By Victoria Jones, Head Librarian
On July 12th I headed out on the start of my sabbatical. It will be largely spent in Africa helping to formalize the library program at Heritage Academy in the Central Region of Ghana. This has meant a lot of prep work over the past few months trying to gather the supplies I will need for the library. I received great help in this endeavor from members of the PREP independent school librarians group, who donated supplies that they were no longer using at their libraries. The first stop on my journey was to visit my family and bring my cat to her new temporary home in the North Carolina Mountains. So with a full car and a cranky cat, I began my journey.
The drive from Westtown to Asheville is a lovely trip through beautiful farm country into the Blue Ridge Mountains. I am a firm believer that a long drive is a great way to start a trip since it gives you time to move into the right frame of mind. Shortly after I began my drive, I discovered that it was Malala Yousafzai’s, the young woman who was shot in Pakistan for advocating for the education of girls, 16th birthday. Malala was speaking at the UN about the importance of access to education for all people.
This brought the purpose of my trip into sharp focus; Heritage Academy has been committed to educating both girls and boys since its foundation 9 years ago. Heritage Academy, founded by Westtown School teacher Kwesi Koomson, is funded in large part through the Schoerke Foundation, started by his wife and Westtown School teacher, Melissa Schoerke Koomson. Since its opening, the school has grown from 32 students to a projected 1400 students in the 2013-14 school year. In this time the students have achieved a 100% pass rate on the national exam which determines their access to high school (10th through 12th). The average pass rate in the Essiam-Ajumako district is 42%. Last fall, 8 students from the first graduating class continued on to university.
Of special note has been the school’s support of girls’ education. At the beginning, Heritage Academy focused on providing an equal number of scholarships to boys and girls but over the years it became apparent that girls were not graduating at the same rate as the boys. Also, they were less likely to continue their education after graduation despite how well they had done on the national exam. This was largely due to parents needing their daughters to help support their families, and limited funding to pay for school fees. To counteract this situation the Schoerke Foundation has worked to provide scholarships for both primary and secondary education to girls in need. This means that many more girls have been able to graduate and continue on to high school than previously. It is one of the many extraordinary things about Heritage Academy and I am incredibly excited to have the opportunity to spend time here.
I look forward to sharing the updates on my work in the library and my experiences with the students and faculty at Heritage.
In the words of Malala, “Because we are all together, united for the cause of education. And if we want to achieve our goal, then let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge and let us shield ourselves with unity and togetherness.”