Monday, February 25th, 2013
Remember just a few short months ago when Daraja’s first-ever graduating class sat for their KCSE exams for three weeks straight in November? Well, there is another test that’s similar in importance, called the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) whose scores were released at the end of last month. These exams are taken at the end of primary school by Class 8 students (eighth-graders) and are a very important factor in Daraja’s selection process for the new class of Form I’s. Before the exam, students fill out a form indicating four to eight schools they would like to attend (including one national school); then, once the scores have been released, the schools select students based on “candidature and affirmative actions” – learn more here. Those with the highest scores are invited to attend national schools; following in rank are provincial schools, then district schools. Daraja Academy has a different selection process. Unlike most secondary schools in Kenya, Daraja goes in search of its students (learn more about that process here.) Daraja staff wait until KCPE scores have been released and then travel all across Kenya to interview applicants, with KCPE scores being a very important factor. Daraja is different again from other schools in that it looks not only for girls who achieved high scores on their exams, but also have excellent leadership skills, confidence, a strong desire for education, a willingness to go back to their own communities and teach what they hav been taught, (tribal) diversity, and an inability to afford school on their own. One of the questions Daraja staff have asked in student interviews is, “What will you do if you don’t get accepted to Daraja?” and they especially love applicants who are emphatic that they’ll find a way to go to school regardless of the outcome!
New students receive a huge, warm welcome when they arrive on campus for the first time
Wednesday, February 13th, 2013
Daraja is quiet right now, or at least quieter than it usually is. There are only three classes here – Forms 2, 3, and 4 (10th – 12th grade) – meaning that only 79 students are on campus right now. Soon, though, there will be a new freshman class and group of Transition Program participants (last year’s Form 4s). By April, there will 130 students bustling on campus.
Until then, the Daraja administration has begun their search for the freshman class, a yearly tradition that takes place around this time for three weeks. Deputy Principal Victoria, Dean of Curriculum Charles, Transition Program Director Carol, and longtime advisor Stephanie Danforth are touring the country for almost three weeks in search of prospective Daraja girls.
This process is very unique. Danforth explains that Daraja is the only school in Kenya to actively travel to find and recruit its students. Kenyan secondary schools, she explains, often wait for student applications to flood their offices; then they choose students based on their grades and test scores. Daraja is different. Yes, grades and test scores are important, but they are by no means the only qualifying factors for prospective students. In fact, there have been cases where Daraja has had to choose between a girl with higher marks and a girl with lower marks who possesses that certain Daraja-je-ne-sais-quoi (i.e. a wide array of leadership qualities), and has chosen the latter. Their process works, too. Danforth has sponsored numerous students throughout East Africa and she has noticed a distinct difference with the Daraja girls that she sponsors. At other schools, she explains, students can often be more reserved. Daraja girls are the opposite – even the shy students are not afraid to speak up or take charge, demonstrating the leadership quality that is pivotal to any Daraja student and ultimately global leader.
This week, the four interviewers are traveling to Western Kenya – Kisumu area – where they will interview prospective students from various locations, including schools in the region. They’ll spend each day interviewing students, then return to Nanyuki where they’ll conduct local interviews. Then, they’ll head to Eastern Kenya – the coastal regions – for the last week of interviews.
Some girls have mailed application letters to Daraja and will be expecting interviews; others will learn of the interviews from primary school teachers or friends once Daraja staff have arrived in their town and will interview on the spot. Then, Daraja interviewers will return to Daraja with piles of notes and spend hours evaluating which students to admit based on Daraja’s admissions criteria.
The new Form 1 class will report to school on March 22, so stay tuned for more details about the interview process and incoming students!
Wednesday, February 6th, 2013
If you’ve been to Daraja in the last year, you’ve met Yvonne. You probably remember Yvonne well, because she probably went out of her way to meet and greet you, with her enormous smile and contagious laugh. She is one of the most friendly and outgoing students at Daraja, and came to this school in an interesting way.
