The documentary “Inspire Me Africa” is aptly named because the film inspires teachers to be better at their craft.
But during a preview showing at Evergreen Middle School last Thursday, the documentary did more than that. It inspired about a dozen EMS teachers to consider revamping their eighth-grade service-learning project to get more students involved globally.
It also inspired them to do even more to honor the memory of Lesley Jankausky, their colleague who was killed in a car accident in December 2009.
Jankausky was featured in the 75-minute documentary about 28 teachers who visited Tanzania in the summer of 2009. The teachers saw wildlife, met orphans and climbed 19,341-foot Mount Kilimanjaro. On the climb, they traveled with about 80 African porters and cooks.
The trip and the documentary were put together by XSci, the Experiential Science learning journey program at the University of Colorado at Denver. Its goal is to help teachers try experiential learning so they can return to the classroom and use their experiences to get students excited about learning.
“If you put a person through this experience (of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro), you inspire them,” said Brad McLain, documentary director, photographer and one of the catalysts behind the project. “If you put a teacher through this experience, they inspire others.”
Because Jankausky was featured in the documentary, XSci did a special screening for her colleagues.
The documentary shows the teachers experiencing many aspects of Africa and then takes viewers into several teachers’ classrooms after the trip, showing how their experiences changed the way they taught and getting opinions from students about their teachers.
Jankausky’s classroom was to have been featured in the documentary, but the camera crew was scheduled to come to EMS in the spring of 2010.
A bittersweet viewing
For the teachers, seeing Jankausky on the screen was bittersweet. Her quirky personality definitely showed through, especially as she talked about bringing her Mr. T doll from “The A Team” television show with her on the trip.
There also wasn’t a dry eye in the room when she talked about raising money to help some of the porters pay for school.
“Those men are begging to go to school,” she said.
“Obviously, it was great to see Lesley again and hear her voice,” said social studies teacher Jayme Blinco. “It was kind of sad because she did not get to do what she wanted to do.”
Several teachers lamented that Jankausky didn’t have a chance to use her experiences from the Tanzania trip in her classroom. Yet they were happy that the documentary named some of the porters. Jankausky had wanted to financially help one of the porters pay for an education, and the documentary gave both his first and last name.
“When Lesley died,” principal Kristopher Schuh said, “we raised a lot of money in her honor to help the porter, but we couldn’t find him. Now we have his full name, so we might be able to use that money to help him get an education.”
The documentary explains that every president since John F. Kennedy in the early 1960s has talked about finding ways to make education a priority, yet little has changed.
In the documentary, Jankausky frankly said that climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was not a lifelong dream, but it was a great opportunity that she couldn’t pass up.
The teachers discuss how they feel as they experience the trip and how the trip changes them.
“Risk must be part of experiential learning,” McLain said. “How can teachers tell kids they can be anything they want to be or do anything they want to do if (the teachers) don’t do it themselves?”
Special fund-raising screening
The public is invited to view the documentary at 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14, in the Turnhalle of the Tivoli on the Auraria campus in downtown Denver. Tickets are $25 and are available at www.xscifundraiser.org.
This film premiere is a fund-raiser for the African schools and orphanages visited in the film, as well as the creation of a Jane Goodall Roots & Shoots Colorado-based program at CU-Denver.