A Closer Look at School Sponsorship

Janet and Mrs. Seethalakshmi, Principal

Robin and Mrs. Meera, Hybrid Learning Coordinator

Janet Kramer has been Coordinator of the School Sponsorship Program team for the past 2 years, and a sponsor of 3 students since 1996. “What touches me deeply about the School Sponsorship Program is the connection with people – children and their families – from rural communities in South India. The flow of gratitude and blessing is definitely two ways.”

Robin Walden was Sponsorship Coordinator from 2011 to 2021, and now delights in cheering on Janet Kramer as she leads the program forward. A retired elementary school teacher, Robin confides, “I love seeing children fulfill their potential, and I also have a deep appreciation for the work that teachers and administrators do.”

Overview of the Aruna Partnership Program

Aruna Partnership initiated its School Sponsorship Program in 1996. In the 27 years since,

  • 186 students in the Tiruvannamalai region of South India have been sponsored for an average of 10 years each through Aruna Partnership. Except for a few whose families move away, almost all of our sponsored students receive their 10th grade high school certificates.
  • 93% of the students in the Sponsorship Program have completed their schooling through the 12th grade. Their diplomas open the doors to higher education at colleges and universities.
  • 98% of students graduating from 12th grade have gone on to college or vocational training.

 

These are astonishing accomplishments for students from rural villages who generally, due to family circumstances, would not have been able to complete secondary school, much less college. 

Our Site Visit

Hybrid Learning Program

Teaching and learning online
One of the key initiatives since our last visit is the Hybrid Learning Program. During the lockdown, it became clear to everyone that they must invest more in online teaching and learning.

Our community here in North America raised over $33,000 through very generous grants and donations. This, along with funds raised in Europe, made it possible for the schools to upgrade the technology. They were able to:

  • Purchase laptops, projectors, screens, webcams, and routers 
  • Fully Wi-Fi enable both schools 
  • Provide training to the teachers in Microsoft Teams Education where they learn to make lesson plans and collaborate with each other online
  • Create hybrid learning materials for grades 10-12 which will be available for teachers to use
  • For the 2023-24 school year, plans are in motion for all grade 10-12 teachers to have a laptop and ceiling projectors & screens in their classrooms.

 The integration of technology into the curriculum allows teachers and students to develop critical skills that are very much in demand in higher education and in workplaces.

Hybrid Learning impacts all 1,013 students in the Sri Ramana Maharshi Matriculation Higher Secondary (SRM) and the Sri Sundaram & Alagammal Matriculation (SSA) Schools.

 Dr. Durai Ganesh, chief administrator of the school development programs, is encouraging teachers, students, and parents to embrace new ways of learning. 

Dr. Durai Ganesh, Managing Trustee for Shanthimalai Research and Development Trust, is the chief administrator of the school development programs, including Hybrid Learning. The son of a teacher, he studied Physics in college and is now engaged in the delicate but exciting process of encouraging teachers, students, and parents to embrace new ways of learning. We were  impressed with his kind and inclusive approach. He listens attentively to teachers and respects their feedback. He is accessible, smiles easily, and is deeply knowledgeable about educational pedagogy. We both could feel his commitment to the Shanthimalai Schools.

English Tea Time

Tasked with the goal of enhancing English language fluency among teachers and students, the English Tea Time team meets as many as three times a week to plan how to improve spoken English skills at the two schools. Knowledge of English is important because there are a multitude of languages and dialects spoken throughout India and it is through English that diverse groups communicate.  

Conversing informally over sips of tea, the teachers practice pronunciation, interview each other, and dramatize short stories. They also collect resources and create self-paced lessons that other teachers can do online. Eventually, all of the teachers at the two schools will have an opportunity to participate in an English Tea Time group.

Janet shared a game she’d brought called “Bananagrams”. The group had a good time making crossword puzzles using letter tiles. There were laughs all around as each pair shared their words and made up a story using the vocabulary in their crossword puzzle.

We had the pleasure of attending one of the English Tea Time meetings. We were impressed with how aware the group was that English language learning should be fun, not overly academic, and non-intimidating in order to be effective.  There were 6 teachers at the meeting, along with Durai Ganesh (Manager for the SRM & SSA schools) and Andreas Bachmann (School Sponsorship Coordinator). They started by introducing themselves and explaining their current roles. Latha, a head teacher who has been at the SRM school for 16 years, showed us a sophisticated PowerPoint that the team had created which explained the in-depth research and thoughtful ways the team had brainstormed to improve English instruction at the schools. 

Yoga and Meditation for Students & Teachers

 A new program led by Mr. Manikandan really stood out and touched our hearts. Gentle and unassuming, Mr. Manikandan (Mani for short) shares his deep knowledge of yoga, classical scriptures, and Indian lore. Mani is inspiring students and teachers alike to strengthen body, mind, and spirit.

The teachers love going to his classes, which are offered every morning, Monday through Friday. They tell Mani that it makes the rest of their day blissful and easy. 

As for the students, imagine a class of 5th graders seated on mats, eyes closed, reciting slokas (Sanskrit verses). When Mani has to leave the class for a short while to help a visitor to the school,  he asks a student to lead the rest of the class in the recitation of slokas. The chanting continues without a ripple of disturbance.

Mr. Manikandan (Mani for short) leads this program. Gentle and unassuming, he shares his deep knowledge of yoga, classical scriptures, and Indian lore. 

Mani says that his students develop confidence, peace of mind, and the ability to persevere. Students from the Sri Ramana Maharshi School have done very well at regional and state Yoga competitions.

Parents, too, are very supportive of the program. “Parents feel happy when their children are interested in yoga,” says Mani. “They think that yoga is a good thing and, if it is given to everyone, it will be good. They think that their children will be healthy when they do it, and say that they can be healthy and prosperous.”

The website of the Vethathiri Maharishi College of Yoga, where Mani got his Master’s degree in Yoga, states that their primary aim is “to attain world peace through individual peace.” Their alumnus, Mani, is certainly doing his part!


Please consider supporting these invaluable programs by making a donation.

To sponsor a child, please contact Janet and Robin at

sponsor@arunapartnership.org.

Donate Today

100% of your gifts to Aruna Partnership go to the people and programs in India you want to support.

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