New Beginnings - PDF by fjzhxb


Social change through the education of the underprivileged

August 09


New Beginnings
The buzz was all around campus on the morning of the 23d of May and tenth standard students slowly started trickling in the gates of OMHS. Some teachers had arrived to help check the results on the computers in the office. Students were all gathered around the prayer hall swapping their result percentages. By mid morning, Lakshmi Suryanarayanan, former headmistress, delivered the news that the pass percentage for the tenth standard class of 2009 was 87%! The whopping ten percent jump from last year’s pass percentage was an achievement to celebrate. This was not a random occurrence but rather the result of the students’ hard work and the efforts of teachers. The class was identified early on in eighth standard as a class that needed extra attention in order to rise to the level needed in tenth standard. From ninth standard itself, students were given extra evening classes to work on academics and they also were given weekly quizzes to track progress. Slow learners were given special attention from teachers as well as volunteers that came to assist through various organizations.

Follow the finger!

OMHS : Friends of Olcott

III : August 2009

Roshini Kumar, OMHS counselor, identified a few slow learners that were tested and found to be dyslexic through the Madras Dyslexia Association. These students were granted extra time on the exams and also the use of a calculator. Additionally, Lalitha Nagarajan volunteered as a career counselor for students during their tenth standard year. She met with each student individually and interviewed them in order to identify their career and academic interests. She compiled these answers along with academic results to create individual profiles for each student. This not only proved to come in handy when Suryanarayanan performed her magic in finding individual donors to support students’ in their higher studies, but also, the process encouraged the children to think about their future and to step up their performance as exam time neared. This year, the goal is to not only increase pass percentage but also increase the level of results. Teachers have continued evening and morning extra classes for ninth and tenth standards. Suryanarayanan shifted the schedule so as to allow the extra 2

academic classes to happen during the day and to save the lighter classes, such as craft, library and physical education, for the evening. This method will enable students to be fresh during day throughout the academic rigor and will allow their mind to relax at the end of the day. Increasingly, teachers have found that students are forming their own study groups outside of Integer metus. class in order to support each other. Once the atmosphere of studying is given a foundation by teachers and the administration, the students flourish and become even more responsible with their academics. This behavior carries on even after they leave the gates of OMHS.


It’s nearing four o’clock in the afternoon. Dinesh and Prem Kumar meet at the prayer hall in OMHS and sit for a few hours to study together as they had in the past when they were students at the school. Now, both have enrolled in the same science courses at different schools. Dinesh studies in English medium and Prem studies in Tamil medium. They have learned to support each other in their progress and they know that they will always receive the support of teachers at OMHS.

Tenth Standard girls take a kanji break.

OMHS : Friends of Olcott

III : August 2009

Energizing English Learning
One of the challenges of Tamil medium schools is promoting English communication. I found this to be the case when I started working at OMHS last year as an English teacher for sixth, seventh and eighth grade. Although the students were very eager in class, there was a lot of shyness and embarrassment associated with English communication. I attributed this behavior to the fact that many of the students were first generation learners and the only major exposure to English that they were receiving was five hours a week at school. Outside of OMHS, Tamil was the only mode of communication and although several English words have been incorporated into Tamil language, this does not suffice for communicative skills in English. This year, I worked with Lakshmi Suryanarayanan to develop an English Language Lab that was mainly geared towards spoken English and encourages students to be active in their communication. This lab enables students from first through tenth standard to have access to English as a spoken language rather than just view English as a class subject that they have to pass. The lab exercises are designed to fit the grade level and the different abilities within the class. The lab is located in the computer room and the library. English teachers accompany their class once a week to attend ELL class and sections switch off between both rooms. One section spends time watching educational movies and completing English language games on the computers while the other section works in the library rotating at different learning stations. The lab is fully activity and conversation based. Games such as pictionary and charades are used to facilitate the learning of new vocabulary. Lessons in the books are reinforced through activity sheets, painting and dramas. Group reading is conducted with books from the library and older children are given activities that direct them in research and the usage of encyclopedias. Eventually, we hope to install internet in our computer lab in order to enhance computer learning and allow more access to knowledge. Currently, computers serve as an excellent 3

Fourth standard students sit in the library and let their imagination soar through reading.

