Graduation Day, celebrating the end of our Pilot Semester.
By Penélope Guevara
The graduation of our pilot semester marked the culmination of our students' hard work and determination. Despite the constant challenges during the pandemic and the many obstacles along the way, the dedication of our students showed what hard work and motivation can achieve.
Our youths during English class.
Reflecting on our pilot semester...
On December 13th 2021, we welcomed more than half of our student body to our pilot semester in reduced class sizes, our older kids aged 10+. This decision was made as a precaution, having experienced a false start at the beginning of 2021. As a strategy, our team implemented a measured approach focused on reintegrating our REACH students into their public-school classes combined with our Level 1 English classes.
At this time, pandemic restrictions were beginning to ease and with that, rubbish collecting and other poor condition jobs started emerging. The education team was concerned that the economic situation our families were in, would force the guardians to take their children out of school and put them to work.
During this pilot semester, students aged 10 and up experienced our programs on the ground (without disruption) for the very first time. Having developed interactive classes, we could see the children's growing interest in regularly attending classes.
Engagement in education is key for our Cambodian children's charity.
To our great pleasure, our Education team reported that 95% of our students maintained a high level of attendance upwards of 80% at REACH throughout the semester. Our delight continued when our teachers revealed the final scores of the Level 1 end of Semester tests. Only 6 students out of 105 needed extra support by retaking the English Level 1.
During this time, the wheels of innovation were turning as we trialed our REACH Role Models Club, distributed daily snacks, ran excursions for our youth and continued fixing bikes in our repair shop. This period also served as the perfect opportunity to trial and test our internal systems with smaller numbers. We quickly learned of the huge amount of admin and work involved with properly tracking each child's attendance, monitoring their results, and ensuring their individual needs were met.
The arduous work and determination of our team, paired with the effort from our kids and their families, resulted in our pilot semester being a great success!
Happy students during break time!
Knowing how engaged our families have been with their children's education, the motivation to open our school at full capacity was undeniable. In March, the Outreach team sailed into the mission of enrolling students to fill any available placements, and the Education team finalised details to launch the new Kindergarten program and the Computer Literacy course.
The goal was to start our first semester running our 10 programs at full capacity on June 27th 2022. By early June, our social workers had enrolled 52 new students, eager to start a new quest towards education.
As the pilot semester drew to a close, we recognised a need to celebrate the success of all involved.
The closure of the semester was divided into two parts: Graduation Week followed by Parent Teacher Interviews & Administration Week.
The first week, June 6-10, was dedicated to celebrating the students' efforts through recreational activities, games, and delicious food.
A favourite amongst the kids was "Cooking Day". For the first time, students experienced the pleasure of cooking by learning how to prepare the famous Indian snack, Samosa. Each class was divided into smaller groups of "cooks" to prepare the snack base. The first group was in charge of preparing the dough mixture, the next set the ingredients, and the third group seasoned the potatoes that would fill the healthy snacks.
"Cooking class" boosted the children’s creativity!
Then the fun commenced! Laughter, flour flying everywhere and the greatest variety of dough consistency and shapes ever seen. This part of the day was a clear highlight.
In addition to enjoying the surprises the teachers had in store for them, the children took advantage of this time to perfect the last details of their presentation. Some staged creative choreographies, and others decided to design eye-catching hats to enhance their performance. The older students filled our afternoons with English pop-songs such as "This Girl on Fire", "Handclap", and "See You Again".
Proud students after their dance performance.
The big day arrived on Thursday, June 9, three ceremonies were held. Our students in the morning, afternoon and evening hours invited their families to witness the long-awaited commemoration of their effort and dedication.
The hosts and invited guests acknowledged and praised all the attendants at the ceremony, emphasising how proud the entire REACH team is of the students' achievements. Following this, a selected youth shared a few words on stage full of emotion. The speech was addressed to their classmates, showing enthusiasm for all the goals achieved in the last school months.
The REACH Role Models shared powerful words to their younger classmates in order to motivate them to study hard and attend regularly to school.
Following the speeches, the students, dressed in their finest and adorned with handmade decorations, proudly presented their performances. Each class danced and sang their selected songs, which was followed soon after by a burst of applause from the audience.
Our teachers did a great job hosting the Graduation Ceremony.
After the enthusiastic performances, students and guardians shared refreshments and delicious snacks before continuing with the ceremony. It was time to award the students' efforts. Each program rewarded students as follows:
- Education Program:
- Best attendance
- Best behaviour
- Most accumulated stars during the semester
- Best academic score
- Youth Pathways:
- Most dedicated Role Model
- Outstanding Youth
- REACH Riders Club:
- Best attendance and dedication
- Road Safe Role Model
- Best teamwork
- REACH Repairs Shop:
- Most active student
- Most helpful
The most anticipated award was for the best attendance. As many of our students had achieved 100% attendance, the leadership team decided the fairest way to proceed was with a lucky draw for the prized rugged mountain bikes. Suspense and anticipation filled the air. Some parents and students were even seen praying for Buddha's luck.
