October 21, 2021

Local family touches lives in Morocco

Photo provided by Megan Knickerbocker

Students from Megan Knickerbocker’s team in Morocco work to put the finishing touches on their water system model made of Legos. From left are, fourth-grader Surour Khalifa, third-grader Adam Zriba, fourth-grader Antonio Claveria, third-grader Fahd Benssi and fourth-grader Adam David Bouchachia.

Legos, Morocco and Cortland City Code Enforcement Officer William Knickerbocker have one thing in common:

Megan Knickerbocker, William Knickerbocker’s daughter.

Legos fit into the puzzle because of the elementary school students that Megan Knickerbocker has been teaching English to the past five years in Morocco.

She recently coached five students in a science technology engineering and math after-school program focused on the water cycle. The group videoconferenced in with her father, a firefighter, so he could explain the mechanics behind the delivery of water that firefighters use to put fires out.

The conversation helped the students create a realistic Lego model of a fire hydrant in a setting that would successfully deliver water to douses a fire, Megan Knickerbocker said.

Megan Knickerbocker graduated with a master’s degree in 2013 from the University of Albany. After a semester abroad in Ifrane, Morocco, she wanted pursue a career there after graduation, and landed at George Washington Academy in Casablanca.

Megan Knickerbocker said she has always been interested in Islam and Arabic, which she now speaks a bit of.

She grew up in South Otselic, she said, and never knew anyone who had a very different background than hers, which she said sparked her curiosity about different cultures.

“Morocco is an amazing country, the people here are kind and hospitable, that’s a huge part of the culture,” she said  this week.

Now, teaching English to students in Morocco at an institution where students are taught English, French and Arabic, Knickerbocker said she is learning as much as the students.

“The exchange of ideas and culture is one of the cool things about being an English as an additional language teacher,” she said. “I am learning so much about the world.”

Sometimes, it’s surprising lessons. Like how to represent a fire hydrant system in Lego form.

When Knickerbocker had the chance to participate in an after-school STEM program, she jumped on it, coaching the five children, who were Moroccan, Spanish and American.

They met weekly between September to March at the school’s new Lego education innovation studio, and gradually formed a project they recently presented at a STEM competition in Rabat.

William Knickerbocker’s occupation as a firefighter came up when Megan Knickerbocker told her students about it because the topic for this year’s conference was the water cycle.

“They thought it would be cool to choose fighting fires as a topic,” she said.

During a 40-minute video call with her father, the students asked questions and learned how water gets from a well to a hydrant through the hose, she said. “The Lego model almost directly reflected the info we got from my dad.”

William Knickerbocker said he was happy to help.

“The kids used not just the fire service-related information, but the storage tank was on top of a hill and they used gravity to move the water to the pumps,” he said.