Part of the fun of being in Wisconsin is trying new things. During the recent break from classes, the graduate students had the opportunity to visit the home of Rev. Brian De Jong in Sheboygan Falls. Pastor De Jong serves at Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Sheboygan. He hosted a backyard party for the students, and the festivities included a special twist. The Malawians got the opportunity to ride a horse. Phillip Nachonie, like most of the others, had never done this before. His reaction: “It was an experience, I tell you.” I sat with Phillip outside the Campus Center on a beautiful summer day and heard about his first horseback ride, as well as his determination to work with his colleagues to help young learners back home in Malawi.
Meet Phillip Nachonie ‘06
Phillip Nachonie’s first experience at Lakeland began over ten years ago, when he arrived as an undergraduate student. During his three years here, Phillip attended Grace Presbyterian and as Pastor De Jong describes him, "Phillip was a faithful attendee and got quite involved in activities of the church." When Phillip graduated with his bachelor’s degree in general education in 2006, he returned home and went to work immediately at the Teacher Training College (TTC) in Lilongwe. Then in 2010, he was hired to work at a new TTC that opened in Machinga, about 160 miles southwest of the capital. He lives there with his wife and their four children: three girls, ages 17, 15 and 7, and one boy, age 11.
Recently, Phillip was invited to be a researcher for a project that was undertaken by USAID to collect data on the reading progress of young learners in Malawi. The assessment study found that learners in Grade 2 were failing to read, for the most part, at the most basic level. To Phillip and his colleagues, this finding was both distressing and alarming. When he saw that there was an opportunity to come back to Lakeland to obtain his master’s degree with a focus on early grade reading instruction, he felt it imperative that he apply. He hopes to do everything in his power to help young Malawians become better educated. “I am fully aware,” he said, “that reading forms the basis of all other learning.”
For Phillip, like the other graduate students in the Malawi program, the short break between classes has combined a mixture of relaxation, shopping, and fun, with formulating a topic for his master’s thesis. He told me how he had narrowed his thoughts down to two possible projects, and will now pursue the second of the two.
The first topic he was pondering had to do with how new teachers are monitored and assessed and what could be done to ensure that they are truly reaching their students. The challenge for Phillip in pursing this topic would be logistical: “This project would involve a lot of movement around the country to collect the data.” He soon realized that it would be more than he could cover.
The second project has to do with time allocation and management. “There is not enough time allocated strictly to reading in the early grades,” Phillip observed. He would like to study the impact of devoting more time on reading instruction in an early grade classroom. Phillip envisions that there would be great value in “shedding off” some topics from the curriculum in the early years, and giving more focus to reading. “I will be happy if we are successful in this. I think we will be.”
Phillip has been very pleased with the coursework at Lakeland, and describes the experience here as “eye-opening.” He said that the idea about the amount of time spent on reading came to him from the discussions that took place a couple weeks back in the course, Second Language Acquisition. “In this place, I am getting many new ideas. I’m sure that what I have learned and what I will learn this semester will help to shape my project.”
He also spoke very highly of his nine colleagues. Echoing a theme we have heard before on this blog, Phillip said of them, “They are open to discussion. It is not a one-man show. We cannot succeed on an individual basis.”
Phillip on horseback, with Grace De Jong assisting.