Learning Outside the Classroom

Students raise funds to build schoolhouse in Africa.

Three years ago, students in Khombole, a town in the Thiès Region of Senegal, attended school in a temporary structure made of mismatched pieces of corrugated metal sheeting. Mamadou Sellou Diallo, teacher, founder, and principal of Senegal's Le Bentenier Groupe Scolaire, described it as "a tiny, run-down shack.” The structure was unable to withstand the rainy season. The Republic of Senegal is a country in West Africa on the Atlantic Ocean coastline.

Five thousand miles away, in McLean,Va., Elisabeth Sèye, a French teacher at BASIS Independent McLean, and members of the school's Société Honoraire de Français began raising funds to build a new schoolhouse for the Khombole students. It would be built in stages as the donated funds allowed. The project became, as Will Dalton, 15, of McLean, said on Sept. 1, "Not just a small service project but something that would go on to change lives."

Sèye has been a French teacher for over 20 years. She believes that getting her students out of the classroom and into the world is the best way to inspire them. Seye established a partnership between the two schools in 2016, pairing her McLean students learning French with the Senegal students from the French-speaking country for a cultural and language-building opportunity. She had her students participate in service projects to help fund the new building.

The inside of the new schoolhouse 


This summer, Sèye, and a group of 22 BASIS students and parents traveled to Khombole to formally dedicate the schoolhouse they raised funds for. They also brought laptops, a projector, clothing, school supplies, and a $1,000 check to cover expenses for additional items. 

The trip not only provided Sèye’s students with the opportunity to practice their French in Senegal where it is the official language, but also provided a sense of ownership and connection to an underserved community. 

Stepping back and watching her students complete the projects and become global citizens before her eyes has been extremely rewarding for Seye. “I enjoy bringing the Francophone world into the classroom, but I enjoy bringing my classroom there even more," Seye said.

For Chelsea Hu, 17, of Vienna and president of the BASIS Independent McLean French Honor Society, her ten days in Senegal provided a lifetime of lessons in community, culture, and compassion.

“Visiting Groupe Scolaire de Bentenier (Khombole 6), the school for which we raised funds, not only demonstrated the power of collective goodwill but also introduced me to Senegalese students who broadened my worldview,” said Chelsea. "The journey left an indelible imprint on my soul of the richness of Senegalese culture, community, and traditions, profoundly shaping my understanding of what it means to be a global citizen and member of a global family."

Andrew Huang,15 of McLean, described the experience as "eye-opening," and the teachers and students at the Khombole school as "some of the most resilient people anywhere in the world.” Andrew found their determination to achieve a quality and equitable education in the face of adversity inspiring.

According to Mamadou Sellou Diallo, teacher, founder, and principal of Le Bentenier Groupe Scolaire in Senegal, the BASIS Independent Mclean French Honor Society formed solid relationships with her students, which have included corresponding, collaborating on ideas, and various service projects, including the new and beautiful brick-and-mortar schoolhouse for the children of her community.

"They have demonstrated that we are true life partners and that community extends beyond borders. "We consider ourselves extremely fortunate," Diallo said.

Dean Fetter, 13, of Arlington, went to Khombole and saw the new schoolhouse for himself, complete with tiled floors and desks for everyone. "We could see the hope and ambition radiating from the kids’ faces — not only to be able to help themselves but, in turn, their community. The trip opened my eyes and showed me how much developing countries really need support. I am looking forward to future projects with them," Dean said.

Assy Diallo, student of Le Bentenier Groupe Scolaire de Khombole, a town in Thiès Region, Senegal, West Africa, and Chelsea Hu, 17, of Vienna, Va., president of the BASIS Independent French Honor Society.