Mapping the future at Project Canaan Academy

| January 22, 2020 | 0 Comments

BY AMBER VAWINKLE

Project Canaan is Heart for Africa’s1 2 500 acre large-scale land development project bringing hope to the tiny Kingdom of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) by focusing on four key areas: hunger, orphans, poverty and education.

It provides training and employment, while supporting orphans and vulnerable children on the property and across the nation.

Project Canaan Farm has multiple approaches to agriculture, utilising both outdoor and greenhouse crop production, dairy farming, the raising of chickens and goats, and the production of fruit wherever possible on the land. Proceeds from farming keep Project Canaan a sustainable community, and support the children and churches across the country with whom Heart for Africa has partnered. The Project Canaan Children programme provides a safe haven for orphans and vulnerable children. Children’s homes and schools have been and will continue to be built to provide for the evergrowing number of orphans abandoned in the wake of drought,
disease, starvation and HIV/Aids. This will provide them with a chance to live and grow, as well as to be educated to help break the cycle of ignorance and poverty in their generation.

As of June 2019, we have 238 abandoned/orphaned children living at Project Canaan and we employ 280+ people from the surrounding community. Each Swazi citizen employed is responsible for feeding an average of 13 people at home, meaning 3 640 people benefit directly from Project Canaan.

We welcome a new baby on average every 12 days. If this trend continues, we will have 268 children living on Project Canaan by the year 2020, so we must plan for housing, education, staffing and food production with these numbers in mind.

Project Canaan Academy

Project Canaan develops its education initiative by equipping children and adults through academic and training programmes. Our initiative for children is a state-of-the-art school called Project Canaan Academy (PCA) – a Christcentred learning environment that will ultimately educate pupils from preschool to Grade 12. The initiative is specially designed to empower and inspire students to develop their potential intellectually, socially, emotionally, physically and spiritually, so that they can be the future leaders of Eswatini.

The school implements a hands-on, project-based approach
to instruction. We adhere to a philosophy that addresses the needs of the whole child as well as practising current, research based education with an emphasis on Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences (MI) theory,2 which also emphasises the diverse abilities of children and the need to assess learning using multidimensional evaluations. A child is an intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual being. Our plan is to carefully monitor and support growth in each of these facets. We have a commitment to train the solution-seekers and leaders who will bring positive impact to Eswatini, Africa and the world.

PCA started in a two-room school on the children’s campus, with my husband and me as the teachers. We had 14 students in the ‘Big 5’ classroom and seven kids in the ‘Lion’ classroom. It was a half-day school in which the children had fun exploring and learning in a very creative way.

The school has developed in a major way since 2014. Over the past six years, it has grown into a new and improved preschool, a kindergarten and a developing primary school.

PCA has a total of 156 students this year. In the kindergarten class, students learn to read on their own and acquire mathematics skills such as addition, graphing, estimation and subtraction. We currently have Grades 5, 4, 2 and 1 at our primary school. We have an excellent teaching and support staff. PCA has two preschool and pre-kindergarten teachers, two kindergarten teachers, two special needs teachers, one Grade 2 teacher, one Bible studies teacher, one physical education coach, one fine arts teacher and eight wonderful assistants.

The developing primary school currently offers after-school activities, including the science, technology, engineering and technology (STEM) club; the cooking club; netball; football, rounders; and chess.

A personalised learning approach

Each student learns in their own special way. Teachers and other stakeholders guide them towards being their best selves. PCA individualises learning through small groups, individualised education programmes, reading groups and Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) testing.3

This test is given from kindergarten and up three times a year. Whereas standardised tests administer the same test for every test taker per grade level, MAP uses an adaptive approach. That is, based on the student’s previous answer, each question gets either easier (if the previous answer was incorrect) or harder (if the previous answer was correct), until there is a clear pattern of established mastery. The students think it’s a fun computer game as we don’t want to put added pressure on the students. The test reveals a student’s Rasch Unit (RIT) score, which is determined and expressed relative to a band of scores that would indicate grade-level proficiency. The RIT score is also expressed as a percentile.


PCA students compare wonderfully with international students assessed via the MAP test throughout the world. Our students’ scores are higher than both reading and mathematics international norms in kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2.

Eighty-seven per cent of our students improved this year between the January and June testing.

Teachers use the MAP test scores to create amazing activities to further each student’s learning. After each MAP testing session, the teachers get together. They analyse the data to see where each student’s strength and weakness is in reading and mathematics. Then the teachers work hard at creating cooperative learning groups and levelled reading groups for each
class.


