Daraja hired three new teachers for 2013, and before classes began, the academy held a workshop for new and old teachers called “Teachers Beyond Tradition.” Carol Mwangi, Transition Program Coordinator and former Daraja teacher, helped run the workshop. “It gives teachers a touch of methodologies on how to teach differently – not how Kenyan teachers have traditionally done it,” she explained. “Kenyan teachers have a tradition in teaching. They don’t have the practical part of it, they don’t have varied styles or methodologies, and as a result they don’t consider the different learning styles we have for different students. The class ends up being boring, the teacher ends up not being boosted, and the students end up not in touch with the subject. Now what we are trying to do is give methods so the class can be lively, the teacher can be motivated, and there’s that yearning for tomorrow – the teacher wants to wake up and teach, the student wants to wake up and go to class. But in a traditional class, the teacher doesn’t even feel like they want to go to class, nor does the student, because there’s monotony and no variation. We want teachers who are spirited, who have high motivation and techniques – teachers who are changed.” Below, check out some of those changed teachers – Daraja’s three new staff members James, Elizabeth, and Carol.
James, far left, takes notes during the training
Teaches Physics and Math
Before Daraja, taught at Gakawa Secondary School for four years
How do you feel about Daraja so far? “I find it a good place to be. I can say that it is a dream come true because I am with students of the standard I wish to have. At many schools, the students who come there are from the surroundings – they are the ones who didn’t make it to the good schools, so their marks are a bit a low. So, whatever you try [as a teacher], you find it wouldn’t go as you would wish.”
What is it like teaching Daraja girls? “When you work with a student who’s motivated to learn, you also feel motivated and you’re able to fulfill your full potential. But, when you’re not teaching motivated students, sometimes you’ll reach a point where you’ll not even be prepared for the lesson because whatever you do students don’t care so you’re not motivated at all.”
What’s the best part of being a teacher? “I’ve come to like teaching as a profession because you’re handling kids and you feel that you’re taking care of them. When you’re taking care of somebody, you’re giving back to the community.”
You used to work at a mixed-gender school; what do you think of working at a girls-only school? “Sometime the boys are rebellious –there’s something that you wish to be done and you find the girls will do it. So when I work at a school like this, the girls are loyal and ready to listen to you and less resistant to you as teacher.”
Is it challenging connecting with teenage girls? “I’ve connected well with them. Just be friendly to them and engage them!”
So, you’re a proponent of girls’ education? “The girl child has been neglected for long. Girls’ education is necessary because they need to be in the same spot as boys who have benefited from past traditions.”
Did Daraja’s staff training help you? “That training was kind of an awakening to me because the kind of learning we’re taught in college is just general, but the one that we had that day we were shown different ways in which you can make a lesson more engaging between teachers and students. In other schools, they won’t tell you how to handle a lesson – you’ll do it in the old traditional ways you’ve done. When you’re introduced to new ways, you tend to apply them.
- Elizabeth works with Teacher Crispus during a group training activity
Teaches English Literature
Before Daraja, taught at Mathaithi Girls Secondary School in Karatina for six months
How is Daraja different from other schools at which you’ve taught? “Daraja is a nice place – I’m loving it, and I hope to be here for the longest time possible. The girls are so disciplined as compared to the ones I had before because I think they’re from humble backgrounds – since they’re grateful to be here, they behave well.”
Why is girls’ education important to you? “When you educate a girl you educate a nation because she’s going to transfer her knowledge to her community. Boys don’t have the same important roles in families as women.”
Why do you teach English Literature? “It’s my best subject – I love literature! My favorite author is Ngugi Wathiohgo because he talks about what goes on in Africa – you get to learn African cultures from him. Right now I’m teaching ‘The River Between’ to Form 4’s.
What’s fun about being a teacher? “I get to interact with students. At Daraja there are so many communities! I’m getting to learn from them what happens in various communities. Being a teacher I always get to learn, and a teacher always remains young.”
What tips would you give new teachers working at an all-girls secondary school? “Understand the girls first – understand that [if they’re difficult,] that’s their age – they have to pass through that stage. If you identify that she has a certain problem, ask her about her problem, and don’t create a gap that says ‘I’m a teacher and you’re a student.’ Instead, try to talk to them.”
Did you enjoy the training? “It was great and said some things I’ve never even thought of. I learned how to use different methods to avoid monotony and I apply it in class. It’s unique because at my previous school I never saw such training being brought to the teachers. Teaching beyond tradition allows you to involve students more. Traditional Kenyan teaching is teacher–based: the teacher talks for forty minutes, the students are staring, and they wind up falling asleep. In this modern way they wont be tired before the lesson ends.”
