Sep 2, 2021

WISER's Class of 2020 Accomplished the (Almost) Impossible

If you were standing at the gates of WISER just a few weeks ago, you may have spotted several students leaving campus with brand-new suitcases. Dressed in graduation robes, surrounded by just a few family members, all sporting face masks, you may have guessed that they were carrying home a few last textbooks or uniforms.

You may not have realized that those suitcases are empty. And the fact that a WISER girl is carrying one is proof-positive that, provided the resources they need, girls can accomplish what might seem impossible. 

WISER’s 2020 Graduating Class had the beginning of their final school year in 2020 cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. They participated in distance-learning, completing assignments on their phones and communicating with teachers via WhatsApp, while also caring for family members and coping with the economic and psychosocial implications of COVID-19 lockdowns in rural Kenya. They came back to campus and took their final exams with brand-new physical distancing, masking, hand-washing, and student interaction policies in place, with the ever-present possibility of renewed COVID-19 lockdown.

And their scores were some of the best in WISER’s history.

In a year of almost unimaginable upheaval, 100% of WISER students not only passed their exams: every single student in the Class of 2020 has been accepted into a tertiary education program. WISER students were more than twice as likely to be accepted to university than any other student in Kenya. They continued to excel in STEM subjects, including the brand-new subject of Computer Science. They are going on to study engineering, agriculture, social work, mathematics, communications, hairdressing, and more. 

So why the suitcases? 

WISER has a graduation tradition of giving luggage to high-scoring students so that they can pack for college. Before WISER existed, the chance of a girl graduating secondary school and going on to college or university was slim to none. This year, student after student left campus with suitcases in toe.

The suitcases were empty, but they won't be for long. And you may not have been able to see through their face masks, but these WISER girls are smiling. These girls represent something WISER has known for a long time. Given the resources that they need, students can succeed. WISER girls have overcome gender-based violence, material poverty, and, now, a global pandemic, and have gone on to pursue their dreams. This is possible because of their immeasurable resilience and courage, and because they have partners like you.

When you give to WISER, you are providing the key to unlocking students’ potential. You are providing the resources that WISER students need: from textbooks to teachers, menstrual hygiene products to face masks, nutritious meals to comfortable (socially-distanced) dormitories.

Just two weeks ago, Migori County officials who inspected WISER and surrounding schools shared that WISER was the best example they had seen of effective COVID-19 prevention, and that it will serve as a model for schools going forward. It simply would not be possible to have implemented our COVID-19 strategy without the funds we raise on GlobalGiving because of supporters like you. The Class of 2020 could safely return to school thanks to your generosity. And when they did, they excelled. With their needs met, WISER students can do anything they set their minds to. Even the (almost) impossible.

May 6, 2021

WISER has completed our first on-campus school term in over a year!

Spring has sprung at WISER!

We are deeply grateful to report that as of April 25th, WISER completed it’s first full term with our entire student population since COVID-19 forced the shutdown of our campus over a year ago. As mandated by the Kenyan Ministry of Education, our full population of students returned in January 2021 as part of an ambitious re-introduction schedule that staggers campus time for new and returning students to get back to a normal calendar year school year in 2023. 

While WISER did not have control over the government decision to return students to school, we did have agency over how our students returned, and are proud to report that we have done so without any staff or students needing to be isolated or treated for COVID-19 symptoms. We are incredibly fortunate to have renowned infectious disease researchers, public health and public administration officials, engineers, Kenyan Red Cross leaders, and more on our board and staff to help us safely navigate this new challenge. We have utilized every single resource available to us to ensure that our students, faculty, and staff are healthy and safe, including: 

1) Continuing our successful “learning pod” structure - Each grade level is split into two to three “learning pods,” meaning that students eat, sleep, learn, and spend leisure time with the same small group of students. This design allows students as normal a school experience as possible–providing continued interaction with peers–and also provides a structure for contact tracing among students and staff should needs arise.

2) Universal masking and hand washing and sanitizing stations - Everyone on WISER’s campus is required to wear a mask at all times, other than sleeping and eating, and all students and staff are provided with enough masks for a daily rotation. Additionally, there are hand washing and sanitizing stations at the entrance to every classroom and indoor space.

3) Physically-distanced dining, learning, and sleeping accommodations - Our campus has been redesigned to allow students and staff at least six feet of distance from one another at all times. Our multipurpose/dining hall has transitioned to a dormitory with spaced-out bunks, and many meals, assemblies, and meetings are taking place outside whenever possible. Our classrooms are already designed for maximum airflow to prevent other airborne diseases such as tuberculosis–and we’ve taken physical distancing one step further to keep our students and staff safe. And our dedicated teachers have transformed their own staff room into classroom space to support these efforts.

