The Segal Foundation and Girls Education

October 28, 2015

Members of the Segal Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization who have funded a portion of the construction completion of the new STEM high school buildings made a site visit to the school this morning. There were four members of the organization who came including the Executive Director from New Jersey. Two of the members were Africans. Dado is from Burundi and Eve is Ugandan. A fourth person , Yvette, was from New York and although she had been in many East African countries, this was her first trip to Rwanda. Bonnie Weiss from Boston also was with the group.

We began with a tour of the school by 5 current students each assigned to one of the visitors. The guides were shy at first. But as the tour proceeded through the dorms, the dining hall, and up to the new building that has classrooms and a computer lab, they became more animated. They talked about their daily schedule, the good food, the study halls at night, the exam schedule. They talked about the “family” structure where every new student is assigned a “mother” and a “grandmother” (S2 and S3 students) to answer their questions in the early weeks of school. By the time the group ended the tour in the current library, guides and visitors seemed like good friends. Yvonne asked her guide about language study. “We take English, Kinyawanda and French. Do you speak French?” Yvonne replied, “I have not taken it in several years…let me see…j’mapelle Yvonne?” “That’s pretty good. Keep trying and you will be very good at speaking French,” encouraged her guide.

After the tour we  convened in the Residence for coffee and to share perspectives on the work of the Segal Foundation and the school. Eve began by saying how much had been accomplished in the expansion. “This education model is so needed for African women. The girls are poised, happy, enjoying their studies. Like our guides.” Sister then explained how she chose the guides. She had decided not to choose the “top girls” at the school. Instead she chose girls who were from the local rural area. They arrived at S1 speaking no English and being very shy. “Now that they are finishing S3, they are speaking English well and they are good students who are helpful.” Se went on to explain how these girls and others have been working on community service projects and reporting their learning to their peers. Dado spoke how of the schools he visits, he is most impressed with the education at Maranyundo: “not only are academic standards high, and girls are learning English well, but they are given a “spiritual, community experience that makes the learning an integral part of their outlook on life.”

Then Andy spoke, explaining, “Of the 200 projects we fund, my two favorite projects are the Maranyundo Initiative and Gardens for Health.”

The meeting ended with a discussion of how to preserve the strengths and characteristics of a small school like Maranyundo and yet have a broad impact throughout the East Africa. Daphne announced that 5 projects focusing on girls education in East Africa were beginning discussions of how we could work together and leverage more funding for these projects. To be continued.

We are grateful to Bonnie and Andrew Weiss who have helped the Initiative connect with the Segal Foundation and to the feedback that organizations give to help us continue to grow in understanding of what is needed to sustain high quality girls education in this part of the world. That understanding will inform all of us of how best to educate all our girls around the world.

Short Takes with Your Morning Coffee

October 27, 2015

On Sunday, Molly came to Maranyundo. Molly is a 2015 graduate of Tufts university. She majored in Peace and Justice Studies. She was a student in my Global Educator course last spring after spending a semester n Rwanda her junior year.

She will be a Teaching Fellow at Maranyundo starting in January in the new school year. Until January, Molly is working for Spark Micro-grants. Spark Micro-grants is an organization that funds community start-ups in Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. She is based in Musanze near the Ugandan border. She travels to rural villages to hold community gatherings facilitating discussions about community needs. She is learning a great deal about Rwanda that will be so valuable to her when she is working here at the school to support the girls and teachers.

She is enthusiastic about her current work and how it is preparing her to relate well to the girls and staff at the school. She tells delightful stories about her adventures traveling to the villages and learning to commute by moped!

On Friday, I will meet with Jared Sullivan, also a 2015 Tufts graduate who was a student  my Methods of Teaching English course last spring. He is teaching English at a university in Kigali as a Fulbright recipient. I look forward to telling his story after I see him.

Brother Straton joined us for lunch in Kigali after our meeting with the Ministry of Education. He is still active in his work at Biyamana. The school is dong well. He was in  town with several students who were presenting research they had done on climate change to the ministry of agriculture. His new project is working with refugee camps. Some youth have been in the camps for 18 years; they were born in the camps on the border with the DRC or they arrived as toddlers. Beyond primary and early secondary schooling, they do not have much preparation for skilled jobs to support themselves. He is finding opportunities for students…one at a time…and getting them scholarships to vocational programs. These students do very well, get jobs upon graduation and begin new lives…literally! One young man has graduated and has been recruited by an IT company in the US.

