An environment conducive to learning
Visitors to the school are immediately struck by the number of trees on the campus - a contrast to the normally stark appearance of most schools in Ghana. In the central quadrangle is a small area laid to lawn with delicate trees providing welcome shade to the students who like to sit on the grass beneath and study their books. Bordering the covered walkway are tropical weeping willows, and behind the classroom blocks is a small copse of acacia trees planted for our beehives, interspersed amongst which are benches and tables where students may sit to eat their lunch.
Our Headmaster is a passionate horticulturalist who has inspired many of the youngsters with his enthusiasm. Equally, there is great emphasis on recycling- all students are taught to pick up their rubbish and put it in the correct recycling bin, as well as respect the nature around them.
All this helps to provide an environment that is peaceful, pleasant and conducive to learning.
Critically, we aim to recruit an equal number of female and male students. A good aggregate score is required from the junior high exams, and in addition AWSHS sets its own entrance exams in Maths and English. Thus we know that all our students have the potential to achieve success; more than this however we need to be sure that the youngsters to whom we offer a place are genuinely needy, and that their families do not have the means to pay for a place at another institution.
Often applications will be received from older candidates who left junior high a year or more earlier and have been languishing at home, unable to afford to continue their education and without the qualifications to secure a job. These we are more than happy to accept, as long as they have not been out of the system for too long.
For those students progressing straight from junior high, more research is required. All candidates are interviewed, but in addition further investigations will be made in the community about this group, and selected home visits will be undertaken. Places are very oversubscribed, and we need to make sure that we select students who will most benefit.
Our education model
Class sizes are small - at least by Ghanaian standards - and this is something that we never want to compromise. With a maximum of 35 students the teachers have the time to treat them as individuals, keep the bright ones stimulated, give extra help to weaker ones and draw out those who are not confident enough to participate in class. The importance of dynamic interaction between teacher and pupil is understood, and there is much less learning by rote. Peter Donkor visits twice a year, bringing with him innovative methods from the UK and guiding teachers through their implementation.
There are now 28 full time teachers at the school, who lead students through the three year syllabus culminating in the WASSCE certificate (equivalent of 'A' level). Course options currently on offer are General Arts, Business and Home Economics. From September 2016 Elective Science will also be an option (although of course Integrated Science and Biology are already taught) and a Visual Arts course is also under discussion.
If brains are to flourish bodies need to be fed! Some students bring their own food into school whilst others enjoy a nourishing but low cost meal prepared daily by the wonderful canteen lady, Auntie Aggie (pictured right). Agnes has a keen eye and spots when youngsters look longingly at what is on offer but obviously cannot afford to buy. These she refers discreetly to whoever is running the Hardship Fund, and thereafter they will be given two or three free lunches per week. In addition there is free pineapple juice for all (students and teachers alike) every Monday morning.
These mid teenage years can be difficult for all youngsters, wherever they live in the world, confronted with so many new and confusing feelings. For our students, however, often living in very difficult conditions, problems may be exacerbated and they will sometimes find that they need help to get through them.
AWSHS carefully monitors student's welfare through a joint effort between school staff, and the EDP Welfare Officer Leena. We aim to alleviate any barriers to learning and have a Hardship Fund, supported by trust donations, which contributes towards free school meals, hostel accomodation and transporation to the school, for some of the neediest pupils. The girls are particularly vulnerable. The hostel just a few minutes from the school for around 30 girls; those who are considered to be most at risk. We have been working to develop our social welfare provision over the past year and will continue to do so with the help of EDP volunteers and the AWSHS counsellor.
Without EDP's intervention none of our students would be able to afford a secondary education, but some come from such impoverished backgrounds that they cannot even afford a couple of cedis to pay for their lunch, and these are the ones whom we have to give a little extra help.
A holistic approach
But at AWSHS this is just the beginning of the learning experience. As well as the micro-enterprises based at the school where budding entrepreneurs can learn about the principles of commerce, an ever-growing variety of extra-curricular activities is on offer, organised by our young, enthusiastic and international team of volunteers, by the teachers, and increasingly by the students themselves. So on any weekday evening, until the sun goes down, if they are not hard at study in the library, you will find youngsters engaging in Carpentry Club, Cadets, Art class, Business Club, Science Club, Music, Drama, Leadership Club... to give just a few examples. Not to mention inter-house matches, whether football, volleyball or table tennis and soon to include swimming and athletics!
There are excursions too; to the museum at Cape Coast Castle, for example. The aim is to provide pupils with a balanced, all-round education, to supply them with the tools they need to find employment but also to create an awareness of the world around them and their responsibilities to the environment and to society.
Preparing students for the future
Visits have been made to universities (in particular Ashesi) and other tertiary training establishments, and in future more of these will be planned. Links are being forged with businesses and professional institutions in the area which will be able to offer internships and apprenticeships, and AWSHS already has strong connections with various local institutions such as the National Institute for Paralegals, the Daily Graphic newspaper, local Government offices and Sustainable Fisheries.