4) COVID-19 safety trainings and response teams - All students, faculty, and support staff received a comprehensive COVID-19 training before beginning to learn and live on campus again. WISER has also begun implementing COVID-19 response teams, one comprising 19 students and one comprising 7 teaching and support staff members, which are tasked with monitoring physical distancing, hand washing, masking, and other safety precautions among their peers. This peer-to-peer accountability structure ensures that each of WISER’s COVID-19 protocols are being followed.

5) Temperature monitoring and quarantine/hospitalization plans - In close partnership with the local medical clinic, WISER has implemented a symptom monitoring system that includes daily temperature screenings for students and staff and screenings at the gate for the few visitors to campus. WISER also has created spaces for quarantining on campus should needs arise, as well as comprehensive plans for supporting students and staff with safe travel to the clinic or hospital for COVID-19 treatment.

6) Setting an example for Vaccine uptake - like in many places, there is a great deal of misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines, which has led to hesitancy to “get the jab.” We are fortunate to work closely with the local health clinic who received a stock of vaccines for educators and other frontline workers, and in true WISER fashion, our fearless leader Principal Dorcas was one of the first in line. She shared photos of her vaccine experience, and has worked tirelessly to urge all WISER teachers to follow her example. We are proud to report that our educators are following suit, and most importantly, all of our elder and vulnerable teachers have gotten at least their first dose. 

As a result of these measures, not only have our students and staff remained healthy, but they have been able to get back to what they do best: living, learning, and being WISER! We look forward to celebrating the indomitable class of 2020 who recently completed their incredibly challenging and competitive national exams after over a year of disruption. We expect the results of these exams - that determine eligibility and funding for tertiary education - in the coming week. As always, we are in awe of their tenacity and resilience. They truly embody the charge for which WISER was founded: to remove barriers and provide opportunities for the hardest to reach girls to overcome the challenges they face and reach their full potential. 

We look forward to what the next few months hold, and we are grateful that you are a part of the WISER family! 

Jan 8, 2021

WISER Prepares for All Students' Return

Happy New Year! 

We at WISER are grateful to welcome 2021 and the hope it brings for ending the COVID-19 crisis. We are also grateful that, despite the fact that we would not have chosen to do so without government mandate, we are preparing to welcome back all 240 students as early as next week. 

As we have reported to you, Kenyan schools have been closed since March. Since then, WISER has continued to support our students with a robust distance-engagement plan that included over 28,000 pounds in monthly relief packages, continued psychosocial support, regular wellness visits, and remote learning which nearly 90% of our students successfully engaged in. In October, Form Fours - or Seniors - were directed back to campus by the Ministry of Education, and WISER was able to safely welcome them with additional handwashing stations, twice-daily temperature checks, COVID-19 hygiene and safety training, a “pod” learning and living model to decrease potential spread of the virus, and a clear quarantine and healthcare protocol. Although Kenya does not have sufficient tests to screen for the virus asymptomatically, there have thankfully been no indications of COVID-19 on campus. This month, the Ministry of Education is launching its school re-opening plan that aims to recoup the 2020 school year by slowly reintroducing and then staggering campus time for all students. 

As always, WISER has put the health and safety of our students first, re-configuring the campus to allow for safe distancing while students receive the basic necessities, education, psychosocial support, and healthcare we are known for. The cafeteria has been transformed into a dormitory, and a breezeway has been built to allow students to access washrooms without having to go outside. Temporary structures have been built to allow more classroom space, and the teachers have given up their own staff room to this cause. Temperature checks, masking, and handwashing continue successfully. 

While we cannot know what is next, we are confident that we are far exceeding Kenya health and safety recommendations with the support of our wide network of infectious disease specialists and global health practitioners. As we invest in ensuring a smooth re-opening, we are also looking toward challenges ahead. The re-introduction schedule that launched this month includes prolonged breaks from school for some classes as new students are staggered in. These breaks away from campus will present similar challenges that students have faced throughout the pandemic, including food insecurity, poverty, pressure to marry or engage in transactional sex to support themselves and their families, and heightened risk of diseases including COVID-19 along with other endemic illnesses. These disruptions risk generational impacts on the status, success, and independence of women and girls in Muhuru Bay. 

One result is staggering new rates of adolescent pregnancy - in one peer school, nearly 90% of girls became pregnant during lockdown. While WISER students are showing a pregnancy rate of under 5% thanks to our comprehensive and affirming SRH training and peer-education programming, we understand that the threat is not yet passed. Additionally, most schools in Kenya will turn girls away who have become pregnant, disrupting or ending their education and destabilizing their lives just when they need support the most. WISER has always committed to supporting young mothers with healthcare and the ability to finish their education, and we are preparing to provide this care potentially at higher rates as girls return to campus. 

WISER is grateful for the support of our GlobalGiving family that allows us to respond flexibly and comprehensively to the underlying and emerging needs of our students and our community during this crisis. Thank you for investing in WISER, and we wish you and yours a peaceful and joyful new year!

 
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