Connecting for a cause – the best kind of learning

For the past four years, as part of our Global Girl program, Toorak College has been connected to Daraja Academy. Daraja is a girl’s school in Kenya providing free education to impoverished girls who would not have access to a secondary education any other way. Our conduit for this connection is Mark Lukach, a former teacher who has been involved with Daraja since its inception. Mark has been skyping into our school from San Francisco, helping our students to understand the purpose of Daraja and the critical difference an educated girl can make to the community she lives in. Mark’s energy crosses our Internet connection, and enthuses our students every year.

Over this four year period, our Year 9 students have raised money to support the running of Daraja Academy by holding ‘Sleepout for Schools’ events. The girls stay overnight at school, and try and incorporate an element of fundraising into the night’s activities.

This year has been a very special ‘Sleepout for Schools’ event. An event is held in San Francisco called the Bay to Breakers. It’s a 12 km fun run, and for the past couple of years a team has run in this event raising sponsorship for Daraja Academy. At Daraja, the girls attending the school run a 12km course at the same time. This year, Toorak College joined the cause and our students began their Sleepout for Schools event with a laps of our oval. We had decided to run in teams to share the load of the 12km amongst groups of girls, but one of our very fit students, Julia, really threw herself into the event and ran the entire 12km after school. She was absolutely inspiring, and managed to raise a significant amount of money thanks to her dedication. Ruby, one of our students, designed a logo for the event, and we made badges that the girls wore during the night. I’m sure we will see them pinned on their school blazers throughout the year.

Jason Doherty, the founder of Daraja Academy, recorded a video thanking our girls for their ongoing support.

Like Jason says in the video, the girl’s efforts were featured on the Daraja Academy site, and we shared this with our students in the days leading up to the event. The actual event was a great success, with most of our Yr 9 students participating and raising money for Daraja in the process. What made the event really special, was the fact that we knew the money we raised would be going to support the tuition for Lilian, a student at Daraja Academy. Our aim was to try to raise $2,400.00, the cost of a year’s tuition. To date, our students have raised $2,040.00, with plans to find ways to raise the extra $460.00 that will get us to the total Lilian needs for a year’s education. Our students know only too well how fortunate they are to have access to a good education, and the opportunities they will have as a result of this. It’s been truly rewarding for all of us at the school to see our students dedicated to a cause, knowing they are making an impact on a young girl’s life. This is the kind of learning you don’t get from textbooks -it’s real life connection with a cause in mind.

Daraja Academy made a video thanking people for the efforts they went to to support their girls.Take a look at these beautiful girls who now have an opportunity to education thanks to Daraja.

It’s been so rewarding having our Yr 9 students work for this cause over the last four years. Every year I hear girls tell me how meaningful it is to do something when they know where the money is headed. This cause helps them see the world differently, and goes a long way towards developing empathy, something we want our students to value.

Here are some pics from our run.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could extend the participation rates for next year, and have other schools join in to support the cause at the same time? Any takers? You’ll be better for it, if you do. I know that our students are feeling the rewards that come from giving to others and making some sort of positive difference.

*Special thanks once again to Mark Lukach, who gives so freely of his time to our girls and makes the event come alive for them. Mark usually skypes with us on the night of the sleepover as well, but this year, he had to forfeit. And for good reason. Mark and Guilia’s first child, Jonas, was born the previous night. Congratulations to you both. Toorak College girls send warm wishes your way. ūüôā

School’s out Friday

Thanks go the wonderful John Pearce for sending me the link to this video and suggesting it for School’s out Friday. I love it. It’s from Denmark, and Mukhtar, a bus driver, had a birthday I’m sure he will never forget.

Humanity at its finest, if you ask me.

I’m about to spend a night sleeping over at school celebrating humanity at its finest with Yr 10 girls, who are fundraising to support Daraja Academy in Kenya. We are skyping late in the evening with Mark Lukach, who lives in San Francisco and is a spokesperson for Daraja Academy. This is the second year of holding Sleepout for Schools in support of Daraja. I am very proud of this fine group of young women who think beyond themselves and do what they can to support those in need. I am very lucky to know them and have the privilege of being one of their teachers.

Why don’t we all perform a random act of kindness for someone else this weekend. There’s something we can do to celebrate humanity.


Sleepout 4 Schools – well worth the effort

I’ve been meaning to post about the Sleepout 4 Schools event run by the Yr 9 students of Toorak College for the last week, but time keeps running away from me. It’s vitally important that¬†I give it the space it deserves; the students involved worked tirelessly and pulled off a marvellous day to support girl’s education in Kenya and India.

The idea began with a whole day activity where the girls were exposed to ideas about how they could make a difference. They found out about the Bal¬†Ashram in India and their plans to build a girl’s school to¬†help save girl’s from child slavery. They also listened to Mark Lukach when he skyped in from San Francisco and told us about Daraja Academy, a girl’s school in¬†Kenya started by Jason and Jenni Doherty that had just opened its doors two weeks before.

