The Shipley School has partnered with The Brain Tree Primary School, our sister school in Kampala, Uganda, for more than 20 years. Brain Tree was started in 1994 as a nursery school for children living in poverty or who had been orphaned due to malaria or AIDS. The school has since grown, providing housing and education to over 250 children.The History of Our Partnership: Building a Strong A Foundation
Shipley’s relationship with Brain Tree started when Lori DiGuardi, P ’12, P ’14, met Martha Mukasa, daughter of Agnes Mukasa, the founder of The Brain Tree Primary School. In telling the story of her mother’s work of creating a safe and loving place where children impacted by poverty, malaria, and the AIDS epidemic could learn and flourish, Ms. DiGuardi was captivated and worked with Lower School SEED teacher Betsy Leschinsky, and former Shipley colleagues, Usha Balamore, and Christine Sweetman, to create a relationship between the schools that has touched the lives of both communities.
One part of Shipley's relationship with Brain Tree has included fundraising campaigns to build the school's infrastructure, including a library, water well, kitchen, dormitories, and flooring. Shipley also established a scholarship fund, funded by our Smoothie sales at Super Saturday, to ensure that students could continue their education after leaving BrainTree.
The Brain Tree Primary School was closed for two years during the COVID-19 pandemic, but our relationship with the school continued in different ways. During this time, Shipley colleagues worked with the Brain Tree faculty to share learning around mindfulness, trauma informed teaching, yoga practices, and how to create safe spaces for students returning from potentially traumatic years. Our student support providers consulted with theirs, and Middle School Counselor, Lindsey Fick, secured a consultant to offer the Brain Tree faculty professional development sessions. This professional exchange opened up possibilities for teacher exchanges between the two schools.The Present: Building Connections, Compassion & Global Citizenship
The most rewarding aspect of our partnership with Brain Tree has been the exchange of ideas and stories that have captivated the imaginations of so many students on both sides of the world. Our second graders have exchanged letters with Brain Tree students while our first graders have “visited” their Ugandan counterparts via Zoom, excited by this connection with their newfound friends.
In an effort to deepen student connections, two Upper School students have created club activities for the Brain Tree students. Senior Srijan Velamuri ’23 loves playing and teaching chess and has worked with the Brain Tree staff to initiate a chess club. He meets with their students every Tuesday morning, teaching a few new moves each class and then the students play. “Teaching the lessons has been a great experience and has allowed me to appreciate how many things there are to learn even as a beginner. It’s shown me how much more difficult it is to teach something than to learn it.” The students have been enthusiastic learners. After each lesson, Srijan opens up the meeting to questions, and the students have often asked “intriguing questions that challenged me to find ways to explain things in a way that makes sense to beginners.”
Junior Eli Leibowitz ’24 has also provided enrichment to the students at Brain Tree by sharing his interest in coding through a course he designed for them. Taking students from the basics of coding to the fundamentals of Python has enriched Eli’s life, too. “Teaching the Brain Tree students how to use Python has been a great experience for me. I vividly remember my struggles to find a way to learn Python from a young age. I feel honored to provide this opportunity for the students and give them exposure to this field.” Eli appreciates his students’ energy and enthusiasm for the subject matter, and he has benefitted from sharing the basics with them. The experience, he says, has “allowed me to revisit the fundamentals and the core thinking involved in more advanced projects.”
Lower School SEED teacher Betsy Lechinsky has supported Brain Tree from the onset of Shipley’s partnership with the school. She shares, “Having had the opportunity to partner with a school from a completely different culture and country has greatly enriched my sense of place on the planet, and I feel it has done the same for our students. The loving and joyful nature of the students and faculty is contagious and heartwarming.”The Future: Growing Deeper Connections
Looking forward, Associate Director of College Counseling and Horticulture Education Coordinator, Sarah Sterling, has coordinated an exchange with Lower School Science Teacher Dan Del Duca and his students as a way to learn more about the importance of horticulture at Brain Tree, for their community and the broader community. Kristin Shipler, Global Programs and Education Coordinator, highlights a longer-range goal to “deepen connections among faculty and students throughout all divisions, including more student exchanges in the Lower School, more faculty guest speaker exchanges in the Middle School, and more activities run by Upper School students.”
Brain Tree’s theme for the year is Bulungi Bwansi
. It means “for the good of the world or public” when directly translated to English. Bulungi Bwansi
is both a belief and practice deeply rooted in Uganda’s culture, particularly the Baganda tribe. It promotes the spirit of voluntary service above self, without any expectation of being rewarded. Shipley is grateful for Brain Tree’s willingness to participate in our joint endeavor of collective responsibility and compassionate participation in the world. View an interactive presentation to learn more about Brain Tree.