Yvonne’s mom passed away when Yvonne was in the fifth grade, so her grandmother became her guardian. When her grandmother passed in 2009, Yvonne moved in with her aunt and sister in the Majengo slums in Nanyuki (25 kilometers from Daraja’s campus). That year, she finished eighth grade but her aunt could only afford to send her sister to school, so, as Yvonne explained (in her application to Daraja), “I then decided instead of staying idle I should repeat Class Eight and that is what I did. I worked so hard, besides being sent home for school fees.” She took her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) a second time and got a good score, so her aunt decided she should go to secondary school. However, she wrote, “Most of the time I stayed home while my sister went to school which made me feel very neglected. I still didn’t lose hope and I did odd jobs and after I got the money, I would pay my [school] fees.”
One day, Yvonne noticed Daraja student Doreen in town wearing a Daraja shirt. She followed her into a grocery store and when Doreen finished shopping Yvonne approached her and asked for her phone number because she wanted to know about Daraja. She called her daily, and finally Doreen told her how to get to Daraja and how much public transit would cost. Yvonne got a job doing casual labor – digging for farmers – and saved up enough matatu (bus) fare to go to and from the school, where she went and asked the administration if she could attend Daraja.
If the fact that Yvonne deliberately repeated 8th and 9th grade in order to stay in school isn’t testament enough to her passion for education, maybe the following will be. Yvonne, who dreams of being either a neurosurgeon or flight hostess, loves writing poetry. Here’s a poem she wrote yesterday for the Daraja family:
My Bridge! My Future!
Have you heard of a story?
Was it a story or a fairytale?
Was it sad or sweet?
Did you laugh or cry?
Then here is the story…
Before I got to Daraja, I never thought I would get here
I worked hard towards my destination,
Although being out of school made me so emotional,
I never gave up my ambition,
Because I knew there was a solution
I kept on doing my best in my society
For this was my priority
And always humbling myself to the Deity
Soon the best came of it
My yearning became my earning
My hard work became my success,
When I was chosen to be part of Daraja
Tears of joy rolled down my cheeks
As happiness dug a deep cavity in my heart
Being part of Daraja means a lot to me
Giving me a chance to learn is one of the best things that I am offered
Forever may Daraja live
To accomplish the dreams of many
By Yvonne Njeri
Sunday, February 3rd, 2013
Sports are an important part of Daraja Academy, and many students are athletic in a variety of different ways. Football/soccer is one of the most popular sports in Kenya, matched in popularity only, perhaps, by running, and children who have the opportunity learn to play from an early age. 11 Daraja girls comprise its soccer team, only two of whom are Form 2s (the others are older). Josephine and Caroline, Form 2, love soccer and love being apart of this team. Josephine has been playing soccer since the fifth grade, and Caroline since the seventh. Both got to play at primary school, and practice at home on holidays. Last week, they played against some Danish volunteers who live nearby and, as per usual, beat them. “We play against them four or five times a year,” explained Josephine. “Last year they won once, I think.”
“They were good but we beat them,” explained Caroline – the score was 3 to 0. This reporter is not, and has never been, remotely athletic, so I’m always genuinely interested to learn why people “do” sports. I asked Josephine why she thinks soccer is fun when it involves so much running, which, in my experience, only causes pain, shortness of breath, and excessive sweating. She nodded, understanding my explanation, and countered with one of her own – ” When you feel pain you can still play through the pain. You reach a point where after awhile it just goes away and you keep playing,” she said. I’ve heard this explanation before, and while it sounds kind of mystical and unbelievable, enough people have suggested something similar that they must be on to something. But why, I asked, would you want to endure that initial pain in the first place? “When you had stress, you begin playing and you are relieved of that stress,” said Caroline. This actually makes sense, especially in light of the academic rigor Daraja girls face everyday. I can only imagine that, after working the mind so incredibly hard for hours each day, it must be sort of nice to leave all that behind for a few hours and think about nothing but scoring goals on the soccer field. Plus, explained the girls, there are other benefits to team sports – “When we go to play against another team we get to socialize and make new friends,” said Josephine. In addition, their own team bond is strengthened - “We become closer even off the field because you get united because you all want to win,” said Caroline. Check out these pictures from the girls’ match agains the Danes, and maybe if the reader has, like this author, a strong distaste for “working out,” these young athletes’ eloquent explanations might help change his/her mind.
