In earlier postings I wrote about the numerous student interviews we conducted earlier in the term and the 26 amazing students we rendered from them. These girls came from many parts of Kenya, they came eager to learn and were excited discover what their new futures held. I have not however, written about the new world they stepped into.
I am not referring to the physical beauty of Daraja Academy’s campus or the well-planned curriculum of the classrooms… I am referring to the complex social world that is a girl’s boarding school.
Though grateful and excited, packing off to a foreign world that will be your “home” for the next four year is an utterly terrifying experience. Many of the girls come from far away villages where the weather is different, the food is different, the language, the customs, even the way people dress are all different. When these dramatic contrasts are coupled with the fact that most of these girls have never been away from their families or caregivers for any extended length of time, we knew that we needed a series of support systems to help the Form 1’s (high school freshmen or 9th graders elsewhere) assimilate.
The following points have been incorporated into the Daraja Academy school model:
Each of the incoming students was greeted upon arrival by a pre-assigned big sister. Making new friends can be very hard and early on we wanted to create relationships that were based on something other than a common tribe or hometown. These pairings were based on shared interests, personalities and additional commonalities, other than tribe.
Early last year we noticed girls clustering with other students who either came from the same region or tribe, especially during the uncomfortable “I-don’t-know-anybody” stage of the year. This makes perfect sense, and happens in schoolyards, classrooms and boardrooms all around the world. At Daraja Academy, however, we wanted to help establish relationships that otherwise might have taken a longtime. The big sisters helped their little sisters get their uniforms, they showed them to their dorm room and finally in groups of two they toured campus, getting to know their new school as they got to know each other.
After three weeks, one innovation that appears to be a keeper is, the lodging girls from different grades in the same dorm room. Daraja Academy now boards girls from different grades together in the same room rather lodging them in different dorms. Incredibly, the idea of rooming together came up last year and it was students NOT the administration who thought of it.
Because the Form 1’s and the Form 2’s don’t attend class together we worried that entire grades would essentially isolate them selves. Between the grade-mixed dorm rooms and their big sisters (which do not board with their little sister) every Form 1 knew at least three Form 2’s by the end of their first day at Daraja Academy.
After three weeks, everything seems to be working well. The big and little sister’s relationships are growing and the dorm rooms… well, they look, sound and smell like dorm rooms. What is important is the school; though it runs like a school, it feels more like a family.
Please become another support system for these girls. Create a Daraja chapter in your local area to help these incredible young ladies achieve their goals, spread the word about the school.
Regardless, thank you so much being a part of this family.