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Southeast music teacher heads to Africa to improve education

J.C. Nalle Elementary music teacher Maya Cunningham teaches students during a class. Cunningham has been selected to participate in the the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching program which will send her to Botswana, Africa from January to April next year. Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. (ABC7 photo)

For three years, Maya Cunningham has taught music at J.C. Nalle Elementary in Southeast Washington. During her 15-year career, she's developed a passion for sharing music with an emphasis on culture.

"I've tried to pattern my classroom and my teaching to foster cultural pride and to just nurture a healthy identity in my students who are African American," she told ABC7 News.

Cunningham hopes to enhance that approach to music education through an upcoming trip. She's been selected to participate in the the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching program which will send her to Botswana, Africa from January to April next year. "I'll be doing field research, visiting classrooms, investigating performances of traditional music," she said. Cunningham will also use those findings to create a curriculum for her students.

Mashaun Crawford, a fourth grader, thinks having her music teacher travel abroad will benefit students. "We're not actually traveling but we get to experience what she's experienced by going because she shows us pictures and videos and different things like that," she offered.

J.C. Nalle Principal Kim Adutwum believes the international exposure will go a long way. "Our students have been immersed in a lot of literature, music, history, so this will only expand their repertoire and deep knowledge of the roots that many of us hail from," she expressed.

Nine-year-old Micah Shepard is proud Cunningham was selected by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to embark on the journey. "All I have to say is,' Congratulations and I wish that she has fun," he said.

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