We are pleased to report continued progress, that has resulted in the completion of our two major projects: the exam hall and the eight-foot perimeter wall. The school continues to grow and improve as our Nigerian partners creatively strategize and prioritize our next steps.
The summer trip was the most successful of all previous trips. Board member Elaine Chagnon, accompanied by husband Bob, were able to spend an entire week at the school, surveying the physical progress of the plant, meeting with the school board to discuss next steps, and engaging in conversation with teachers, students, and administration to gather valuable information regarding requests, improvements, and needs.
Enrollment at Graceland International School is on the rise after several lean years due to the tensions and threats of violence resulting from the last presidential election and its effect on the local population. Our numbers indicate that enrollment is up across the grades with an additional 100 students– and the number continues to increase.
A Clear focus
We have a clear focus for our next steps in moving Graceland International School forward. Funds have been transferred to complete the exam hall. The outside staging has been removed and the only work left is some interior plastering. This will allow the administration to move from their current location in a classroom – leaving a space for a full computer lab. The perimeter wall is also complete and the second gate is now being installed.
Our work with a grant writer continues, as we search for funding for a well and solar panels. We are in a position to move forward, as a requirement was to improve our presence on the web. Our board has worked very hard with a technology expert to recreate the website– please check out our new, improved look at africaep.org.
Please consider a holiday offering as we move forward at this most crucial time.
Don Ghostlaw, President
Africa Education Partnership held a successful "grilled cheese" fundraiser for Graceland International School at St Peter's Episcopal Church South Windsor, CT, on Sunday September 24. The menu from the Whey Station offered seven varieties of delicious gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. The Whey Station (www.wheystation.com) generously donated all proceeds to the cause of Graceland international School. We are very grateful for their kind generosity.
AEP Board member Elaine Chagnon made her eighth trip to Nigeria from July 7-21. Accompanied by her husband, Bob, she was able to spend a week in Gusau, with daily visits to Graceland International. It was an excellent opportunity to gain valuable information through face-to-face meetings with teachers, students, administration, and school board members.
Day 1 was spent surveying the grounds and physical plant. Construction on the boundary security wall was in the final stages – the last two rows of blocks were being added. The final step would be to fill in sections of the wall with concrete for extra stability and then cap it off. The two openings for the gates were framed, one at the front and a second at the rear near the hospital site. The field inside the wall had been planted with rice, to be harvested in late fall, in an effort to raise a cash crop for an additional source of revenue.
A solar company has established itself in Gusau, and a request was made for pricing. Solar panels, installed on the roof of the computer lab at the very least, would greatly improve productivity for all.
Travel from Kaduna to Gusau
We are picked up in Kaduna mid-morning by our friend George and the our driver Adam. Husband Bob and I settle in to the school van along with our armed guards and head north. It is a four hour drive to Gusau, depending on traffic and road conditions.
The roads are generally in fair condition and we dodge the roadblocks set out by residents of small villages to slow down traffic so people and livestock can safely pass. The roadblocks consist of logs or large rocks set out each morning and pulled in at dusk, as there is no lighting on the roads. We continue on and pass through the southwest corner of Katsina State where the roads deteriorate rapidly. The roads have potholes large enough to swallow small cars!
We continue on to Zamfara State and up to Gusau where we see camels used to carry goods and plow fields. We are dropped off at our hotel- it is good to get out and stretch! We get to freshen up and then go to dinner with George, Bishop John, and his wife Helen- so good to see our dear friends!
Day 2 was spent in conversation with administrators, teachers, and students. Elaine and Bob presented the administration with six suitcases full of supplies including textbooks, microscopes, sports equipment, and general classroom supplies and teacher guide books. These were unpacked, inventoried and stacked in the principal’s temporary office. We also donated money to have bookshelves built to accommodate the additional books...they should be ready in about a week. Discussion regarding classroom supplies was held and teachers and students were included.
Days 3 and 4 were spent preparing for and delivering teacher workshops. The elementary teachers were provided with instruction and activities on Day 3 and secondary teachers received training on Day 4. We reviewed lesson planning, moved on to respect agreements in classrooms, and ended with room strategies.
A list of priorities was compiled and given to the Bishop and building committee. Included on the list was the completion of the computer lab as a top priority. Costs estimates were provided – please refer to the menu of giving options provided in this newsletter. In addition, reference books and shelving for the library were requested. Teachers expressed the need for classroom bookshelves and visual aides for the walls. They also requested ceiling fans to alleviate the afternoon heat. While the buildings are wired, there are no fans, which raises the need for a sustainable source of power.
One of the activities teachers liked best was the opportunity to collaborate with each other– they reported that this is not part of their current practice. After sharing with administration, the principal said that he would try to add collaboration time to the schedule. A template for reporting critical information to AEP per trimester was also established.
Actually being at the school and having the ability to separate the teachers by grade level proved much more efficient and productive. Teachers have improved their practice over previous years and it was gratifying to be a part of the higher level of dialogue and questioning that they brought to the sessions.
