Ariel Lantz '13: From South Hadley to South Africa

Friday, May 24, 2013 - 18:45

By Suk-Lin Zhou ‘14

Ariel Lantz ’13 says teaching is her passion, and she knows it’s what she hopes to do for the rest of her life. That conviction was reinforced last summer, when the 21st Century Scholar received a grant from the college’s Universal Application Funding program to enable her to volunteer as a teacher for WorldTeach in South Africa.

WorldTeach is a global non-profit organization that partners with governments in developing countries to provide volunteer teachers to meet local needs and to promote responsible global citizenship. For Lantz, an international relations major and education minor, WorldTeach was a perfect fit.

“I believe teaching is something you can do anywhere in the world,” she says. “I wanted to work in South Africa because it’s a country I’ve studied extensively while at Mount Holyoke. I was excited to be exposed to a different culture and to expand my understanding of educational issues.”

As a volunteer, Lantz lived in Kommetjie, a predominantly white suburb of Cape Town on the Atlantic Coast, for two months. While there, she and other volunteers were mentored by Peter and Allison Fenton, the South African WorldTeach field staff. Lantz spent her first month tutoring at a school run by Ikamva Youth, a South African non-profit organization, in Masiphumelele. In her second month, she taught at the Marine Primary School in Ocean View, a community for people of color that was established during the forced removals of the Apartheid period. 

At Marine Primary, Lantz worked with 12 fifth-grade students and was responsible for creating a four-week reading curriculum and for assessing the reading and comprehension levels of each student. She also observed and assisted in second-grade classrooms, in addition to teaching mini-lessons on healthy eating and physical activity to first-graders.

While tutoring in Masiphumelele, Lantz initially struggled to find a balance between fun and education in her activities, and to make matters worse, her students were resistant to communicating in which topics they needed help. For three days, Lantz was discouraged and started to doubt her abilities as an educator. Then she brainstormed with other volunteers and discovered she needed to get up each day determined to make it a good one. 

“I finally came up with a great activity that my learners really enjoyed, and they opened up and started talking with me about school, friends, dating, HIV/AIDS,” she says. “I learned that I could either succumb to self-doubt and discouragement, or do something about it with a positive attitude and a creative mind.  Only the second option leads to success.”

Lantz also credits her success to her alma mater and the opportunities it has provided. At Mount Holyoke, she was a mentor for the Speaking, Arguing, and Writing Program, a writing center coordinator, and a student teacher. Through the Teaching Licensure Program, she was placed in classrooms at Holyoke’s Mosier and Peck schools; she became familiar with the position of the classroom aid and felt comfortable supporting teachers while learning from them.

When she was not inside the classroom, Lantz frequently traveled around the Cape Town area. She went to Cape Point to stand below the lighthouse that separates the Atlantic from the Indian Ocean, and she took trips to wine country and various Cape Town markets. During her last weekend, she traveled with the Fentons to see whales in Hermanus, went shark-cage diving, and even tried bungee jumping off Bloukrans Bridge.

Despite her exciting extracurricular activities, Lantz is clear that her favorite part of her South African experience “was definitely teaching.”

“I loved the work I was doing and the kids I was working with. I miss all of them, and I miss being ‘Teacha Ariel’,” she says.