valencia professors love for math knows no borders

Cliff Morris retired from Valencia in 2005, but that doesn’t mean that his days as an educator are over. In fact, the former West Campus dean of mathematics is back in front of the classroom—it just happens that the classroom is halfway across the world— in South Africa.

Cliff's students at Portland High School, Cape Town, South Africa

As often as three times a year, Morris makes the trip to Cape Town, South Africa, where he teaches mathematics to students at Portland High School for two and three week intervals. “I connect with educators around the world, especially in South Africa,” said Morris. “They have the same concerns and challenges that we do. They don’t have enough teachers or enough resources. That’s where I can help.”

Morris first realized his calling in South Africa back in 2000, when he traveled there through a nonprofit group called People to People International. He joined 37 other U.S. math educators for 10 days to tour South African schools and meet with education officials. Wanting to help improve the state of education there, Morris and the other group members asked how they could be of assistance. They were told to share their expertise in the classroom. Morris decided to do just that, making his first solo-teaching trip to Portland High in 2002 and sparking a long-term relationship with the school.While Morris’s trips to Portland High have become routine, his experiences there certainly haven’t. Sometimes he’ll spend an entire visit assisting one teacher, other times he’ll hop around from class to class. Oftentimes he ends up being the on-call math substitute, stepping in to teach anything from algebra to calculus.

In addition to teaching, Morris has helped in many other ways. In the beginning, this meant raising funds for students’ tuition. (In South Africa, even public schools charge tuition, which can range from $30 a year, to $300, depending on the school.) Eventually though, he felt he could make a more lasting impact by helping to bring more resources to the school. The first thing that Morris accomplished was to get Texas Instruments to donate graphing calculators to the school. He and other volunteers also painted classrooms to cover graffiti, outfitted classrooms with new cabinets and chalkboards, and got the school its own router and server so that it could receive quicker Internet access.

One of the biggest resources that Morris has brought, and continues to bring, to South African schools is more volunteer instructors. Morris partnered with some of his colleagues from his first trip to create the Volunteer Education Support 4 Africa Trust, or VES4A. The purpose of the trust is to create a cross-educational exchange program where U.S. educators can travel to South Africa to teach both the students and instructors there.

By focusing on collaboration and remaining constructive rather than critical, Morris and the other visiting instructors are able to have the greatest influence. “We don’t want to export the common philosophy that America’s way is the best way,” said Morris. “We’re there to export help.” It is this philosophy that has made Morris a welcomed visitor, colleague and friend to Portland High and the students and faculty there. Lending a hand is a tradition that he hopes to continue long into his retirement. “I was fortunate that I got paid for 30 years to do something I loved and fortunate to be able to continue on,” said Morris. “I retired at 52 and at 58 I can still travel, get around fluidly, and I have the pleasure to teach— so I do.”

Source: Melissa Tchen Valencia Vitae http://valenciacollege.edu/alumni/documents/Valencia_Vitae_7.pdf

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