- Caroline helps students with homework
Caroline Wachuaka Muraya
Teaches Geography , Math
Before Daraja, taught at Laikipia Airbase Secondary School for two years
What’s your favorite subject, and is there an assumption that usually men are math teachers? “I’ve been teaching math for the longest time – since I graduated college. I love it. I love helping the weak students. I mentor the girls – most believe math is hard but when they’re taught by a lady teacher they say, ‘She made it; I believe I can make it.’”
How is life different here from previous school? “Daraja is good and the kids are motivated. They have a thrill of life and the environment is good for teaching and learning. I say the environment is good because classrooms are closer to the office, the ground gives the teacher a way out – for example, if it’s really hot they can leave the classroom and teach under the trees. And, the distance from the dorms to classes is not long so it’s convenient for the students. The materials available at the school are good – the technology is giving students a great advantage since they can Google things and learn more.”
What’s the best part about teaching? “Teaching a concept and the students getting it right – it’s just ‘wow.’”
Why do you like teaching girls? “The girls are the ones who’ll be the leaders of their houses, their homesteads. Once you teach them they’ll be able to transfer their knowledge to the next generation, and on and on.”
Are teenagers are hard to work with? “Yeah, it’s hard working with teenagers, especially in a mixed school. It’s worse there because they start coupling up. But, in a single-sex school it’s easier – they’re closed out from some of the challenges mixed schools face.”
How do you connect with students? “I share my own experiences, like how I was able to overcome things. I also engage them in life skills.”
What is different about your new job at Daraja? “I think the way the students are handled – they’re handled with a lot of dignity. The administration is also down-to-earth – it’s humble. There’s no bureaucracy – it’s been broken down.”
How was the workshop? “The workshop was awesome and I think it should be done for several days. There are a lot of things I learned and I’m trying to practice them. At my former school I was never taught that. Most schools in Kenya are pretty traditional and most teachers are traditional, except those who are passion-driven. Here we are making use of the environment, we are engaging the students more, and it’s learner-centered, whereas the traditional method of teaching [in Kenya] is teacher-centered.
Early Saturday morning, Daraja girls gathered around campus to prepare the grounds for the arrival of Form 4’s families, who would gather later that day for a new tradition of separate Parents Days for each form. There have
Rosalia’s mom is welcomed by Teacher Carol
been Parents Days at Daraja before, where all forms’ parents gathered together for a school-wide meeting. This year, however, in an attempt to incorporate parents in their girls’ academic arenas, each form will have its own Parents Day. Teddy, a Form 4, loved Parents Day, because “It’s an opportunity for parents to participate in their child’s education which is very important. Looking at one’s report forms is not enough. Parents need to talk to teachers.”
Parents began arriving at 10 a.m., and enjoyed tea and bread in Daraja’s dining hall. The first parent to arrive was Joyce’s mother, and Joyce thinks Parents Day was important because “most parents did not know this place. It gave them the opportunity to see where their children live and study.” As parents arrived, Daraja staff set up camp in the patio, where each of the ten teachers sat at a different table with their grade books. Slowly, families filtered in to the patio, where each had fifteen to twenty minutes in a one-on-one meeting with a teacher.
- Pascalina enjoys tea with her mom
“It was a huge success,” said Vice-principal Victoria. Six hours after the meetings began, everyone was tired but still smiling, including the girls who didn’t have parents, or whose parents couldn’t come. (Every student had someone with them – only seven students were without parents on Saturday, and they all were either accompanied by a Daraja staff or someone else’s parent. That way, no one had to feel left out.) After the individual meetings, everyone gathered together. Teacher James, who is the Head Teacher of Form 4, spoke to the group, explaining that the purpose of Parents Day was to involve parents in their children’s academic work. He encouraged parents to give their children responsibility at home (during the holidays), and later reflected, “Parents Day was great. You get to know the parents better, and get to know the students better through their parents.”
Lilian and her mom meet with new math teacher Carol
Dean of Curriculum Charles also spoke, asking parents to involve themselves in their children’s academics over the holidays. Now, he explained, students had specific direction, because Parents Day allowed them to make academic targets with their parents. Then vice-principal Victoria challenged parents to begin preparing for life after the KCSE, and also explained the importance of community service at Daraja, asking parents to monitor their children’s community service at home during holidays. The Form 4s thought this was a particularly important explanation for many parents, who before, Teddy explained, didn’t understand why Daraja students must do community service over their school breaks. (To learn more about why Daraja requires community service, check out this video.) Parents Day wrapped up with the Form 4s performing Daraja’s school anthem (which its predecessor class created five years ago), and parents left school, happy to have spent a day in the life of a Daraja girl.