When the winning students received the longed-for prize, some parents celebrated with tears in their eyes.
Students with the highest attendance received a mountain bike to award their effort and commitment.
Last but not least, the Outreach team awarded and recognised the efforts of those guardians who showed cooperation, responsibility and commitment to their child's education. After receiving a big fruit basket and home supplies, each guardian gave a motivational speech to the rest of the families about the importance of education and support.
"The education of our children is important to get ahead..."
At the end of the day, students and their loved ones returned home with big smiles, looking forward to a well-deserved two-week school vacation.
Parent Teacher Interviews & Admin Week
For our REACH team, the following week to continue the closure of the semester, was dedicated to administrative and team activities. On June 13th and 14th, REACH opened its doors to the guardians for our first ever parent-teacher meetings. In Cambodia, parent-teacher interviews are not practiced in public schools, so this was the first time REACH’s guardians were given the opportunity to properly engage with their children’s education in a school setting in a positive way.
The teachers conducted 1-on-1 sessions explaining to the guardians the progress of their child’s development, their scores in each of the subjects (English, Ethics and Elective) and if their child would be continuing onto level 2 or receiving more assistance in level 1. Guardians used this opportunity to share information about their child, and feedback, thanking the teachers for all their help in this pilot semester and how proud they were of their children.
One-on-one sessions with the children's guardians to talk about achievements and goals.
After completing the interviews on Wednesday, the team took part in the first team-building activity for the week, riding bikes across the jungle trails around the temples of Angkor Wat.
The afternoon was dedicated to the "Child Safety in the Community" workshop hosted by 'Friends International' which served as reinforcement of our internal policy on Child Protection. Now that the country is opening borders and tourism is starting to rise, impoverished children are exposed to constant dangers. During this session the team learned a lot about the child labour industry which is heightened by tourism. Sadly, the arrival of foreigners back into Cambodia is resulting in the reemergence of children begging in the streets and selling small souvenirs to tourists... desperate for a sale, young children are often seen wandering through the streets and bars late at night. The team learned that by purchasing from children or giving them money or food, we are inadvertently perpetuating the exploitation of children. It was a very meaningful session for our team and helped to cement the stringent policies we have in place.
"Child Safe Movement" workshop by Friends International
The next day, our partner local NGO 'Heartprint' came to visit REACH to give a presentation on their work with students with special needs. As in many other countries, there is minimal awareness about disabilities, making the topic taboo. Sadly, due to a lack of understanding, it is common for Cambodian families to abandon a child born with down syndrome or to hide autistic members of the family away from society. Many believe in superstitions and think that the child could bring bad luck to the family. As devastating as it is, this serious fear can lead to the abandonment of children.
With inclusion being a top priority at REACH, we felt that we needed to open the conversation about disability with our team. Knowing the incredible work Heartprint does in their community, we were delighted to have them provide us with a half day of training. The session focused on defining the characteristics of Down Syndrome, Autism and ADHD, and emphasising the importance of inclusion inside the school. The Heartprint team explained different ways to help these children inside the classroom, highlighting that using props and designing a personal education plan can help them feel comfortable at school. Spotting common characteristics, abilities and signs can help teachers understand how to help the student's development and create consciousness among their classmates.
"Disabilities and Inclusion" workshop by Heartprint Organisation.
Patience, positive reinforcement, activities to improve memory and activities to improve speech are some of the activities teachers can implement to embrace students with different capacities. As a follow-on from the training, Natasha from Heartprint will be also coming out to REACH to monitor and observe our classrooms, and work directly with our teachers on inclusion methods.
After a big week in admin tasks and bi-annual team training, we decided to conclude the week with a second team-building activity... this time a mini-golf tournament at Angkor Wat Putt!
Our team enjoyed a fun mini-golf afternoon!
The activities for the end of the semester had come to an end and our team went on a much needed 1 week break, just enough time to rest and before re-opening with all of our students.
Now, thanks to our Match Grant Heroes, the REACH community and their endless support, our 'Double your REACH' campaign was a success! By hitting our monetary target, we were able to confidently open at full capacity. Now, 200+ students and more than 100 families are enjoying the benefits of our 10 programs.
The goal of opening our Kindergarten and Computer programs, launching a Sunday course for our youths and restarting our daily meal program has become a reality!
Youth students right before their performance in Graduation Day.
In case you missed it, click here to view the campaign video where our social worker Koemyen explains our approach.
The start of a new semester has brought endless motivation to our team. The school is now full of students eager to learn and discover a new world full of opportunities.
On behalf of the REACH team, we want to celebrate with you and congratulate the enormous effort of our students and their families, as well as their positive determination in the face of adversity.
Pausing to celebrate the success of our beneficiaries and team is motivation at its best.
Culminating on Graduation Day made us realise the overall growth we have all achieved.