Bringing Change to Ghana
Alumna Shannan Magee opens a school for girls
Shannan Magee ’96, ’97G gets things done. “She’s not an abstract intellectual-type person at all,” says John H. Bracey Jr., UMass Amherst professor of African American Studies and one of Magee’s key mentors. “Her attitude toward any problem is, ‘How can we fix it? Let’s go!’” From the time they met, Bracey admired Magee’s energy and brilliance in navigating bureaucracy.
As it turns out, those gifts transcend national and cultural boundaries. Magee splits her time between Atlanta, where she teaches in the public schools and advises home-schooling parents on creating African-studies curricula, and Ghana, where she has joined with collaborators to found a model school for girls in the village of Agogo. The school gives students early exposure to science and develops culturally responsive teaching practices. Another like it is being built, and a third is in the planning stages.
When first visiting Ghana five years ago as a Fulbright scholar, Magee was troubled to see how few girls there attended school or had high ambitions. She returned to Ghana the following summer and was offered “a deal I couldn’t refuse,” a vacant building for use as a school. Back in Atlanta, Magee began shipping textbooks, computers, and microscopes to Agogo. The school opened in 2006 with three teachers and 23 students pre-K to sixth-grade. It has added a grade each year since.
At UMass Amherst, Magee earned a bachelor’s degree from the Social Thought and Political Economy program (STPEC) and a master’s degree in education. STPEC is an interdisciplinary program that encourages deep critical examination of social issues and tends to inspire pragmatic activism in its students. Few, however, have ever matched Magee. “She’s one of the most effective people I’ve ever seen,” says John Bracey, “a success by any standard and everything you hope your students will go on to be.”