Mr. Charles encourages parent involvement
Have you ever wondered what Daraja students do when they’re not at school? We imagine that their backgrounds are very different from ours, but can we actually picture what their lives look like? Well, a Daraja staff wanted to learn just that, and visited three students across Kenya this past December while the girls were at home on break.
One of Daraja’s greatest attributes is its diversity. In a country that is (still) rife with ethnic tensions – there are 42 different tribes in Kenya – it is remarkable that one school manages to peacefully and happily host girls from such different backgrounds. 29 different tribes are represented at Daraja, and students come from 7 of its 8 provinces. These December home visits showcased just that – Daraja’s diversity. Each of the three girls led very different home lives, and had families with unique cultures, traditions, and backgrounds. Here’s a look at the home of Claris, who is now a Form 3 (11th grader) and hails from a village called Dzigunze, two hours inland from the coastal town of Kilifi.
Stay tuned for more posts, pictures, and videos about and from these travels!
Consolata “Conso” Mwavishi has lived on campus since pre-Daraja days, when the campus was home to the Baraka School, an immersion program for troubled 12-year-old boys from Baltimore schools. Conso served as a cook, and stayed on when Daraja started four years ago. At the time, she had a young daughter, Maureen, who is now part of the graduating senior class.
In November, Conso officially got a new role. She has transitioned from cook to Dorm Matron, a position that historically teachers have filled via a rotating system. As the school has increased in size, however, the responsibility of dorm matron has become fulltime. “It’s a lot of work – to be a matron at the same time as a teacher” – and so she is excited about her new position. “If [students] have one dorm matron, it is better for them because they’ll be used to just one person and that person will know each and every problem that that student has,” she explained.
Conso’s duties began largely Saturday, January 5th when all the students returned from break. She spent the weeks prior to their arrival preparing their dorms, ensuring that they were clean and stocked with needed supplies. Saturday was an especially busy day for her – as the girls gradually arrived on campus beginning at noon, she ushered them into the lounge and painstakingly went through each of their luggage. She removed contraband items – like snacks, hair chemicals, and excess “home clothes” – and divvied up supplies of blankets, Daraja clothes, and books.
Now, she wakes up by 5:30 a.m. each morning to ensure the girls are awake by 6:00 a.m. She oversees their hygiene, making sure they’ve brushed their teeth, washed up, and dressed smartly before class each morning. She makes sure they’ve made their beds and kept their rooms tidy, supplying basic necessities like tissue and soap, and ensures they’re not late for 7:30 a.m. breakfast. The girls now know to come to her when they have a problem – for example, if they’re sick she’ll take them to the doctor, or if they’re menstruating she’ll give them supplies. When classes end at 4:00 p.m., Conso is present for any needs around the dorms (where she now lives instead of at her former staff quarters). Basically, Conso serves as mother to the girls, so it helps that she already knows almost every Daraja girl, especially the Form 3s and 4s. “It will be hard!” she said. “But I’ll try my best.” The girls know she will, and they cheered with excitement when they heard the news that she was to be their new official Dorm Matron.
November 3 marked the last day of the final term of 2012 for Forms 1-3. They returned to school on Saturday, January 5, refreshed from holiday rest and relaxation with family and friends. Today, these now-Forms 2-4s begin the first classes of 2013 Term 1, and learn about a few new changes at Daraja, the aim of which is to “impressively improve their scores between terms,” explained Charles, Dean of Curriculum. Here is a look at the biggest changes taking place:
- Parents’ Day – A result of a recent push by Kenya’s Minister of Education to increase parents’ involvements in their children’s education. The Parents’ Day at Daraja will be on January 19th, for the parents of Form 4s. “It’s a meeting to discuss the class – the academics, the changes for the class, and to challenge the parents to be preparing students for their life after Daraja. The parents need to hear that their students need to work hard,” explains Victoria, Deputy Principal.
- Larger classrooms – Walls have been broken down between smaller classrooms to increase room size. There are now fewer classrooms – only six rooms – but now an entire Form can be taught in one room. “In the past we had two groups per Form; we feel that a group of 26 is more workable for a teacher – it’s giving more diversity in class. If a class is working in groups, you can have more groups than if there are only 13 students in a class,” explains Victoria.
- Study hall – This will be more regulated. Before, girls were free to study where they chose; now, each Form will gather together in designated rooms each night from 7 to 9:30 p.m. and staff will make sure they’re sticking to task.
- Class Teachers – Each Form will now have only one class teacher, as opposed to two. They are in charge of administrative duties for their class, like taking attendance, issuing textbooks, holding bi-monthly class meetings, etc. Form 2’s teacher is Crispus; Form 3’s is Mercy; and Form 4’s is James.
