Combining the Old with the New

Hello Everyone!

Can you think of a better way to start off your week than with a happy update from The Ota Initiative? I certainly cannot, so let’s dive right in. Last time we took a look at Ota’s first ever English week and why it is so important for our students to learn English. This week I am going to write a bit about the final two weeks of our program, which focused on arts and science, and what the future of Ota may hold.

Ota’s staff faced a small conundrum while preparing for this summer’s school break program. About half our students are now entering the third grade and need to prepare for a large national test they must take later in the year. Many of our parents contacted head teacher Pontian before our fourth program to let him know that their children would not be able to return to Ota this summer because they would be enrolling in school-run preparatory courses over break. We at Ota know how important this national test is and we strive to work with the school system, not compete against it, so Pontian assured these parents that it would be no problem for their students to skip Ota’s summer session and then return to our program in the winter.

Our staff then set out to recruit 15 new students to fill empty spaces. With our new students and two students from previous programs who joined last minute, we reached a class size of 27 students for this fourth program. We did not want to cover completely new material and leave out the third grade students who missed this program, but we also wanted this program to be engaging for our returning students. Pontian solved this dilemma by crafting a two-week schedule that reviewed the toughest science themes from our previous three programs that students struggled with the first time around. This program explored more complex topics such as types of animals (mammals verses reptiles) and the impact that humans have on nature. With the help of our Amizade volunteers from West Virginia University, we then injected new games, art projects, and experiments to create a new and exciting syllabus.

Pontian reported that the news students integrated well into Ota’s model and that the few returning students were engaged and learning information that they missed in previous sessions. A major success of the arts and science curriculum were the stories. If you remember, each group leader partnered with an Amizade volunteer to write a story exploring a scientific theme – for example, one story was about the water cycle – in both English and Swahili during the group leaders training seminar. During the program, our group leaders then read these stories to our students in both Swahili and English. While our students without a doubt could not understand every word of these English stories, Pontian said it was a great way to reinforce vocabulary learned during English week, teach new vocabulary, and expose students to a language that they must learn but often do not have access to.

Pontian reported that the parents of our new students were very impressed by Ota’s program and that they look forward to enrolling their students with us again next session. Because of this, we could potentially have 40+ students who wish to enroll in Ota’s winter program if this program’s students and the third grade students who missed this program all want to return! I would not have in me to turn away a returning student, and yet a strength of Ota’s programming is our manageable class size and emphasis on small group work. Pontian and I have several ideas about how to handle a large influx of returning students next program, and while I am not yet sure what our December program will look like, it seems that once again Ota will experience some exciting changes. I will be sure to keep you all updated as plans solidify and new prospects for expansion emerge, but for now I would like to thank you all for your support and wish you the happiest of weekends.

Many thanks and best wishes,
Rebecca Gailey
The Ota Initiative

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