Peggy Carlisle | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Peggy Carlisle


It's a safe wager that third- and fourth-graders at Pecan Park Elementary School in Jackson know a lot about Kenya. That's because their ExCel teacher Peggy Carlisle, 54, added "The Kenyan Project" to the program's project-based curriculum once she and her students had met and listened to Juddy Opiyo, the director of three bush schools in West Pokot, Kenya.

Opiyo, whose schools receive support from African-American churches in Mississippi, came to Jackson about a year ago to observe schools and to seek additional support. "Our children were enthralled by what she had to say," Carlisle said.

Opiyo told of an arid area where the principal reason that students come to school is they're assured of lunch, their only certain meal each day. Older students attend class inside the structure that has no running water or electricity. Younger students sit outside underneath the trees. They have few books; the teachers' only school supply is a chalkboard. Students practice learning to write by forming the letters in the dirt.

"Before long, a child asked me 'What can we do to help?'" Carlisle said. The students brainstormed a goal—to raise money for the schools—and a way to reach that goal. "They knew they wanted to make something and sell it at school. They came up with pet rocks and pet rock houses, made of paper," she explained, her eyes crinkling in a smile. The pet rocks sold for a quarter each. Between December and April, the students raised $650.

Social studies, normally a curriculum of textbooks, came alive through The Kenyan Project as students exchanged handmade books about their daily lives and photos. And it's not over yet. On Sept. 27 Carlisle got a $25,000 surprise when she learned that the project had earned the top award in ING's Unsung Heroes program; she'd applied for $2000 and planned to get laptops for her students' use in the project.

Now those laptops are a certainty along with seed money for whatever this year's students decide to make and sell. "I don't have to spend all of the money this year," Carlisle said. Some of the money will go towards a field trip for the students to see the production process firsthand, somewhere like Nissan; some will help with this spring's Kenyan Museum at Pecan Park.

"I've always enjoyed teaching social studies," Carlisle told me, "and this has been the most powerful social studies unit I've ever taught."

Previous Comments


We're thrilled that our Jacksonian from last October, JPS teacher Peggy Carlisle, has been inducted into the National Teaches Hall of Fame. Go, Ms. Carlisle! Sadly, though, The Clarion-Ledger ran in its print edition a headline that make it sound like she's a CLINTON teacher, not a JACKSON teacher. They have since changed that headline in their online version, but if you put her name into Google News, the old headline ("Clinton teacher inducted into national shrine.") This is so Clarion-Ledger. I wonder if they will admit their error and apologize in the paper? It would be even nicer to say "JPS teacher," eh? Anyway, congratulations to an amazing Jackson Public Schools teacher!


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