The COVID-19 period increasingly made us realise that: “Children are not things to be molded, but are people to be unfolded” – Jess Lair
Our Whole Child approach during this period and beyond is focusing attention on the social, emotional, mental, physical, as well as cognitive development of students. At its core, our approach views the purpose of schooling as developing future citizens and providing the basis for each child to fulfill their potential. It is underpinned by five tenets based upon child development theory and states that each child, in each school, and in each community deserves to be healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. We realized that over 80% of our students and their families do not have access to a smart device to access online learning, so through our Academic Affairs and Student Support Coordinator who is all School created Whatsapp groups we received assignments which we printed and delivered to the students to enable them to keep on track with their schooling while working from home. Part of the challenge in this period was having parents/guardians who lack the competence to support their children, the majority not being too educated themselves which meant some numeracy and literacy skills were reversed due to lack of competent support. However, a majority of our scholars were able to do lesson planning and keep a study timetable with the support of their guardians although it was difficult without the guidance of a teacher as they were used to in the classroom set up.
We increasingly live in a time that requires our students to be prepared to think both critically and creatively, to evaluate massive amounts of information, solve complex problems, and communicate well. Our orientation sessions and distribution of information and education materials before students left for their respective homes equipped them with the information, knowledge and confidence to share it widely and bring more awareness around COVID-19 preventative methods. Our scholars became change-makers and game-changers in their communities, championing the fight. Notable is the story of Saitoti Penel Mayka and Omary Salim (Grade 2 scholars) from a remote and culturally conservative Maasai community. They splendidly surprised their parents by refusing to shake hands, which is a customary way of greeting and welcoming, upon their return following suspension of schools to demonstrate safety precautions. Resilience was also a strong feature of coping mechanisms during this period. Scholars like Einoti started chicken husbandry and Maasai traditional beading projects to augment household food security and income. Rachel took to her drawing and arts to express herself and portrayed a lot of messages around COVID-19 in her work. This is story-telling through the eyes of an artist. Our follow up psychosocial support visits also helped our scholars feel supported, healthy, engaged, supported and challenged. We had zero cases of illness recorded amongst our scholars during this crisis period, bearing testimony to how they took our preventative messages seriously.
Undoubtedly, the 21st century demands a highly skilled and educated workforce, unlike any we have seen before. The global marketplace and economy are placing expectations on education systems to develop and train the skills, attitudes, and aptitudes for this century. These skills center around collaboration, teamwork, problem solving, creativity, and living and working in an ever changing environment. Change and innovation have become the new status quo, however too many of our schools, communities, and educational systems use models designed to prepare young people for life in the middle of the last century. We are working to change this. With our various partnership programs and partner schools, we seek to bring them up to speed with what’s needed for our students to thrive. Our teacher training program is offering professional development support on student centered learning, effective lesson planning, and participatory teacher mentoring. Our mentoring and coaching program is also geared towards serving as a thought partner for students on their academic journey and to help empower students to become autonomous learners and agents of change. The program expresses understanding of students’ aspirations and fears, and supports their success by advocating for students’ best interests.
TFFT’s Whole Child approach is based around five key tenets:
1. Health: Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle (Psychosocial Support and Health Coordinator – Robin)
2. Safety: Each scholar learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults (Academic Affairs and Students Support Coordinator – Haruni)
3. Engagement: Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community (TFFT’s Programs/Interventions)
4. Supported: Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults (Academic Affairs and Students Support Coordinator – Haruni)
5. Challenged: Each student is challenged academically and prepared for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment (Mentoring and Coaching Coordinator – Uswege)
A child who is not healthy is likely not to attend school, and/or if they do attend, they will not be able to concentrate. TFFT views social, emotional, and mental health as essential to establishing well-being in conjunction with physical health being critical components in maximizing both educational outcomes and personal development. A child who does not complete high school is more likely to have employment problems in adulthood, lower literacy, higher rates of illness, and earlier deaths compared to those who graduate from high school (Alliance for Excellent Education [AEE], 2008; Pappas, Queen, Hadden, & Fisher, 1993). Dropping out of school hampers future employment, and those that do not graduate from high school are subsequently more likely to rely on government assistance for health care, housing, and food. Moreover, failure to complete high school can also start a vicious cycle where those raised by families not having completed high school are also less likely to complete high school and be healthy (AEE, 2008). TFFT firmly believes through its Whole Child approach that any solution to student drop out must incorporate a combination of efforts that align health, family, community, and educational success. No one area can address the complexity of the interdependent needs of children.
TFFT is supporting partner schools to work purposefully towards enhancing the mental, social, emotional, and physical health of both their staff and students. Due to the strength of TFFT’s Whole Child approach schools are reporting improved academic achievement, reduced absenteeism, reduced risk-taking behavior such as drug and alcohol use, sexual activity, bullying, and victimization behavior. These schools also show decreased staff turnover, the development of a positive school climate, and the development of a school culture that promotes and enhances student growth. For TFFT, a focus on health – social, emotional, mental, as well as physical – is an integral, foundational part of establishing an environment that not only allows students to learn and grow, but in fact encourages and promotes holistic growth and development of the person.