24-year-old Mackenzie Harrington graduated from the University of Dayton with an education degree as an Intervention Specialist for Students with Mild-Moderate Disabilities Grades K-12. After graduation, she joined the Peace Corps and was placed to Kenya where she now teaches at a school for the deaf. When asked what influenced her decision to become an Intervention Specialist, Mackenzie didn’t hesitate to talk about her younger sister Delanie.
“She is the reason I want to be a teacher of the deaf,” Mackenzie said. “She is the reason I want to work in special education. She is the reason why I am in Kenya teaching at a deaf school.” Delanie was born with severe to profound hearing loss, and Mackenzie was able to talk about Delanie’s obstacles and how she overcame them with tenacity, compassion, and dedication, and although many have doubted her, she never once doubted herself; qualities that characterize Delanie as her role model.
When Delanie was two years old, Mackenzie was eight. She decided that from that moment on, and until applying for the Peace Corps at age 22, her dream was to become a teacher of the deaf, and furthermore, a teacher for the deaf in Africa. You can only imagine her joy and excitement as her dream came true when she received her acceptance into the Peace Corps and later her placement. Mackenzie notes, “It was an answered prayer!”
When arriving in Kenya, Mackenzie realized how difficult her next 27 months were going to be. There was no money, no resources, and very limited help to educate her students. She was teaching basic concepts and ideas to kids and adults of all ages. Mackenzie’s very demanding question was, “If there is no money or resources, then how can children learn how to read? It makes teaching very challenging because of the differentiation in skills, literacy, and knowledge,” Mackenzie said. “There are 23-year-olds in class 5.”
Regardless of these challenges though, she found a way around them. She talked about how there are no clocks in her classroom, so she found it challenging to teach her students how to tell time. She found paper plates and pipe cleaners, and made her own clocks. This turned out to not only be a fun activity, but she saw how to view these challenges as positive experiences instead of negative ones.
Mackenzie then reflected on her many obstacles, shared more stories with me, and provided me with some insight. “The biggest motivating factor, regardless of funding, resources, or level of education is the children,” she said. “No matter how hard a day is, how homesick I may feel, how challenging a day may be, these children brighten my day and make everything I do worth it. It makes it worth fighting for them, it makes it worth the 12-hour days of teaching, tutoring and sports, and it makes every hug and smile erase any challenge.”
Unfortunately, Mackenzie was forced to leave her students due to security issues in Kenya. Her, and countless other volunteers, are being removed and placed to a different site. Mackenzie talks about her struggles with this change after living in Kenya for 15 months, finally fully assimilated into their culture, and becoming a true member of the community. She talked about how she finally developed a consistent routine that was working with her deaf students, and was making them eager to learn. She said, “There are 55 children who I have grown to love, have grown to be so passionate about teaching, enjoyed every moment of living with them and being surrounded by them. They have the most joy and love in their hearts, but so little in their lives.”
Mackenzie’s dedication is truly inspiring, and her story is one that needs to be shared. Her sister Delanie is currently fighting Poway Unified School district for equal access to education, the education Mackenzie herself received as a hearing person. The district sees Delanie’s report cards of A’s and B’s, but doesn’t take into consideration she is in a classroom of 40 other students which inhibits her learning, and keeps her from receiving equal education from her hearing peers. If she was granted this equal education she seeks, she would be able to participate in the classroom, which would only enhance her education. She deserves this as a student, and if you would like to join the fight, please visit Delanie’s website here.