Back to School: 5 Years of Making the Grade

January 19, 2015 4:26 pm Published by

Today is Joseph and Mary School’s first day of classes for the 2015 school year.

Students began flowing in at 8 o’clock sharp for morning assembly. They gathered in their royal blue shirts in courtyard of the primary and secondary schools to sing the national anthem in unison. Afterwards they met their teachers, got their desks ready, and then headed to breakfast in the dining hall (one of the two meals provided by JBFC to all students to prepare them for a productive day of learning).

Today is also special because it is the 5th anniversary of the opening of the Joseph and Mary schools. (To read more about why JBFC’s school is called Joseph & Mary, click here)

When we opened our doors in January of 2010, I never dreamed our school would come so far this quickly. This time five years ago, we opened our doors with just 60 kids. But we were soon overwhelmed by the demand for quality education in our area and we were soon filling 100 seats and ended the year with twice that.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by the response to Joseph & Mary. Our neat U-shaped block of classrooms, stacked with desks and chairs, filled with books and learning toys, each headed by a certified teacher, was a far cry from the local government school just a few hundred yards away. That school was the reason we were determined to open Joseph & Mary in the first place. At the time, it had 900 students and three teachers. Hundreds of kids crammed shoulder to shoulder in classes with no learning materials and, often, no adult supervision in sight.

 And the difference in clear not just in appearance, but in academics. Our students consistently outperform surrounding schools (government schools and other private ones). We’ve had our struggles and in the beginning the learning curve was steep, for our students and for JBFC, as an organization. But we prove day in and day out that good teachers, access to quality tools, and hard work pays off.
In 2010, none of our students spoke a word of English, and now they can communicate in English as a second language. Joseph and Mary has been ranked in the top 3.5% of schools in the entire country. 100% of our students have passed the Tanzania national exams every year, since we opened. That’s truly something, when you consider most of Tanzanian students fail the national exam every yea
While we’ve accomplished a lot in the last four years, but we are, by no means, slowing down. We want our schools to continue to succeed, so we have set our sights on these goals to make sure Joseph & Mary students thrive.
Education Goals for 2015:
JBFC is lucky and grateful to have some wonderful school partners throughout the U.S. They have helped tremendously with teacher development. While professional development is expected and often required for American teachers, it’s a little harder to come by in rural Tanzania. Thanks to our partners, our teachers are learning new teaching methods and strategies and are regularly incorporating them into the classroom.
I especially want to recognize Robbin Hawkins and Kim Ferguson from Sarah Lawrence University in Bronxville, NY, who helped run an entire week of teacher development last week. These two women were wonderful additions to our teacher training, providing unique insight for our staff members. We can’t thank them enough for sharing their time and talents. We hope we can continue to grow this kind of support from our international partners in 2015.
While I’m excited and thrilled to begin another year at Joseph & Mary, this one is a little bittersweet. Because this year, we will say goodbye to our first graduating class!
I cannot believe that these students are ready to graduate and go out into the world. These students who started secondary school in my living room, because we had no secondary school at the time, will now be heading off to higher education, training programs, and work. I am so proud of these students. According to the UN only 1 in 4 Tanzanian students is even attending secondary school, let alone graduating. I can’t wait to see what these bright young men and women do with their education.
We are hoping to prepare all of our students to be not only good students, but also good citizens of the world. We especially hope to prepare our graduating seniors to go out into the world as intelligent and independent individuals with strong JBFC values and that they will share what they have learned with others.
Blogger Chris Gates is JBFC’s Founder & CEO.

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This post was written by Mainsprings