The girls are wearing their new grey Maranyundo sports uniforms with great pride! Jane brought the shirts and shorts that had been printed by her friend in Watertown and they were distributed to the girls to wear in the afternoon sports time. Daphne, Jane and I spoke to several girls as they were walking back to their dorm after finishing their basketball practice. At one point, there were seven eager girls gathered around Daphne and her smart phone looking at photos of Daphne and her daughter selecting a wedding dress for her recent wedding. All over the world, young women are delighted by the excitement of celebrating love and the fun of choosing special outfits!

Our meeting with an advisor to the Minster of Education was very positive. It is always apparent that Sister Juvenal is preceded  in her meetings with people by her reputation as administering a very successful school for girls. We were pleased to hear that he will visit the school next week to see the campus expansion, hear more about the plans for the new Library and community outreach. He sees that the school can be a model for how to put into action many of the aspects of the new Competency based Curriculum Standards. This has been part of the dreaming we all have done about how the work at Maranyundo can influence education practice throughout the country. We were all pleased…especially to know that the connection to the fibre optic cable  will happen. “I want to please the Sister so she can continue her good works,” the advisor told me as we left his office.

Don’t we all!

Choices and Challenges

October 26, 2015

I never get tired of waking up to the beautiful morning light at Maranyundo. The sounds of waking birds, girls walking to early study and breakfast, the mellow moo of a cow or two, it is an amazing warm welcome to a new day.

Our day began slowly, as we savored the many flavors of the colorful breakfast Maria prepares each morning. The luscious golden mango slices, the little bananas, bread with rich brown peanut butter and smooth honey, slices of rich cheese and the coffee…Rwandan coffee.  What a special gift to enjoy all of this hospitality in an even tempo. A luxury.

The focus of our morning was to be a meeting with Sister Juvenal. We were to present the latest draft of the annual evaluation for which we gathered data in March during an on-site visit. We would ask for Sister’s in-put and go through the suggestions we had made for advancing the school’s mission for the coming year. We were all looking forward to this exchange of ideas with Sister.

We gathered in Sister’s office. She wanted to begin by seeking our advice. With the expansion of the school, she is keen to hire the best new teachers she can find to join the current faculty who are clearly dedicated to becoming more proficient in their content knowledge and “student centered methodologies.” She thinks so carefully about the hiring process. Together, she and the Dean review all the applications . She chooses candidates she thinks may be the “best” and invites each of them to come to the school for a demonstration lesson. She observes the lesson along with a department teacher. And, the best part, she then asks the students to give their feedback on each of the candidates.

Currently, she is looking for a physics teacher. She has invited three candidates to the school to interview and do a demonstration lesson. Sister wanted now our advice…not on whom to hire… but rather how she should think about each of the candidates strengths and challenge as she saw them.

One candidate, she told us, is a seasoned teacher who did a very engaging lesson. But he does not have much experience using technology. He is not very comfortable with computers.  A second candidate, very early in his career, has excellent English skills, learned his content in his college years in the US. But he did not teach a very engaging lesson. He lectured to the students.  A third candidate knows physics very well, had some good teaching strategies, but his English was not always understood by the students.

What is the best way to consider the strengths and challenges of each of these candidates?

The predicament in which Sister Juvenal finds herself is a familiar story for school administrators everywhere. Determined to convene a faculty who demonstrate the important elements that are needed to create a professional community, one needs people who have strong content knowledge. Teachers also need to demonstrate a focus on student thinking and engaging students in interesting lessons. New standards developed by national teams of educators in Rwanda require students to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, computer savvy, all with excellent English skills…across the curriculum. For this critical hire for the new Maranyundo STEM high school, a physics teacher, the stakes are high. Physics is central to the new combinations…the  majors… that the students can choose at the high school level. The physics teacher will play a key role in shaping the depth of student knowledge and subject matter pedagogy. Would it be better to hire someone with content knowledge, good teaching strategies and require him to learn computer skills? Or should an administrator go with the novice who has strong content knowledge and command of English but needs to learn inquiry based teaching strategies? How critical is the English level to learning in physics?