Monday, January 28th, 2013
Daraja students returned to school Saturday, January 5, after a two-month school break. One of the first orders of business was prefect elections – between Monday and Friday the 11th, girls had time to nominate one another for any of the 11 positions and petition for votes. Daraja has had prefects since its first class in 2009, and while most of the positions are still the same, a few have been added as the school has expanded (including Farm, Computer, and Compost Prefects). The 11 prefect positions include prefects for dining hall, sports, library, compost, environment, shamba (farm), compost, one for each of the three dormitories, and Head Girl.
On Friday afternoon, the student body and staff gathered in the patio for elections. The position of Head Girl was uncontested and taken by Esther Wa, the only student nominated by her peers for this position, which is comparable to a student body president position in the U.S. Esther is a Form 3, and last year also served as prefect to one of the dormitories. Two to three girls were nominated for the remaining ten positions, and each nominee had the opportunity to explain why she sought the position. Some were interested specifically in the topic of the position – for example, Florence, Form 4, ran for Environmental Prefect, she explained, “because I have passion for environment and I want to be an environmentalist. I thought it’d be good for me to start practicing my skills now before I reach my career goal.” Others wanted to follow in the footsteps of their “mothers” or “grandmothers” – Daraja girls are divided into families composed of one girl from each form, and since many of last year’s admirable Form 4s held prefect positions, their younger protégés wanted to continue the positions their mentors had held. Irene N., Form 3, gave an impassioned speech (see below) for Library Prefect, explaining that she was disappointed the students didn’t receive Kenyan newspapers in a timely fashion. If elected, she promised to keep the students up-to-date on current events, using staff to aid her in transcribing news throughout the day on a blackboard in the library. Rosalia wanted to be a Dormitory Prefect because “I love serving people and being there for them. If anyone gets sick during the night I might be of help. I love being close to the girls – being a Dormitory Prefect, I’d be closer to the girls than in any other field.” Sometimes, winning the position of prefect means gaining experience for later years – for example, Asuza, who is a Form 2, ran for (and won) Dining Hall Prefect because she hopes to be Head Girl next year.
Following their speeches, students voted and an hour later results were announced:Asuza was elected Dining Hall Prefect; Jemima won Shamba Prefect; Lisayo won Sports Prefect; Irene N. won Library Prefect; Irene M. won Computer Prefect; Florence won Environment Prefect; Sylvia won Compost Prefect; and Yvonne, Fatuma A., and Rosalia were elected Dormitory Prefects.
Prefects’ duties include bringing student affairs in harmony with Daraja staff, maintaining the general hygiene of the school, ensuring students are dressed in full uniform, collaborating with and helping their prefect colleagues, attending to students’ complaints, communicating information to students from staff, ensuring school property is respected, helping students who are personally struggling, and communicating information from the Head Girl and/or Dorm Matron. “It’s a way of linking teachers and students,” explained Deputy Principal Victoria. “In the absence of a teacher they’ll oversee the leadership position. The students will use them to pass any info to the administration – it’s a way to maintain some sort of structure in the student body. The Head Girl is the overall prefect. She’s in charge of the rest of prefects and the whole school.” Of course, the prefects are encouraged to maintain a balance between their leadership positions and schoolwork, and were instructed not to take their positions “to the extreme.”
Check out Irene’s passionate campaign speech to be Library prefect- she won! Congrats Irene!
Friday, January 25th, 2013
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.