A typical day for students at Vanessa Grant is long and demanding. Prior to this term, the girls were required to be up and out of bed at 4:00 am in order to report for “preps,” or individual study in assigned classrooms until the 5:00 am bell beckoned them to return to their dorms for showers and to tidy up their personal spaces. However, this term the new principal, Nancy Mwaniki, has made the 4:00 - 5:00 am “preps” time optional (only for those students who really feel the need to get in an extra hour of studying, primarily Form 4s), so the first bell is now rung at 5:00 am, providing a half hour for them to get cleaned up and report to their dormitory common rooms for devotions. (It should be noted that there is no warm water in the dorms, so showers tend to be quick and efficient. I was assured by Nancy’s daughter, Joyce, a university student in Njoro, that cold showers are not uncommon in Kenyan secondary schools.) It is the responsibility of the prefects to make sure everyone arrives at devotions by 5:30 am. Devotions are supervised by the Christian Union members, and these daily gatherings begin with silent prayer, followed by the reading of a Bible verse and its interpretation, and conclude with a final prayer led by a CU member. At 6:00 am the bell is rung for breakfast in the dining hall, and the girls return to their dorms at 6:30 am for “chores,” i.e., cleaning their rooms and bathrooms.
Classes begin promptly at 7:00 am. Most classes are 40 minutes long, but Math, English and Kiswahili are expected to meet 7 or 8 times each week, which often requires double sessions, or at least one 80 minute period for these subjects each week. After three class periods, there is a short break at 9:00 am. On Monday and Friday, this break is actually an assembly of all the students and faculty which includes a formal raising of the flag, singing the national anthem, and announcements from students and the TODs (Teachers on Duty) addressing such issues as tardiness and excessive noise during “preps.” The assembly usually ends with some inspirational words from the Deputy Principal, stressing the need to aim high and work hard. On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday the 9:00 break is dedicated to leadership and house meetings. Classes resume at 9:30 am, and continue until the official Tea Break at 11:10 am. Tea, or more accurately “chai,” a very sweet, warm drink of tea, milk and sugar brewed together, is served in the dining hall with “mandazi,” a semisweet, deep-fried, triangular doughnut. There are two more class sessions before the girls break for lunch at 1:10. That’s a total of seven lessons before lunch.
By comparison, the afternoons seem a little more “relaxed.” There are two more class sessions, beginning at 2:00 pm and ending at 3:20 pm. The girls are then responsible for cleaning the classrooms and the staff areas. Everyone is expected to participate in sports from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm on Monday and Friday. Sports include football (soccer), basketball, netball (which is similar to basketball but the ball can only be advanced toward the goal by passing), and volleyball. It is during this time period those students who are interested can join me in one of the dorm common rooms for Yoga. On Tuesday and Thursday various clubs (music, drama, etc.) and religious societies (CU and CCD) meet from 4:00 to 5:00 pm, with remedial subject sessions from 5:00 to 6:00 pm. I am teaching Remedial English to Form 1 students in this time frame. In an attempt to improve the students’ math skills, the principal, who was a mathematician before coming to VGGS last year, has instituted “Math Contests” on Wednesday afternoons from 4:00 – 6:00 pm. The first hour of this period is devoted to mastering a particular math concept, and then comprehension is tested during the second hour. Although the students seem to believe that the “test” is the important part of this exercise, Nancy explained to me that she really added the “Math Contests” to the curriculum in
order to get the girls excited about spending additional time each week studying math.
Supper is served in the dining hall from 6:00 to 6:30 pm. As with all other meals, the girls are assigned to a table which seats 10 – 12 for the entire year, and the student who is acting as “table girl” brings the food from the kitchen to the table and serves everyone seated there. Each girl is responsible for bringing her own cup, plate and utensils to meals, and washing and storing them after they have eaten.
After supper, the students return to their assigned classrooms for “Recap” where they quickly review the subjects they have studied during the day and discuss their homework assignments. Again, for those girls who are having trouble with particular subjects, remedial sessions may be scheduled with teachers from 7:00 to 8:00 pm. If no remedials have been scheduled, the students all have “preps” from 7:00 until 9:00 pm. At 9:00 pm everyone is expected to watch the news on the televisions in the dorm common rooms. (This is the only time the televisions are turned on, except for three hours for entertainment on Saturday.) Form 1 and Form 2 girls remain in their dorms after the news and get ready for bed. However, Form 3 and Form 4 students are served hot chocolate for a little extra energy so they can do an additional hour of “preps” before lights out at 10:30 pm.