Together we sat in Sister Juvenal’s sunny, efficient office and weighed the different ways to consider her conundrum. And we thought of how critical the role of the teacher is in inspiring learning for every student, in every discipline. Rwanda, like all nations in the world, is trying so hard to staff schools well. But as other areas of the economy move forward, talented college graduates, especially those in the STEM fields, are sought after to join engineering firms, financial institutions, and NGOs focused on issues such as health care and the environment. Across the globe the pool of ideal candidates for teaching positions is shrinking. But if this girls’ school in Nyamata is any indication, the pool of young people who are eager to learn and excited to embrace new technologies is growing rapidly.

We did not solve Sister Juvenal’s puzzle this morning. We did help her think about the issues that are most important for her in a teacher candidate. The importance of respect for students, the belief that every student can engage in challenging curriculum, are supremely important to Sister Juvenal. Conducting lessons that allow the students to “uncover” rather than “cover” content (as David Hawkins sees the curriculum enterprise) is the shape of teaching she wants to see. Having time to consider these priorities, to reflect on the ways in which she wants her students and faculty to relate to the work they do together brings a refreshed perspective to the hard choices of whom to hire.

Listening to Sister Juvenal describe how she wants her girls to experience their education, I thought about my favorite sentence from Eleanor Duckworth’s classic text about listening to students’ thinking in the classroom,  The Having of Wonderful Ideas.
 “The more we help children to have their wonderful ideas and to feel good about themselves for having them, the more likely it is that they will some day happen upon wonderful ideas that no one else has happened upon before.”

The essence of education...and the fun!

The First 24 Hours

Arriving in Rwanda and navigating the first night and day in the country, are always an adventure. In this nation that is rapidly building new infrastructure, developing new ideas and economies, there are always signs of this progress blended with familiar signs, sounds and smells. Jane O’Connor, Daphne Petri and I arrived from Amsterdam in velvet darkness. Upon immediately embarking the plane, there is the sensation of familiar warmth, (now damp at the start of the rainy season), accompanied by the spicy scent of Kigali. Entering the airport arrivals section, we notice the new VIP center, bright electronic posters announcing the 3 country visa (Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda) and “Welcome to Rwanda…land of a thousand hills and a million smiles.” There is also an announcement of Carnegie Mellon University programs…Masters degrees in Kigali. Driving to the school, one notices the new street lighting system, new gas stations, new construction, more bicycles. There is so much more traffic on the road to Nyamata than when I first traveled here in 20008. This is a country on the move!

I always try to take in this arrival time and think about what it can say to me about the state of the nation. The state of the nation will say a great deal about what sort of education is going to be needed and thereby supported by the government.  The state of the nation we saw as we spent our first hour in Rwanda was a rapidly growing, dynamic place.

The Ministry of Education has developed a Strategic Plan for 2013 – 2018. In the introduction, the Minister writes of the three goals that the nation will move to accomplish.

These goals are: promoting access to education at all levels, improving the quality of education and training, and strengthening the relevance of education and training to meet labour market demands. Equity in access to education is emphasised across all three goals to ensure that disadvantaged students, such as girls, the poor and disabled, have access to meaningful learning opportunities. “

These are lofty goals indeed. It will take more than a vibrant economy to accomplish this model of a strong educational system. The people must believe in schooling  as an enterprise that will benefit the individual as well as the commonwealth. The people must believe that the solutions that an educated population can offer to social issues, are the solutions that can improve the quality of life for everyone .  In many ways it is a faith based enterprise in this age of data points and quantitative research.

I looked for evidence that these other conditions exist for supporting the Ministry’s Strategic Plan. At dinner after our arrival at the Residence, Sr. Juvenal told us of the service work in which she is involving the girls as part of their leadership awareness. Groups of girls are volunteering in local schools, orphanages, hospitals to learn how these agencies support the needs of their communities. At the end of their term, they are asked to address a school assembly and describe how the experiences in the community have affected their thinking about leadership and future study.  The girls describe learning how daily life can be a “struggle” for many. One girl is thinking, “how fortunate I am to be in school learning new things;” Another says, “I am thinking now that learning is a privilege;” “I now think that education is important to learn things I can pass on to others to improve their lives.”  The experience of volunteering in the community is giving the Maranyundo girls a sense of the importance of the strategic goals…the link between schooling and “strengthening the relevance of education.” And these girls represent future citizens of Rwanda who will support education budgets and methodologies.

