Photos of the SSI facilities, program components and youth can be viewed here.
From August to November 2011, my volunteer role at Stepping Stones International was to further develop its Education Program. I had the opportunity to work closely with the Education Coordinator and another international volunteer. Through teaching the youth and training the tutors, I was able to share many learning activities and teaching strategies. At the end of October, I co-author the following quarterly report which provides a detailed overview of the various components of the Education Program at Stepping Stones International.
Unfortunately, the day after the report was submitted, an important donor decided to not renew its yearly funding of the Education Program at SSI. Despite multiple funding proposals and meetings in the last month, management is still searching for education program funding for the 2012 year. Please consider donating. Currently, each tutor receives a stipend of P300/month which translates to $600CDN/year or $50CDN/month. The goal is to have a consistent base of 10 tutors volunteering throughout the year. This money covers the cost of transportation so that the tutors can come to the centre a few afternoons a week to work with the students. The tutors are an essential component of the Education Program. The training sessions allow them to discover new learning strategies so that they can better assist the students with their homework and studies. To learn more about donation options click here.
Education Program Quarterly Report
August – October 2011
This Quarter’s Highlights:
Stepping Stones International continues to offer a supportive learning environment for students from Standard 5 to Form 5.
– Daily study time now supported by 9 new tutors
– 63 youth accessed Individual learning assistance from tutors
– 16 youth had access to specialised Final Exam support for Standard 7, Form 3, Form 5 students
– Study Skill Sessions covering topics of exam preparation (e.g. understanding and summarizing information)
– 5 Tutor Training Sessions were held (e.g. Multiple Intelligences and Bloom’s Taxonomy)
– 48 SSI participants involved in individual reading support
– Introduces new strategy of creating peer reading coaches
Daily Study Time
Our afterschool study program schedule allows for a minimum of one hour of study time Mondays through Thursdays. During this time, sixty-three students have the opportunity to review school lessons, complete homework, study for upcoming evaluations, and read books from our library. The participants can choose to work independently or in small groups, inside the main hall or outside in the shade. For sixteen students who are going to write their final examinations (Standard 7, Form 3 and Form 5), preparations were made for them to review final examination papers with their tutors. They were given more individual study time and attention in preparation for these final exams. Nine tutors, three mentors, and three international volunteers are always available to assist students with their learning.
Study Skill Sessions
Study Skill Sessions are offered to form students on Tuesdays and standard students on Wednesdays in the Leadership Centre. Dividing the student population into primary and secondary groups allows us to differentiate our instruction and the learning activities to better meet the educational needs of the students. Since August 2011, the focus of these sessions has been on study techniques to help the students better prepare for exams. Topics have included creating study cards, making a web, multiplication patterns, planning and writing a composition, understanding and summarizing information, and exam tips. The goal is to expose participants to a variety of learning strategies and activities in order to improve students’ understanding of concepts, study techniques, self-confidence, and academic results. Examples of such learning strategies include group brainstorming, partner share, visualization, kinesthetic activities, and team games. Examples of learning activities include measuring three-dimensional objects, drawing pictures, organizing ideas and information on paper, exploring books, and creating posters.
Building capacity amongst tutors is an important focus of the Education Program at Stepping Stones International. It is essential that our tutors know how to work with our participants according to best educational practices. We want the tutors to encourage effective learning strategies amongst our students so they can learn better during our after school program, at school, and at home and improve academically.
Firstly, tutors attend Study Skill Sessions to offer support with translation and student learning. This also exposes the tutors to new ways of learning and they are then encouraged to use these learning strategies and activities when working with students during study time. Secondly, Tutor Training Sessions are offered once a week on Thursdays. Here tutors learn about various learning theories such as;
• Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences
• Reading Comprehension Strategies
• Bloom’s Taxonomy (higher order thinking).
Tutors are then provided the opportunity to directly apply their understanding of these theories with our students during study time. They are encouraged and taught how to plan creative learning activities for small groups of participants. During training sessions, tutors are able to reflect on their strengths and areas for improvement and they are provided feedback and support.
Forty-eight students thus far have received individual reading support from tutors, mentors and international volunteers. To assess the student’s reading progress a log of their reading participation is kept in their education file. Some Study Skill Sessions and Tutor Training Sessions have focused on developing effective reading comprehension strategies. We are in the progress of developing a comprehensive reading program whereby more members of staff are trained as reading coaches. The goal of this initiative is to instil the culture of reading amongst our participants. Our library is also being fully utilised and organised. As more of our students improve their reading skills, they will see greater academic achievement at their schools as a result.
Members of Staff
There is a great need for experienced and qualified individuals to run the Education Program at Stepping Stones International. We currently have and continue to require the services of an Education Coordinator who has extensive experience in teaching and school curriculum policies. This individual is also responsible for the recruitment and management of the tutoring program. A teacher from Canada has been with us for three months bringing new and varied teaching and learning methods to our Education Program. This individual has planned and facilitated the Study Skill Sessions and the Tutor Training Sessions mentioned above. Teaching techniques have been shared with the Education Coordinator and another German Volunteer so that there is continuity in the teaching and learning program at Stepping Stones International.
There are already signs of academic progress amongst our students. One Standard 7 student Masie, has become an expert at creating webs or mind maps from his textbook or school notes for use when studying. He has also helped a few other students use this study skill. Students are gradually building their knowledge of basic facts in math by using 12×12 multiplication tables independently. Several students are frequently approaching volunteers, mentors and tutors asking them to read with them. Another Standard 7 student Lesego, was very proud of herself for remembering to use the 5W+H (who, what, where, when, why and how) strategy when planning her composition during her exam. Stepping Stones International students are enjoying learning in new ways. Their self-confidence and attitude towards learning is improving every day.
Despite our positive efforts within our Education Program, we still encounter several obstacles. One of the major challenges we face is having inadequate time with the youth due to the schedule changes at the schools. We would like to have more time with the participants at the centre in order to consistently meet their learning needs. The public national strike negatively impacted our Education Program. For instance, there is excessive pressure on our participants to make up extra lessons at their schools. The collection of progress reports from schools is difficult. It is often the case that the caregivers of students will not receive a copy of their progress report if school fees or textbooks are outstanding. Attempts have been made to directly collect copies of progress reports from school guidance counsellors, although this is often time consuming and hard to arrange. Even though we are in a routine of offering weekly Tutor Training Sessions on Thursdays, we still need to encourage tutors to attend the training sessions regularly and on time. Finally, our participants are still adjusting to these new teaching and learning styles being offered and encouraged at Stepping Stones International, in addition to their current ways of learning. It takes time for students to adjust to new ways of thinking.
It is necessary to continue to focus our energy and resources in the area of education. Consistent tutor training is required in order to continue to build their teaching and learning skills when working with students. Study Skills Sessions need to continue to offer varied learning activities and topics so that all students’ learning styles are met and so that they are all engaged. Most importantly, those that facilitate the Tutor Training Sessions and the Study Skills Sessions need to have a background and experience in the education field in order to model effective teaching and learning techniques. These strategies will ensure that the Education Program at Stepping Stones International meets the individual learning needs of its participants, allowing them to learn and grow to their full academic potential.
For the remainder of the year, we will continue to develop our reading program. We plan to organize the books into reading levels so that our reading coaches and students can easily access a variety of texts and confidently work on improving reading fluency and comprehension. Our students will participate in a variety of experiential and interactive learning activities offered by tutors and international volunteers. We are confident that these methods will continue to instil a love of learning in our participants and prepare them for a new school year!