Our special education teachers also use the scores. They have access to the online student profiles, which specifically state what help the student needs and are able to update each student’s areas of strength in the Individualised Education Programme (IEP) meeting. An IEP is needed for some students at PCA. Through the IEP, students who are having difficulty with mathematics, language, social skills or reading concepts get the specific help needed for them to succeed. Students in the programme have yearly meetings to assess
goals, weaknesses and strengths in the relevant areas. Some students do particularly well and are then monitored in the programme. These special needs students participate in activities that correspond to what the regular education teachers are doing in the classroom.

Curriculum

I believe that a curriculum is the backbone of a school. PCA uses a variety of ideas to create its curriculum. The school is aligned with the Swazi national educational standards, while also introducing the common core curriculum used in the United States (US). It is a broad-based curriculum structured to suit the ethos and particular needs of our school and pupils.

Our students are Swazis. They learn siSwati at home and are taught in English, and the preschool helps with this by being bilingual. The students who attend school at the ages of three and four learn skills in English and siSwati, which are interchangeable throughout the school day. The teachers love creating games and fun activities in siSwati. One favourite is ‘show and tell’ in siSwati. In another fun activity, students make a circle and practice siSwati games with songs and greetings.

Character education underpins our curriculum, and is taught throughout the year by the head teacher. It is the teaching of children in a manner
that will help them develop as moral, civic, good-mannered, non-bullying, healthy, critical and successful human beings. The students learn about
perseverance, respect, friendship, conflict-resolution, self-respect and more.

PCA and ISASA

PCA loves being a part of ISASA. Our teachers are able to participate in amazing educational development opportunities. For example, PCA’s kindergarten, preschool and special needs teachers attended a professional development workshop on phonics, organised through ISASA. Afterwards,
one teacher said: ‘The Manzini workshop was good for reinforcement of what we had learned in our online professional development programme.’ Another PCA teacher attended the 2019 ISASA Proudly Primary conference and enjoyed it very much. It helped him figure out better ways to motivate and challenge students using a growth mindset approach. As the head teacher, I am so thankful for these learning opportunities to develop our teachers, who are providing the next generation of Swazis with a brighter future.

The students love playing sports with other ISASA schools. During these sport activities, the students make new friends and compete with each other. There is always excitement at our primary school when we are ‘counting down’ to our next competition.

The helpful community in Eswatini through ISASA is amazing. Before we joined ISASA, and as we expanded PCA, it was difficult leading alone and not understanding the needs in the Eswatini educational arena. Finding this community of independent schools is so helpful for me, and consequently
PCA. ISASA gives great advice and helps me through all PCA’s challenges and opportunities.

The future

We have come a long way in the development of PCA. The first class will graduate in 2029, which is 10 years away. There is still so much more to come.


A 21st century middle school for Grades 6-8 students will be built in 2023. A fine arts centre and a library will be created in the same year. Finally, the high school will be built in 2026. Throughout this growth period, many teachers will come and be developed through PCA. A counsellor will be hired. We also plan to employ a technical advisor for those students who
will not necessarily go on to university.

As schoolteachers and administrators, we believe that that these precious children have been chosen by the Lord to be placed, raised, formed and educated on this land and in this community. Of each, it can be said that God created their inmost being, that the Lord knitted them together in their
mother’s womb, and that they are fearfully and wonderfully made.4 In this regard, PCA is well suited to fulfil the task of formation and education, and is well aware of the times we live in and eager to permeate the world with light. In fact, offering an education that inculcates character, integrity and moral virtue is considered to be one of PCA’s primary triumphs.

PCA anticipates that its graduates will infiltrate and penetrate all spheres of society (from goat herders to bankers, and from lawyers to presidents and pastors) to not only preserve culture, but also to help it flourish. It is the vision of the PCA leadership to help contribute towards a biblical understanding of shalom (peace) in the world, both locally and globally,
wherever God’s call leads us. Furthermore, as author Josh Shipp wrote: ‘Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success
story.’5

References:

1. See: https://www.heartforafrica.org/

2. See: https://www.verywellmind.com/gardners-theory-of multipleintelligences-2795161

3. See: https://www.nwea.org/blog/2016/answers-to-the-top questionsparents-ask-about-the-map-test/

4. See: Psalms 139:13-16.

5. See: https://joshshipp.com/oca-lp/

Category: Summer 2019

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