Then, this morning, we went to Mass at the local church. (The girls walk along the Nyamata road together. It is an impressive sight…a long long line, 4 across, of white and blue uniforms moving along the path.)

In the Mass, I thought about what I had been reading about the current Bishop’s Synod in Rome and the sense that the future of the Catholic Church depends on the strength and vibrance of African Catholicism. Well, I can attest that here in this little church in Nyamata, Rwanda, the Faith is vibrant and energetic! The church was full at the 9:00 Mass; there were people  of all ages. Elderly men and women, young families, many many children, young women with babies asleep n their lovingly wrapped bindings. After the readings, the priest called out to several children to come to the altar. He asked them “What did you remember from the Bible readings today?” According to my Kinyawanda translator, one little guy about 5 said “Nothing, I think.” “Then why did you come to church,” asked the priest. “To hear the singing and dancing!” (Indeed, the singing and dancing at Mass is wonderful!) Older children, including a girl from Maranyundo, had heard hopeful messages from the story of restoring sight to the blind.

So here in the Nyamata community, the Sunday church service calls forth the voices of children to participate. Children are believed to be the country’s most precious resource. This community engaged in ceremony together are a community that believes in common values. This could be a valuable set of criteria for a strong support of universal education.

So these are the first impressions I get returning to this nation committed to building an educational system that assures that all students “have access to meaningful learning opportunities.The Strategic Plan states, “Foundational to all of this is ensuring that our teachers are well trained and motivated.”  And in order to create and support a teaching force that is respected and supported by a community, all communities need to be committed to education, to schools, to children and youth, to values and social policies that make sure children are nourished and motivated in many ways. From what I see after only 24 hours among the thousand hills, the long long journey is beginning in a time of peace and a developing economy. Hopefully those elements can be sustained to allow learning and teaching to flourish…in peace and prosperity.

March 19, 2015

Dinner with Friends

For all of us who spend time on the Maranyundo Campus, leaving and saying goodbye is always hard. For me, as a teacher, it is hard to leave a place called school that is so clearly focused on learning and on the relationships among teachers, students and administrators that make the learning not just possible but meaningful, rewarding. For anyone who comes to campus, the warm and genuine welcome that the Benebikiras extend to visitors makes one so comfortable here. It is a place where friendship and productive partnerships are able to grow.

So on Thursday afternoon, as we prepared to leave for meetings in Kigali before flying home on Friday, it was nice to know that Jen had planned a dinner at India Kazanah in the city for new and old friends of the Maranyundo Project. Jen had invited people who have been encouraging and supportive of the Maranyundo Initiative from its earliest days. Former mayor of Nyamata, Gaspard Munsonera, (an admirer of Mayor Menino), was mayor when the Maranyundo School was planned for the location in Nyamata that had been an encampment of poverty and suffering. It is important for educators to consider how important the role of mayor is in supporting a vision for schools; we sometimes do not realize how much takes place behind the scenes in order to bring projects like the Maranyundo school to reality. His wife, Vivienne,  a member of the Parent Advisory Board also came. 

Architect Straton and his wife Emme Uwizymana joined us; Straton is still telling his wife about the Tufts Symposium in December and how much he and his daughter, Doris, learned there. Two of the headmasters whom we met with this week attended: Advisory Board member Martin, headmaster of the Lycee de Kigali, and Principal Martine who has become a great admirer of Sr. Juvenal and her commitment to girls education. Brother Straton who has been a valued mentor and advisor from the beginning of the school came to dinner along with two of his Marist brothers who teach at Byimana School for Science. Jen also invited Chris and Jen Hedrick. Chris is the CEO of Kepler University, a program that is providing competency based programs for students through on-line and hybrid models. Originally from the Seattle area, he and his wife have been working in Senegal before coming to Rwanda. Jen Hedrick is head of the Peace Corps programs in Rwanda, focused particularly on providing tutors English and literacy for Rwandan schools. And of course, Sr. Juvenal, Sr. Josee and Sr. Constance, the bursar of the school and Javier joined us.

