GMS students to connect with counterparts in Tanzania

MARQUETTE – Gwinn Middle School science teacher Kristy Gollakner will have plenty of stories come next school year – stories of mountain summits, vast wildlands and village life in Tanzania, Africa.

Gollakner, along with 15 other Michigan teachers, was selected through a grant process by Xsci, a group run by the University of Colorado that works to incorporate more hands-on experiences for science teachers around the country.

Gollakner said the trip – which takes place in July – will be a great way to bring a country half-way around the world back to her classroom in Gwinn.

“When I’m backpacking or kayaking, I’m always looking for photos, like, ‘Oh, I can use this in class to show the kids this,’ if it’s about rocks or plate tectonics or whatever,” Gollakner said. “I’m so excited to be able to take those pictures that I have from there (Tanzania) and show them here, first-hand, here’s the grassland ecosystem biome in the Serengeti. Here’s the things that live there.

“I’m just excited to be able to take that and bring Tanzania back to the kids first-hand.”

Sixth-graders in Gollakner’s class have already worked to create their own biographies of what life is like in the rural Upper Peninsula – a world quite different from the Tanzanian villages and schools Gollakner will visit during her three-week long trip.

The students translated their bios into Swahili and attached a photo of themselves to notebooks, which Gollakner will take with her to give to children in Tanzania.

Many wrote about their favorite sports, their home lives, their families. Sixth-grader Tucker Taylor wrote about football, and said he was excited to see his teacher’s photos once she returns.

“I want to see the kids,” Taylor said.

Gollakner said she’s hoping the students’ chance to be personally involved in the trip will garner another level of excitement once school lets out. She’s planning on writing a blog during her three-week adventure, and updating it regularly with photographs and reflections.

She said she’s also hoping to use this trip, not just to teach her students science-related things, but also to help instill in them an appreciation for what they have.

“That’s one of my goals, is to do more projects this year, to have our sixth-graders know that they don’t need to have stuff to be happy,” Gollakner said.

Along with the notebooks, Gollakner’s students are sending with her a bunch of colored pens – a hot commodity among Tanzanian children, who often have little to write with or on. Some children, such as the young ones of the nomadic Masaai tribe that Gollakner will visit, don’t know how to read or write and will never attend school.

Gollakner’s older students are also learning about Tanzania, though they are confronting some of the country’s less well-known problems.

Under the Same Sun, a nonprofit group geared toward helping Tanzanian albinos, has become a topic of discussion for Gollakner’s eighth-graders.

Albinism is an inherited disorder that causes people to lose pigmentation in their skin, hair and eyes.

With one of the highest rate of albinism in the world, the country – and its sunny climate – can be a dangerous place for people who lack skin pigmentation. Many contract skin cancer at a young age, so Under the Same Sun works to distribute hats, sunscreen and long-sleeved clothing to Tanzanian albinos.

However, there is also a darker side to the condition, and the country. With a culture fascinated by witchcraft, some albinos are hunted down for their body parts, which are believed by many Tanzanians to have magical powers.

“It’s a good lesson for our eighth-graders to be the change,” Gollakner said, citing the oft-quoted phrase coined by peace activist Ghandi, which the school uses as its own mantra among its students.

To learn more about Gollakner’s trip, visit To learn more about the non-proft Under the Same Sun, visit

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.