- Family trees – Daraja has always had “families” of girls – groups of four, with one girl from each Form – but now there is a new addition: a teacher. Every student will be assigned to one teacher to whom they can turn for guidance. The teachers’ roles as mentors include monitoring their welfare and handling any grievances.
- Office hours – Now, any students who receive a C- or lower will be required to attend two office hours a week with the teacher of that subject – on Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m. and on Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m.
- Teachers and Matron on duty – There will be two teachers on duty each week, from Saturday to Friday. While there have been teachers on duty in the past, their role will now be heavily aided by the full-time Matron on Duty, Consolata (former Daraja cook). Stay tuned for a more in-depth look at Consolata’s new role.
The Isenhart family took a trip around the world to show their children the importance of understanding the global environment and, lucky for us, a portion of their travels involved working with the Daraja girls. Parents Chris and Jill Isenhart give us insight into their remarkable trip in an article published on Mongabay. Check out the excerpt below:
“Chip Isenhart: Both Jill and I have a lifelong passion for nature; we both focused on environmental science in college and built careers that reflected our strong, shared passion for environmentalism. We married in our early 20s and spent the first years pursuing various conservation fieldwork assignments across the globe working for multiple NGOs, like the WWF, Conservation International (CI), and the National Audubon Society. After several years abroad and completing masters degrees (at Yale), we started ECOS Communications—an environmental consultancy firm with the mission to help raise appreciation for nature by “connecting the public with the natural world”. ECOS develops master plans and educational exhibits for conservation groups, wildlife agencies, zoos, aquariums, and other public facilities. After a decade running various projects at ECOS (internationally and the U.S.), we wanted to slow things down a bit, and pursue a more family-oriented life. Thus our two children, daughter Hannah (13) and son Jesse (11).
Conveying our passion for conservation and environmentalism to our children, hasn’t always come easy. Despite our careers and our business, we found it challenging to compete for their interests in a modern world full of distractions (cell phones, their school friends and activities, “the Internet”, etc). Although we raised our children with a holistic approach and encouraged them to have a broad view of the world, they didn’t always understand our environmental passions. Despite our efforts, the question remained, “how do you teach a passion like ours, for the environment?”
Mark Szotek for Mongabay: Is this why you chose to take Hannah and Jesse on an extended global trip? Please tell our readers a little bit more about your journey.
Chip Isenhart: Our goal was to have an extended-family trip where we immersed our children in a variety of global cultures and landscapes. We wanted our kids to know firsthand there was more to the world than what mainstream America reflected, and we wanted them to develop a true understanding of the global environment. We also hoped our children would more fully understand the basis of our professions and, in doing so, better appreciate our projects and the shared environmental passions that really started our family.
Mark Szotek for Mongabay: What have been the highlights of this trip to date?
Jill Isenhart: There were so many memorable moments on this trip. I’d like to share a few according to the three main legs of our journey:
In Kenya, we focused our attention on the Ol Pejeta Conservancy (OPC), a world-class, wildlife conservancy that promotes an innovative blend of tourism and community-based conservation, and the Daraja Academy, a secondary school for underprivileged girls. Though their work is exemplary, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy can be described as a more standard ECOS client. It was the little known work of the Daraja Academy that really excited our family, and eventually led to a collaboration between the two organizations.
Daraja Academy students come on full scholarships from across Kenya with a burning desire to better themselves and their communities through the gift of education. We’ve never seen students anywhere work so hard at all hours, day and night. For these girls, education wasn’t a “chore”; it was a hard-earned privilege. Their example and passion for learning left a lasting impression on our kids.
While Daraja students are all very bright and extremely motivated, they face a significant problem regarding continuing their education after graduating from the academy: they must wait a year or more to learn if they will receive university scholarships. It’s during this time that many of the girls return to their home villages, where they are often forced into arranged marriages by their impoverished parents, simply to receive a dowry.
To address this situation, we put on our consultancy hats and conducted workshops with Daraja students to identify vocational possibilities that also focused on environmental education. We worked with the school’s faculty to develop a “gap year” training course that would give the girls a foundation for future employment, as environmental educators and tourism guides in Kenya’s robust tourism industry, and/or improve their opportunities for future university study.
Though OPC and Daraja are neighbors in Kenya’s Laikipia Province, these two groups had never connected. Inspired by the many positive experiences they had at OPC, Hannah and Jesse came up with the idea of introducing their new Daraja Academy friends to this organization. Subsequently, we were able to establish an environmental education and field guide skills program that will take place at OPC for a group of Daraja graduates in 2013. An urgent community need could be met just by fostering new connections between groups that were already neighbors. On this trip, our kids were teaching us some of the basics, like neighbors helping neighbors.”
Read the full article here!