Jen welcomed us all to the table and described how meaningful it was to be able to be among people who had encouraged and supported the development of the Maranyundo Girls School from its beginnings. She described how gratifying it was to share the story with new friends who are also dedicated to ensuring education excellence for girls in Rwanda. It was such a pleasure to sit at table and enjoy good food and convivial conversation with people who are so supportive of the education enterprise yet see that enterprise from so many different vantage points. It is a reminder of how complex education is and how many different kinds of supports it needs to be effective at the point of “delivery”…in classrooms with teachers and students. At table were people like Headmaster Martin, Brother Straton, the Benebikirka sisters who provided a vision for the school with inspiration from Senator Aloisia Inuymba. Political support and parent support were represented as well as the architect whose careful attention and respect for the buildings and classroom spaces is apparent throughout the campus.

To have a school that supports student learning, all these constituencies are important. In this small landlocked country in Africa, those of us from Boston are learning anew how collaborative we all must be to ensure that schools work for students and their teachers. In the end, each school has a narrative that begins with a belief that learning is essential for progress, for our future(s) and builds on the energy and commitment of community. Bits of that narrative are composed every day, in each and every classroom, each and every school. When the narrative includes careful listening, genuine exchange of ideas and direct conversation, the collaboration is as gratofying and comfortable as a good dinner with friends.

March 18, 2015

Educator Talk is Global

Thursday was a day for many meetings; with Sister Juvenal, Dean Joseph, teachers we had observed during the week, and with our own Boston team. It is so gratifying to share the work we have done with our hosts, to identify the strengths that are so apparent, and to share in real dialogue the future directions in which Sr Juvenal and her faculty want to go. As we have learned in the Maranyundo Initiative, as well as in or own US education reform efforts, the central component that makes partnerships work to improve something as complex as education for young people must be direct and thoughtful communication. We have it here!

After our individual meetings were over, we met with the entire faculty of the school. They came to the meeting having completed a brief survey. We asked them what they enjoyed most about teaching their subject area. We asked them what was most challenging for them in teaching. Finally, we asked them to think about what resources would help them create the ideal classroom. Our goal for ourselves was to learn more about each teacher and what this faculty cares about, individually and collectively. Our goal for the teachers was to share ideas about resources that will help them develop as educators.

The Do Now of our meeting asked them to share with a partner their vision of the ideal classroom. Wow! Did they get right to work on that idea! They enthusiastically shared with one another and a few folks volunteered their “dream classroom.” “When students are participating,” “When  I am teaching what I know best,” “When a student tells me I have helped them to learn something new.” “When technology works.” Then the faculty met in their planning groups (Humanities, Math & Science, Languages) to share their responses to the survey questions. Again, their conversations were animated, supportive, honest.

We came back together as a large group and each group presented their conversation. Using the blackboard, they filled the spaces with real teacher talk about what they like best. The discussed what is challenging about teaching in a world of standards and national exams, global outreach and jobs that require increasingly complex problem solving skills and deep thinking across the disciplines. The next steps they would like to take included learning more about their subject area, having more time to group students and have them work on project teams, and keeping students (and teachers!) alert for the long day that is necessary to fit in so many subjects and labs at the school.

Jen took careful notes of the conversations that we will send to each teacher. Our goal was to model the kinds of student-centered pedagogy that is so confusing to contemplate when your own education has been stand and deliver “filling the empty vessel.” (Not to mention in another language than the one you are currently teaching in!) Marian, Jane and I enjoyed being “teachers” to these thoughtful, eager “students” and closed the session by reviewing whether or not we all had met our goals. Sister Juvenal closed the meeting by reflecting on how much she felt had been accomplished and how thoughtful the teachers had been in sharing their ideas.

