Putting Students First at Kabirizi School

At the start of the new day, primary one students flood into class, ready to learn with teacher Boniface. As they settle into their seats, they look to their teacher with smiles extended from ear to ear. Boniface smiles back with pride. He can almost see the light bulbs go on in students’ minds as they use recycled bottle tops to solve their addition problems. The equation is coming to life in front of them.

While these are key components of Wellspring’s training coming to life in Kabirizi’s classrooms, the school hasn’t always been this way. Kabirizi is located in Rubavu District, where barriers to education threaten the future of many students—including dropout, ill-equipped teachers, parents who don’t understand the importance of education, and overcrowded classrooms—many of which Kabirizi faces. With months of school closures, these barriers have only grown deeper and more widespread in school communities across Rwanda—Kabirizi included.

It is within this context that Wellspring began walking alongside the leaders, teachers, and parents of Kabirizi on the path towards quality education for their 1,386 students. Since the start of our partnership in 2017, we have been amazed at the ways the Kabirizi school has prioritized the learning of their students and have tackled the barriers that too often rob children of their opportunity to grow. Kabirizi is part of our School Partner program, which gives monthly donors the opportunity to walk alongside a specific school through their journey of transformation. Monthly giving provides a sustainable foundation for long-term change and plays a key role in seeing Rwandan students experience the kind of quality education we hope for ourselves—an education that transforms heads and hearts, and shepherds its students towards their bright futures.

Justin, Head Teacher at Kibirizi

A Changed Heart

“At first, the staff could not believe the transformation they were seeing from me. I had become a new leader and they were curious to know what had happened to me. I was transformed by Wellspring training.”

When meeting head teacher Justin, it’s clear to see his passion for quality education. But this hasn’t always been the case. He shared what his leadership style was like before Wellspring’s training: “I was harsh with my staff. I was the only one to decide how things were done. When I observed lessons in the classrooms, my intention was to see the negative side of what the teachers were doing… I can now say that I was an authoritative leader. I hardly trusted people and there was always conflict.”

Instead of working toward the common goal of providing quality education, the staff was divided and focused their attention on creating conflicts. How were students supposed to learn in an environment that doesn’t cultivate thriving or pay attention to the learning needs of their students? 

When Wellspring’s trainers began working with Kabirizi, Justin took to the training immediately. He realized that the way he was running the school wasn’t conducive to students’ learning, and changed his heart posture as a result. He shared, “The big lesson I learned from Wellspring is to be a Servant Leader first of all. I learned how to listen, collaborate and delegate power to my staff. We were also taught the role of school leaders in promoting teaching and learning at our schools. I enjoy following the teaching and learning process at school.”

We have seen Justin adopt this position of Servant Leadership and watched it echo throughout the school and into the hearts of his staff and minds of his students.

Students in class at Kabirizi

From Teacher-First to Student-First

Along with Head Teacher Justin, teacher Boniface has reoriented his priorities as an educator with the help of Wellspring’s training. After teaching primary one and two classes all day, he left school each evening frustrated and exhausted. He led his classroom single-handedly, with no space for students to engage or participate in their learning—and students were suffering as a result. Not only were they failing to grasp lesson concepts and failing tests, but they were fearful of their teacher. Boniface had a harsh awakening when a student told him “we feel safe when you’re absent”. This was the turning point, and Wellspring’s training was the catalyst for his transformation.

When Wellspring came to train us, everything changed for me because I wanted to be a better teacher than I was before.”

Looking back, he realized that he was using a teacher-centred method where he was the only one talking—and the learning of students fell through the cracks. During Wellspring lessons, he learned “that I have to meet the needs of my students. I have to ensure that my lessons are focusing on students first. They advised me that I do not have to do all the teaching myself.”

Equipped with these new teaching techniques, Boniface now enters the class each day rested and eager to lead his students in their learning. “Something that I love about my job is seeing my students move from one point to the other. I feel so much joy when every child learns something new.”

And at the height of the pandemic and school closures, Boniface showed his commitment to his students and their learning by advocating for vulnerable children to return to classrooms upon reopening. And his efforts were not done alone; he is backed up by a powerful community of parents equally committed to the success of their kids.

An Engaged Community

Theonest, a parent representative at Kabirizi, shared with us the many ways in which the School General Assembly is prioritizing the education of their students. 

Between bringing back vulnerable and dropped-out students, teaching fellow parents the importance of getting involved in their childs’ education, and contributing their time and talents to build a school kitchen and fence, Kabirizi’s parent community is exemplifying the power of Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) and is transforming the school as a result.

Theonest shared one of the key learnings he took from Wellspring training: .”I have learned that the school belongs to us first which was not the case before I came in contact with Wellspring. If [the school] performs well, we all win, if it performs poorly, we all have failed. I know I have a voice in the school community of my child. So I work with the school to make sure it is working very well.”

Through ABCD training, parents are visiting teachers to learn how they can support and engage with the school, and are aware not only of their strengths but also the needs of their children. As a result, they are putting the learning of their children first because they know the power of quality education.

Many parents are aware that education is the future of our country.”

The school yard at Kabirizi

Join Kabirizi in the Transformation Journey

Thanks in large part through generous donors in our School Partner program, Kabirizi has become a school community that has mobilized around the goal of meeting every child with an education that puts their learning needs first, involves them in lessons, and ensures they’re grasping concepts.  And while our dedicated team of monthly School Partners have supported Kabirizi’s transformation, there is still more work to be done.

Like many other schools in Rwanda and around the world, Kabirizi has been experiencing a number of challenges as a result of the pandemic. Teacher Boniface told us, “During school reopening, we received many students but did not have enough classrooms to accommodate all of them. We had children who did not come back to school after a long time of school closure. Teachers were struggling with students who seemed to have forgotten everything or did not have any learning materials.” As well, Head Teacher Justin shared about the challenge of parents’ mindsets—many are still resistant to send their children to school or provide learning materials. 

This July 2021, you can partner with Kabirizi school to walk alongside their transformation in the days, months, and years to come. When you sign up as a School Partner for as little as $15/month,  you’re supporting the training of teachers, leaders, parents, and community leaders as they walk through our School Development Program. You are helping us provide in-school support, mentoring, and coaching to embed and reinforce Wellspring’s training into their classrooms and school culture. You are walking alongside the Kabirizi community, day after day, as they make steps towards sustainable change from the inside out.

Will you become a Monthly School Partner and be part of the further transformation at Kabribizi School?