That day sowed the seed and ideas germinated. A  meeting of 30 or so interested students saw them decide on the idea to hold a sleepover at school as a fundraiser for the two schools.

After quite a few weeks of planning the event was held on May 22nd. During the day the girls participated in a Global march into Mt.Eliza to raise awareness about the plight of¬†children forced into child slavery. A neighbouring school, Mt.Eliza Secondary College, joined them and lunchtime shoppers and proprietors of our local shopping centre¬†listened to the girls’ message. It was very well received and the girls felt like they had made an impact.



At 6.00pm the sleepover began. As teachers, we’d been given a running sheet from the girls in the organising committee, but we fully expected that we’d have to step in to get things going. We couldn’t have been more wrong. They were supremely organised. All of the girls, all 54 of them, had¬†paid to sleep over. During the¬† night they raised money by selling popcorn and lollies and a group of them made friendship bracelets that they sold. Some of them had sought sponsorship from family members and friends to collect after the event.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†

At 11.00pm we skyped Mark Lukach in and he talked about the progress of Daraja Academy. He was pretty #stoked (you have to know Mark on Twitter to get that one!) that 54 students had gone¬† to the effort of getting together to do something good for others.¬†Jason Doherty, the founder of Daraja was the next to skype in. This was Jason’s first ever skype call so it was pretty exciting. He was able to give us a lot of detail about Daraja and how the girls there are faring. Jason extended an invitation to our girls to visit the Academy; who knows, maybe one day we will get there. Jabiz Raisdana then skyped in¬†from Qatar to let us know he was impressed with the effort of our students. It helped to let the girls appreciate the global nature of what it is they¬†are doing.¬†¬†

It was after 12 midnight by the time we’d finished our calls so you can imagine it took a bit of time to settle to sleep. We were up and at ’em by 7.00am the next day. We still have to get a final total of how much money was raised, but it should be close to the $1,000 dollar mark.¬† Last Monday two of our students visited a local radio station and spoke eloquently¬†and passionately about what they’ve been doing.¬†

We are very proud of the efforts of these Yr 9 students. They have a genuine sense of the importance of service unto others, of thinking outside yourself.¬†That’s an important part of being human as far as I’m concerned and school communities can be instrumental in helping our young people to understand this. These students have also gained an understanding of their role as global citizens. They have used technology to connect with the people they want to help; we can’t get to Kenya direct yet but we are hoping to start to write to the girls over there. The girls created a Ning to support the project¬†¬†because they wanted to reach out to others to try and gather support. We didn’t quite manage that, but there’s always next year!¬†¬†


Nice work girls. We’re very proud of you all.

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Why Ning needs an ad free education platform.

I love Ning. I really do.

I’m just not all that happy with them right now.

Those of you who follow this blog will know that I started a Ning for our Yr 9 English classes in February this year. It’s been fantastic. A true learning community has formed and it’s become embedded into the fabric of our Yr 9 curriculum. I’m loving the engagement that is possible and the way I can connect with students who aren’t in my actual class. Just tonight¬†I was showing it¬†to parents at our Parent Teacher night. All were impressed and could see the benefits to student learning that this environment promoted.¬†I asked¬†Ning to remove the ads before the students had even joined and they were happy to oblige.

I also help to run Working together 2 make a difference, a Ning site that encourages educators to come together to share their experiences with service learning projects. Once again, I asked Ning to remove the ads and once again, they were happy to oblige.

Last week¬†I had a moment to savour. Yr 9 students who actively engage in our English Ning came to see me to see if I could help them set up a Ning for their Sleepout¬†4 Schools initiative. They’d figured out that Ning was the best platform for them to engage the wider community in what they are doing. ¬†Sleepout¬†4¬†Schools is a school project involving our Yr 9 students; they are holding a fundraiser for our school community on May 22nd in an attempt to raise some money for Daraja Academy and the Bal Ashram in India. The students are working very hard to plan an evening where we will sleepover at school, have fun, skype with Mark¬†Lukach hopefully and raise some money that will help to make a difference.

We set the Ning up. They are working as administrators of the Ning as well and are excited about the possibilities. They are trying to engage other surrounding schools in this service learning and are using the Ning as a tool for connecting. I asked Ning to take the ads off.

They didn’t oblige.¬†¬†¬†

And so began the email process of me asking (begging really) and them denying.  Our most recent email correspondance saw me ask this;

 Dear Ning team,

Sorry to continue to dispute this, but it is a direct part of our program and is a vital ingredient in the teaching of our students. We are endeavouring to have our students create positive digital footprints for themselves in safe and ethical ways. Having ads that display free video chats for girls is not what I feel is a good advertisement encouraging safe and ethical use. If you look at the domain names of the members they are all students from our school. We are trying to encourage global involvement with other schools to have them participate as well.

Can I please ask you to reconsider once again.


