educator," Milliken said. "I think after
seeing the poverty, crime and violence in South Africa, [Drew] became even
more compassionate about his purpose here."
In addition to refreshing Miller's career perspective, his experiences in
South Africa open up possibilities for future exchanges with the people he
met during his trip, Milliken said.
"The development of a relationship between Drew and the South African
students [could] lead to great learning activities such as a pen pal project
between our students and South African students," she said. "I know others,
like teachers, students and community members, are learning from his
experience as well."
Contact Jenny Jones at 574-6286 or firstname.lastname@example.org