A Closer Look at School Sponsorship and PTP

By Mason Adams

Flowers

Over the years the School Sponsorship Program has provided a great deal of aid and opportunity for individuals. But now that the first generation has gone all the way through, from kindergarten to job training and placement, the program's success is greater than its effect on any individual. As alumni of the school and the Professional Training Program network throughout the region, a rising tide of success uplifts the entire community. This past summer I learned more about how this takes place.

Mr. Kandasamy

In July, I spent a morning visiting the Sri Ramana Maharishi School and was able to sit down with the new principal, Mr. Kandasamy. He has a warm smile and sharp eyes, and each time someone new came into the room he spoke with efficiency and directness to send them on their way. He first brought up something that is very important to him: the school now incorporates English lessons into the entire curriculum, starting at the age of five. Competence in English is an increasingly important skill that students need to succeed in the new Indian economy.

At the high school level, a new curriculum of pre-med and pre-engineering course "groupings" gives students who eventually want to study engineering or medicine a head start in preparing for college-level courses. Math, physics and computer science, as well as chemistry and biology, continue to be offered in the general curriculum.

Mr. Kandasamy is very proud of the fact that 95 out of the 96 students in the previous graduating class passed their difficult government exams. This is a tribute to the teachers, the administrators and the students, and also to the parents. But it hasn't been easy, especially over the past year.

Drought

The terrible drought felt all over Tamil Nadu acutely affected families from the villages surrounding the school. It was apparent in the students, whose parents suffered daily, and was a great concern for Mr. Kandasamy. The school is an important part of the community and Mr. Kandasamy feels responsible for providing, not just a place of study and growth, but also a haven from difficulty.

Farmers were not able to grow their usual crops and had to turn to lower-wage construction jobs. However, construction in the region has been lagging due to limited access to water needed for making concrete. I saw this firsthand with new wells being drilled - the wells now have to go 500 feet down before hitting water. Every year they have to drill deeper, and the water table is not replenishing fast enough to keep up with the demand. Everyone in the community feels this as a collective challenge.

School sponsorships enable poor families to send their children to school. Because of the drought, funds are needed more than ever. During the past year, the school had over 240 applicants for sponsorship.

To keep up with the demand for new sponsorships, a rigorous screening process has recently been implemented. The scoring system identifies cases of greatest need, and attempts to predict potential for success. The process includes:

  • in-home interviews with families
  • documentation of living conditions
  • a 1-year trial period to evaluate a student's ability to work hard
  • assessment of parent involvement and likely long-term commitment

Once they are scored, families are listed on-file with the school. New funding can go immediately to the family already identified as having the greatest need.

Yoga Class

After the conversation with the principal, I walked across the dusty play yard to visit a classroom. I watched as a group of 2nd graders went through their daily yoga practice. Mats were neatly laid out on the smooth, clean concrete floor, and the students listened intently as the yoga teacher led them through the positions. It was amazing to see the patience, poise and flexibility of the young children - all I could think of was that this kind of practice should be taught in Western schools.

In the next classroom I could hear 5-year olds going through their English lessons. As a group they chanted "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6..." and it was clear they were intent on getting it right. Outside the day was getting hotter, but inside fans kept everyone cool. Even during the worst drought in 140 years, the school was a haven - a place where the kids could come to be together and learn skills that will provide them with opportunities for the future, opportunities that they would not otherwise have.

Children

In this small village school on the outskirts of Tiruvannamalai, the children are succeeding: living proof of the efficacy and love that donor support provides.

After students graduate from high school, most are eager to take the next step to build skills they will need for success. At the school there is a growing expectation that education and training should continue beyond high school graduation to allow for better opportunities. Success is infectious and is so important for the next generation of graduates to feel. When success is normalized, everyone strives that much more, teachers and students alike.

The Professional Training Program (PTP) offers students crucial opportunities for continuing education and job-training. I sat down with Venkatesen Ge, Shanthimalai's PTP coordinator, who explained the process from application to employment.

PTP Students on Field Trip

While many young people in India are looking for good work, companies are also seeking exemplary employees. Part of the beauty of the PTP program is that it connects great candidates with the human resource managers who are looking for them. Over the years, repeated success has led to strong relationships with schools and employers. PTP has grown to include over 30 educational partners, as well as 18 companies across the Tamil Nadu region. The opportunities offered by these strategic partnerships are life-changing.

PTP Interview

Every June, Shanthimalai conducts a rigorous 2-level selection process for PTP applicants. Students chosen for PTP receive support for college or vocational training, living expenses, books and supplies, and medical support. In addition to their training, they are able to go on-site with potential employers and receive guidance counseling.

After the training, PTP placement services help students secure employment. These services include teaching applicants the skills needed for successful job interviews and negotiations with companies. Students who want to start their own ventures receive training in entrepreneurship.

The PTP program also connects students with alumni of the program, who are able to offer advice and much-needed perspective. Seeing successful people who came from a similar background - now thriving in a well-paying job - makes for great motivation.

Everyone who is involved in building the educational program works to ensure that funding is used effectively and efficiently - from kindergarten through high school, higher education and job training, to eventual job placement.

Science
Village Child

Seeing those 5-year old children learning to count in English, seeing the camaraderie of the teachers at the school and the pride in their eyes as they spoke of their students, seeing the pictures of PTP members visiting companies and listening to alumni talk about what is possible through the program - I realize that, from start to finish, it is a work of great love and a gift not just for the villages around Tiruvannamalai but also for all of India. The results of these efforts aren't just beautiful, they're very, very tangible.

The waiting list of families in need is long. Can you help by sponsoring a child or a PTP student? Do you have a friend or family member who might value the chance to sponsor? If so, please contact the Aruna Partnership Sponsorship Coordinator, Robin Walden: sponsor@arunapartnership.org.

Sponsorship contributions are $420/year.

100% of your donations to the School Sponsorship Program and PTP go directly to India to make this work possible. We welcome your tax-deductible gifts of any amount.