Getting Kids Ready for Senior High and Beyond

 

It was a Wednesday night, the first week of school in January, and our partner CCET-SL’s Community Learning Center was thronged with Rotifunk-area kids. Over 80 9th and 12th graders returned to a classroom at night because they’re eager to continue learning.

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Come July, they’ll be sitting for their senior high and college entrance exams. They are intent on using their education as a path to a better life. But first, they must pass the West African standardized school completion exams, and they want to pass the first time.

Eighty-three students quickly signed up for CCET-SL’s new Tutoring Program. These 9th and 12th graders attend evening classes three times a week to review the full junior high or senior high curriculum, and make sure they’re prepared for the school completion exams.

Alima Kanu JSS3 tutoring student (2)Alima, left, is one student who signed up. We introduced Alima last year and the formidable challenges she’s faced to stay in school. When her older parents couldn’t pay for any more schooling, they sent to live with her aunt. She had to walk five miles each way to her Rotifunk school.

With a SFSL-funded scholarship, the bright 14-year-old has progressed to the 9th grade. We were delighted to see she’s joined the tutoring program.

Alima was able to move from her aunt’s village into town this year. She’s determined to go to college and told us here why she comes for extra evening tutoring.

 

IMG-20180129-WA0013 (2)Thanks to a $5,000 Beaman Family Fund grant, the Tutoring Program is being offered free of charge to both girls and boys.

The grant pays for five part-time local teachers, a sixth full-time teacher to coordinate the program for 2017, and teacher and student learning materials.

Gibril Bendu, above, the only Science teacher in town, is leading the Tutoring Program for CCET-SL.

Introducing computers — All participating students must also complete an introduction to computers. By the end of term, they will have learned basics of Windows, Word for Windows and Excel.

IMG-20180131-WA0012Paramount Chief Charles Caulker visited the first week and immediately called us in Cincinnati. We heard all the noise in the background of kids getting into the preloaded computer games, as their first effort in learning how to navigate a PC and use the mouse. He said it made him so proud.

“Just think, there are 80 children in my chiefdom now learning how to use a computer!”

Rural education challenges — The unexpected Beaman Family Fund gift is giving rural children the opportunity to succeed in the modern world, just as city kids have.

For over 20 years, no Bumpeh Chiefdom student passed the West African standardized junior high or senior high completion exams, the BECE and WASSCE, or met university entry requirements.

In 2016, the first three candidates (all with Sherbro Foundation scholarships) passed the WASSCE senior high exam with university requirements, and are currently attending college.

More Bumpeh Chiefdom students now are progressing to junior high, many with Sherbro Foundation scholarships. But they face serious limitations in advancing to senior high and beyond. Schools have inexperienced teachers, many unqualified in their subject matter, especially at the senior high level. It’s difficult to get teachers with four-year degrees to live in a rural community.

IMG_2038 (2)Students don’t have textbooks and must copy limited notes teachers write on the blackboard.

Poor school policies advance students who fail exams to the next grade, where they don’t catch up. Poor discipline may mean students don’t complete the full curriculum.

When students go home after school, they don’t have a suitable study environment. Most live in crowded conditions with distractions, noise and no lighting. They lack the support and coaching important to reach goals no one around them has achieved.

Filling in the gaps — Kids will never make it to college or vocational school if they don’t first learn what they should in junior high.

IMG-20170927-WA0002Working to fill this gap is CCET-SL’s Tutoring Program, the brainchild of Managing Director Rosaline Kaimbay, left. As a former school principal, she ran year-end study camps where 9th graders had intensive all-day review classes for four weeks. The result was 100% of her students passed the junior high BECE completion exam, uncommon for any school, let alone a rural school.

At CCET-SL, Mrs. Kaimbay is turning her approach into a three-day-a-week evening program open to students from all Bumpeh Chiefdom schools. With the Tutoring Program, kids can achieve the knowledge level needed to be successful in senior high. Dropouts are reduced and the likelihood of advancing to college or vocational school improved. Graduating seniors will get prepped for their college entrance exam.

Pride of the chiefdom — Chief Caulker said the program is already much admired in the chiefdom.

Adama Kamara JSS3 tutoring student (2)Girls like Adama, left, feel pride that they’re joining a group of chiefdom academic elites, studying with the best local teachers in a first-class environment complete with solar light and computers.

They arrive early and leave talking with their friends in English about what they just learned. Chatting in English doesn’t normally happen in a rural environment, Chief said. It’s strictly Krio, the country’s vernacular.

Parents are overwhelmed by all the efforts being made for their children, he said, and that it’s all free of charge. For a chiefdom with 70% illiteracy, moving 80 kids to academic proficiency at the senior high level is a very big deal. A real source of pride.

 

More needs — Still, there’s more to do. Some students attending the program live in villages 3-6 miles away, and were valuing their education over even food.

IMG-20180122-WA0003 (4)It’s too far for them to walk home from school for their main (and sometimes only) daily meal and return again for evening classes. Some had not eaten since heading to school at 7 a.m.! And it’s too dark for girls to be walking home that distance at 7:30 p.m.

CCET-SL arranged to feed these students in the short term, and teachers taxi them home with CCET-SL motorcycles. Most students are inadequately fed and will perform better with an evening meal to fuel their brains.

Our next goal for these dedicated students is to raise additional funds for a meal program for the whole class and fuel costs to ensure girls are safely taken home at night.

In the meantime, classes are on and it’s a full house.

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