Reply from Ning was this;  



Dear Jenny,



Thanks for the follow-up. Once again, while we definitely respect what you’re doing, this simply isn’t covered by what our program is offering. You’re still welcome to purchase the Go Ad-Free premium service, and you can find more details here:¬† 



The Ning Team 


¬†Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m finding¬†it hard to understand how Sleepout for Schools differs from the intentions of the Yr 9 English Ning and Working together 2 make a difference. It’s a school project, set up by and for students. It’s about EDUCATION.¬†¬†¬†¬†

Wikispaces and other Wiki creation¬†companies are friendly to K – 12 education. You don’t have to request that ads be removed; they trust that if¬†you tick that box saying it’s for K – 12 use it will be and a Wiki is provided ad free. ¬†¬†

Ning is offering an amazing platform that can be utilised so well in education. Please, those of you making decisions at Ning, think about offering a service for education that will encourage users to explore its potential.¬†We need an¬†ad free service; one that won’t expose students to inappropriate ads that¬†make it hard for us to justify the use of what is an excellent resource in school settings.¬†¬†



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Daraja Academy opens its doors

Mark Lukach edited this video showing the students from Daraja Academy in Kenya. He wanted to capture the energy of the school and i think he’s done a great job doing that. The school opened its doors three weeks ago to 26 girls from Kenya who otherwise would not have received an education. Congratulations go to Jason and Jennie Doherty who packed up everything in San Francisco and moved to Kenya to help realise this dream.

This is one of the reasons our Year 9 students are excited about starting planning for Sleepout for Schools, an idea they have cultivated to help raise money to support Girl’s education in Kenya and India. Watch the video and I’m sure you will see good reason for involvement in supporting such a cause. They are planning a sleepout at our school on May 22nd and participants will be seeking sponsorship with the aim of raising money to support a worthy cause like Daraja.

On that note, think about joining with us. We would love to see other schools collaborate with us, Mark Luckach’s school in San Francisco and Daraja Academy in Kenya. Daraja means bridge, and this is all about building bridges of support. Come and form part of that bridge with us.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Daraja Academy opens its doors“, posted with vodpod


Twitter’s going mainstream

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

It seems like I keep hearing about Twitter in the mainstream media all the time of late. Celebrities are using Twitter, radio personalities like Dave Hughes here in Australia are talking about it and journalists like Mia Freedman are joining and writing about their experiences. My friends, who have been perplexed by my use of Twitter over the last year, are now interested and fill others in about what it’s used for, based on the ear bashing they’ve been exposed to from me!¬†¬†¬†¬†

I’ve seen my followers grow considerably since December last year. Quite a number of them came to me from a post written by Richard Byrne (from Maine in the USA), recommending people to follow on Twitter. ¬†But what I’ve also noticed is the amount of people following me who are using Twitter for their financial gain. I can understand this. I use it as a means of connecting to like minded educators whose ideas and recommendations lead me to new learning, but I’ve no doubt there’s money to be made by promoting a service to others and publicising what you can do.

Today, my list of¬†new followers appeared in my email with a couple of surprises. My cousin’s wife has started following me; they are using Twitter to promote a¬†business they run. But the really interesting one was¬†a new follower who¬†I suspected might be a student from my school. When¬†I checked out her profile I discovered¬†I was right. She was in the audience last Friday when we skyped in Mark Lukach from San¬†Francisco who talked to our students about Daraja Academy, a free girl’s school in Kenya that opened its doors last week. We are thinking about trying to support Daraja Academy in some way and the focus group for this is our Year 9 group of students. Her first tweet¬†said, ‘I am researching the Daraja academy’. The second tweet was;

I was apart of the year nine students you talked to the other day via skype on wekbcam at TC. i want to be more involved. how can i be?           

and her third looked like this;moniques_tweet

I just love the evolution in her thought processes that you can see from these three tweets. First she’s researching, then she tries to make contact but hasn’t directed her message to anyone in particular. By the third tweet she’s discovered Mark Lukach is on Twitter and has realised you need to put the @ symbol at the front of his Twitter name in order for the message to reach him.¬†Fantastic stuff, and amazingly proactive. Can’t wait to¬†catch up with¬†her at school tomorrow to see what she wants to do because¬†I suspect she could be a powerhouse to get support for Daraja going.

I wonder how other professionals are using Twitter. I’m sure it’s very similar to the way educators (particularly those interested in Educational Technology and how it’s utilised in school systems)¬†have adopted it. It’s a means of disseminating information quickly and forming reciprocal connections that prove beneficial. It’s certainly much more than the trifling treatment it received in the article by Mia Freedman, ‘Tweet Tweet nothings’ ¬†that appeared in last weekend’s ‘The Age’ here in Melbourne. I think you can see that in¬†the above example. It’s not all mindless drivel; it can be an incredibly powerful means of communication, and all in 140 characters at a time.¬†

By the way, I’m jennyluca on Twitter if you’re not there yet and wanted to find someone to follow!

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