It is always amazing to me that when you get a group of teachers together, regardless of age, years of teaching, grades and content areas taught the conversation is vital, thoughtful, interesting. Across cultures and languages, national standards and economic realties, teachers share a respect for learning, a desire to deepen their own content knowledge. They identify successful practice as practice that gives students a chance to experience the satisfaction of problem solving, learning new ideas, identifying new questions. In the global village of our current century we need to have these teacher conversations that help educators cross the boundaries of cultures, disciplines, language. Meetings like our workshop with the Maranyundo faculty is an example of how much we have to learn from one another and how much of that learning we can pass on to our students! Teacher talk is universal. Let’s keep talking.

March 17, 2015

Among the Green Hills of Rwanda

 We spent most of our St Patrick’s Day on the road. We traveled from Nyamata to Gitarama to visit the Biyamana School of Science and Technology run by the Marist Brothers and to see our good friend and mentor, Bro. Straton.  Traveling in Rwanda is an opportunity to see the startling beauty that is this Land of a Thousand Hills. The ways in which agriculture flourishes on the hillsides in neat careful squares is a marvel. You see banana trees, dodo, beans, carrots, tomatoes and scores of native vegetables that are used in cooking. There are rice fields flooded while the workers tend them. In most of this section of Rwanda, the soil is very dry; the rainy season that this country looks forward to in March and April has not yet arrived and many people are convinced that the climate in this country along the equator is changing rapidly.

Even with the lack of rain, the eye is delighted by the horizon and the green hills that have made this place known as the Country of a Thousand Hills. The mountains to the north are the national refuge for the gorillas, a major tourist attraction. There are also five volcanoes in Rwanda. The mountains also served to discourage exploration by Europeans until the Germans eventually found their way to this prosperous kingdom with inhabitants living rather peacefully even though some family groups were hunters and pottery makers, some were herders, some raised crops. The history and culture of Rwanda is interesting to study because it was not colonized until late in the infamous Scramble for Africa. Eventually, the Germans and then the Belgians made their presence known in this green green world of hills and rivers.

After looking at the biology, chemistry and physics labs at Byimana, new construction after a fire on the campus 3 years ago, we hit the road once again and had a most extraordinary opportunity. We visited Urukundu Village, a home for children run by Mama Arlene, an extraordinary, civically engaged philanthropist. Arlene Brown came to Rwanda 20 years ago from Philadelphia and saw a need for a place to care for children whose families could not care for them. Over the years it has grown to include a school for PreK-6, a dental facility, a place for mothers and infants, as well as housing for 43 children ages 10 months and up.  Once they are ready for high school, they go to boarding schools throughout the country and return to their Urukundo home on holidays and school breaks.  When they are 21, they leave this nurturing nest to make their way in the world. Jane OConnor of our Maranyundo Team was eager to see the three children who she and her family have sponsored, 3 thriving boys ages 6, 3, and 10 months. We had a delightful time visiting with them after a tour of Mama Arlene’s facility.  We were  happy to see Kabossi, a child from Nyamata thriving with Mama Arlene’s care.  He was found and placed through the work of one of our former Maranyundo tutors, Rebecca, whose mother Diane Currier serves on the Board of Maranyundo.  They have sponsored Kabossi since his placement at Urukundo at the age of three.

It is impossible to describe the comfort and nurturing that Mama Arlene provides for her “family.” One facility we saw, however, tells a story that reflects the values of this culture. Mama Arlene had been approached by a father to care for his day old infant whose mother had died because they could not pay to stay at the hospital after delivering the child. In response to this tragic loss, Mama Arlene created a quiet, comfortable space for others to recover from childbirth with their infants. Once I have more Internet, I will post the photos of this lovely and loving room.

I think this story reflects Rwandan culture in the sense that when the people see that there is a need in the village, they problem solve and strategize to address that need. They are a remarkably resourceful, people. People like Mama Arlene (84) have been drawn to this resilience and found ways to support the energy and creativity she encountered 20 years ago. Her foundation has a website,, that provides a glimpse into this project and the many ways it benefits children in the country.

On the road back to the Maranyundo Campus we talked about how many different ways we have seen Rwandan children being served by their community…in schools and residences and civic centers. This is a culture that values its children, its youth. It was nice to think about all that as we continued along toward Maranyundo among those green hills…on St Patrick’s Day.