By Gina Pardi (KenSAP Summer Instructor 2018, Wheaton College 2020)
This summer, I had the pleasure of volunteering as an instructor for KenSAP. After finishing my semester at Wheaton College, my responsibilities included reviewing two hundred applications for KenSAP while I was still in the United States.
When I arrived in Kenya in early June, I helped in the selection process of this year’s class of eighteen students. Once the program began, my responsibilities included running with the students every morning, designing and implementing a curriculum to help prepare the students for the SAT, and teaching them more about life in America.
During our six-week session, each day began at 6:15 AM, when we would meet the students at the track for a morning jog. This was usually the student’s least favorite part of the day, as most of them had never run before. The A in KenSAP is unfitting for 90% of the KenSAP students. However, by the end of the session, many of them developed a newfound appreciation for the exercise and did not mind their morning runs. After the morning run, the other instructors and I would have breakfast and begin planning for the day’s lectures. We would be in the classroom teaching the students from 9AM to 4PM every day, save for lunch and tea breaks.
The students would take a new practice SAT test every Monday morning, which the other instructors and I would review on Monday afternoon, while Tuesday through Friday would be dedicated to math, reading, and writing lessons that covered the students’ weak spots. Occasionally, we would have lessons that were unrelated to the SAT. These included lessons about American history, sexual consent, and college life, to name a few. Over the course of the six-week session, we were able to improve the class’s average SAT score from 1110 to 1360.
Getting the opportunity to teach and tutor was an amazing experience, albeit a nerve-wracking one at times. I had no prior experience in the classroom, and my first few times standing in front of the class trying to explain things like gerunds and parallel sentence structure were a bit of a struggle. I had to quickly learn how to clearly and concisely articulate my thoughts, which is sometimes easier said than done. However, despite initially grappling with it, I came to enjoy teaching because it permitted me the opportunity to watch the academic progression of the KenSAP students firsthand.
The best part of the students’ academic progression was watching them become more confident and emerge as critical thinkers and learners. Kenyan classes are structured in a way that discourages free discussion and open thoughts; most classes consist of a teacher talking at you for the entirety of the class with no interruptions or questions. Therefore, at the beginning of our session, getting the KenSAP students to vocalize their opinion or answer a question was an extremely tedious task. The students would sit in their seats, blankly staring at us, with the room so silent you could hear a pin drop. Thankfully, by the end of the six weeks, this changed dramatically. Our classroom discussions became lively and filled with inquisitive debates and creative queries. During one class we showed the students a clip from “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” and it sparked a nearly two-hour discussion on everything from the American electoral college to gender inequality.
While getting to teach and have intellectual discussions with some of Kenya’s brightest students was worthwhile, the best part about my time in Kenya was the people. From the random athletes who let me run with them in Iten to the teachers at M-Pesa Foundation Academy who conversed with me during tea breaks, everyone I met was so hospitable, kind, and welcoming. They made an initially homesick girl feel like she had a second home. The time I spent with the KenSAP students is one I will always cherish, and hopefully I will have more time to spend in Kenya in the years to come.