OMHS : Friends of Olcott

III : August 2009

Students work in teams at different stations to complete the activity assignment given to them.

tool for slow learners to develop their phonics skills through CD-ROM games. Our library collection is due to a major book donation we received through Asha for Education. With the help of students, we have devised an organizational method that separates fiction books by reading level colors according to the spectrum order (VBGYOR). We also separated non-fiction into various topics under history and science. This method allows students to easily identify and access books at their reading level and strive to improve to the next color level. We would not have been able to build this program without the generous donations from Verizon that was facilitated by the Verizon Spice volunteers. Verizon Spice is a group of Verizon employees who have committed time to work with children and improve English learning skills. Not only did they provide us with funds to purchase materials for the ELL, the group brought in a large donation from Verizon that we used to purchase computers for the computer lab. In April of 2009, Verizon Spice won a contest for their work in various schools. Graciously, the entire 1.5lakhs of prize money was donated to our ELL program. 4

A portion of the funds went towards materials for the ELL. We plan on putting the rest of the donation money towards redesigning the library room with new furniture to facilitate group learning. My first week, the teachers and I facilitated a dialogue with 10th standard students centered on a range of questions about the English language. Some of the questions we asked were: Where did they hear English and who did they see speak English? Is English necessary for their future and if yes/no why? Students were told they could discuss and write in English and Tamil. I was pleasantly surprised to see that mostly all of the groups wrote in English and presented their answers in both English and Tamil. They demonstrated their eagerness to learn the language and they also understood the function of the language in society as was conveyed through their answers Everyday I look forward to this interaction with students through ELL. The children never cease to surprise me with the variety of ways that they are able to channel their creative energy when given the opportunity and space.

OMHS : Friends of Olcott

III : August 2009

OMHS Bids Farewell and Goodluck to Longtime Teacher Poornima Arun
“Poverty is advantageous to society. What is education doing for the underprivileged? There is no dignity or joy that the child feels.” This is the observation made by Poornima Arun that catapulted her into a life long career working side by side with children from impoverished backgrounds. Her work began at the age of 18 in the slums of Dharavi, Mumbai. Poornima focused her efforts on rehabilitating children in order to get them into corporation schools. She would start her sessions by singing a song to call on her fifty students who would gather around to learn a variety of academic subjects and life lessons from her. She realized the importance of non-formal education and for two years Poornima strived to support these children. After getting married, she moved back to Chennai and started volunteering at Olcott Memorial High School in the Junior Resource Center teaching activity-based learning. Over the years, Poornima has taught all subjects at all grade levels and also served as the crisis manager/counselor for children. She noticed that the OMHS atmosphere provided a lot more freedom and had more scope for education compared to the corporation schools which were much more rigid. Additionally, the green campus fostered an environmental awareness; a subject close to Poornima’s heart. The major strengths that Poornima feels are exhibited at OMHS are that there is a lot of care and support for children and alumni. “Whether they are in school currently and need help with studies or personal problems, or they graduate and need assistance getting a job or getting into higher studies, the gates of OMHS are always open. As a teacher, there is a lot of potential in being here as it is a wonderful place to be trained.” Poornima still keeps in contact with several of her former students who have gone on to do social and environmental work. She expresses pride in their achievements and also gratitude for the opportunity to have been a part of their lives. At the end of the last academic term, Poornima resigned her post from Olcott Memorial High School after serving the school for thirteen years in order to start a learning center in Thirvanaamalai along with her husband and other volunteers. When asked about how her relationship with OMHS will continue Poornima responded, “This is my parent school. I can never break away. I had many hurt feelings and anger about poverty but I was met with a school that treated its children with dignity. I am proud to have been a part of OMHS and I will always be connected as a resource person.” OMHS thanks Poornima for her work and her positive influence on many aspects of the school!

Poornima sits with OMHS colleagues on Teacher’s Day


Thank you for continued your support!

Student teacher for the day

OMHS : Friends of Olcott

III : August 2009

#2 Besant Avenue Besant Nagar Chennai-90 (044) 24915826

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We want the education by which character is formed, strength of mind is increased, the intellect is expanded, and by which one can stand on one’s own feet. -Swami Vivekananda


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