At the close of the day, the board of education chair-woman addressed the group, along with Bishop John. What a day!
Bishop John and Helen Visit
Arriving on September 22, Bishop John Danbinta and his wife, Helen, embarked on a whirlwind visit before departing from New York on October 6.
After a day of rest, the Bishop joined the AEP Board for an all-day meeting to discuss progress and next steps. Board members Angela Dimezza and Paul Frank joined us, having driven up to Connecticut from our sister church in Akron, Ohio. Aside from being a wonderful reunion, it was a great day of fellowship and dialogue. We were able to outline a clear vision of our next steps and determine costs and a possible timeline.
After meeting with the Board, Bishop John and Helen attended churches in New London and Bloomfield, leading weeknight bible studies. Free-will offerings were collected and connections made for possible partnerships in the future.
A potluck dinner was held at St. Peter’s Church, our home base, to serve as a meet and greet for supporters from both St. Peter’s Church and Trinity Church, Tariffville. About forty guests were in attendance. A wonderful time was had by all, with time to talk with the couple and share experiences.
For the final few days, Bishop and Helen traveled to New York, where they stayed with pastor friends until their departure early on Friday morning, October 7. Connections were made for networking with another church in the Bronx. The couple returned safely to Nigeria and has taken time to settle back into a routine, after the wedding of their daughter on October 22.
AEP Welcomes a New Board Member!
AEP is pleased and proud to announce the addition of Reverend Amjad Samuel to the Board of Directors. Rev. Amjad comes to us having served as Assistant Rector at St. Paul’s Church, Akron. He was recently installed as Rector of St. Paul’s Church, Huntington.
A native of Pakistan, Rev. Amjad came to know Bishop John when they were roommates while both studying for their Master’s degrees in Muslim-Christian Relations at Hartford Seminary.
We welcome Rev. Amjad’s passion, knowledge and wisdom as an important member of the Board.
He and his wife Mollie are settling into their new surroundings as Mollie works on her Master’s Thesis in Theology.
Next Steps for Grace International School
The AEP Board met with Bishop John on Saturday, September 24, for a full day retreat. Board members from Akron, Ohio joined us. Angela Dimezza and Paul Frank made the trip east to spend time in discussion and planning during a wonderful day of fellowship.
The next steps for Grace International School were clearly outlined:
1. Finish the administration office, computer lab, and science labs on the top of the examination
2. Build the wall around the remaining property to ensure security and that encroachment does not happen.
3. Provide scholarships for deserving students.
4. Provide a source of electricity through solar panels.
5. Provide a well for a constant supply of clean water.
6. AEP has recently begun working with a grant writer in the hopes of securing funds for the large remaining capital projects. Members are working to provide the grant writer with the necessary background information that will form the foundation for the requests to different groups.
Excellent WAEC Exam Results!
At the end of April the 12th. Grade students sat for the West Africa Education Council (WAEC) exams. These are the equivalent of our SAT College Board exams and are used to gain entrance into a university for further study. All of the students passed, some with distinction! This sets a high standard and has earned Grace a reputation stat-wide as a “tough” school. Enrollment has been steady, helping the school to recover from the decima- ion as students and families left the area after the 2015 presidential elections.
We are very excited to inform you that we have now established a repeatable process to capture, track and report exam scores to the Gusau administration and other interested benefactors. While at this point it is only one set of data, we are now in a position to easily determine in which courses our students are struggling and in which courses they excel.
Over time, we will be positioned to layer-in each year`s performance to identify emerging trends from class to class. To the extent there may be other applications for this kind of information, we are happy to further explore those data needs.
The numeric values range from 1 (excellent) to 9 (fail). Scores from 1 to 3 are in the good to excellent range and what we most want to see. Scores from 4 to 6 are acceptable with the student receiving credit on the exam. Scores from 7 to 8 receive a pass; a score of 9 is a fail rating.
Summer Trip Update
AEP Board member Elaine Chagnon made her seventh trip to Nigeria from July 22-August 7. Four of the days were spent in Gusau. While there, Elaine met with school administrators to discuss concerns and needs. In addition, she presented the administrators with school supplies donated from the United States.
Elaine was accompanied to Gusau by Ven. Tom Furrer on August 1. He came to discuss with Bishop John the possibility of building a medical clinic on land adjacent to the school. (See Article on page 4). He left on Tuesday morning: Elaine remained until Friday morning.
Because Elaine was in Gusau by herself, she was not allowed to travel to the school as Bishop was unavailable to accompany her. Teacher training was held at the Bishop’s compound, with 25 teachers in attendance.
Much progress was noted in teacher participation and willingness to ask questions. The administration was supportive of addressing teacher concerns and a rich dialogue ensued. New curriculum guides, much improved over the 2011 versions, were also shared. Discussion ensued around a possible trip in February 2017 to observe teachers and students in session. Topics for possible workshops were decided upon as well.