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Writing the playbook on teaching English as a second language

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There are two things that become clear when you meet returned Peace Corps Volunteer and Virtual Service Participant Cindy Mosca: She may specialize in teaching English as a second language (ESL), but she’s eager to help others in any way that she can, and she doesn’t shy away from putting in extra work for the most effective final product.

Her two-year service as a Peace Corps Education Volunteer in the Ethiopian city of Woldia from 1967 to 1969 inspired a lifelong career in ESL and humanitarian services. The letters she wrote to her mom and aunt detailing her life in Africa were recently published as a book, "Letters from A Wondrous Empire: An Epistolary Memoir," with all proceeds going to Ethiopian humanitarian relief. After returning to the States, Cindy worked as an art teacher before earning her ESL certificate.

“My art background actually helped me provide meaningful experiences to the kids; it made learning English enjoyable and less intimating.”

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Cindy Mosca walks to catch a ride out of her village and return to the States.

Now retired, her volunteer work – both local and international – could rival the workload of a full-time job; although she’s far too humble to make that claim herself. She supports Refuge and Immigration Self-Empowerment (RISE), an organization that connects her with refuge families in her local Bloomington, Indiana, community. She is guiding an Ethiopian student through the scholarship application process to attend an American university.

Cindy is also involved with the Selamta Family Project, an organization that provides forever homes to Ethiopian orphans. “Children are always welcome,” she said. “When they get married, they come back and celebrate. Even after they graduate from college, they can remain living [in the home] until they have a job and are independent.” Cindy taught art and poetry virtually for Selamta’s summer school – an experience that gave her confidence in applying her expertise through a virtual platform.

This past February, Cindy added the Peace Corps’ latest service model, Virtual Service, to her long list of passion projects. Each week, Cindy meets with Abiyot Ashenafi and Abdulhafiz Yusufat Partners with Education Ethiopia for an hour to discuss tasks. Together, they developed English teacher guides, brainstormed ways to make class instruction more interactive, and get more students involved with the school gardens.

With over 30 years of experience teaching every grade from elementary through graduate school, Cindy was only worried about the gardening portion of the project. “I had the background to do the ESL part of it, but I didn't have the background to do the gardening part of it.”

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Healthy seedlings in a school garden.

True to form, Cindy put in extra work to make sure that her own lack of gardening knowledge did not let her partner or the students down. She reached out to the publisher of School Garden Curriculum and connected with the author, Kaci Rae Christopher, who graciously reviewed her gardening lessons and suggested edits. As with other subjects, Cindy stressed that it’s important to consider the country and culture when lesson planning.

“[The School Garden Curriculum] had a great lesson for marigolds and pollinators, but in Ethiopia, marigolds are invasive. I had to find a native plant to use in the pollinator lesson – it was an opportunity to learn something myself.”

For her counterpart, Abdulhafiz, these playbooks are especially promising. “We strongly believe that the playbooks will provide an essential tool in the promotion of learner-centered instructional methods. The suggested strategies, tips, and tricks in these playbooks will hopefully encourage teachers to come up with customized [lessons] for their respective subjects.”

Cindy has extended her virtual engagement three times already and doesn’t show signs of stopping. In fact, you’ll find Ethiopia’s harvest season taped on the wall above her computer, serving as a daily reminder of the project at hand. She hopes to co-train the teachers on best practices for using the playbooks and visit her counterpart in person someday soon.

So, what would Cindy tell other returned Peace Corps Volunteers interested in Virtual Service? “Go for it. For me, this was very inspiring. I'm sitting in my home doing what I can; it's not a sacrifice for me. I was very inspired by what [the counterpart] did on a daily basis, so I would say, if you have an opportunity to participate, do it.”

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An exercise in the math & science playbook Cindy and her counterpart developed.