Education


Welcome

A school with a difference -“Education is the best provision for old age. And we prepare our students for it.

At five o’clock on any given day, should you happen to be wandering through the Chaitanya Vihar neighborhood of Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s most impoverished states, you will come across a throng of unkempt boys and young men jostling each other and clamoring to get into a compound, which is guarded by a stern man who carries a stick and pushes them away when they attempt to get past him through the gate. What on earth, you might wonder, is he guarding so vigorously? And what is it that they seem to want so badly?


Look past him and you will see hundreds of girls, women and small children, sitting quietly in rows, inside the compound, with plates made of leaves on the ground before them, being served by respectful, well-groomed children in neat school uniforms and by adults who look like they should be sitting behind desks in one of New Delhi or Bangalore’s corporate offices. You don’t have to look closely to notice that these guests are the poorest of the poor, shoeless, wearing mismatched, ill-fitting torn and tattered clothes, with dust on faces and hair that has turned blond as a result of chronic malnutrition.

The open area where they sit waiting for what may well be only the meal they’ll eat that day, is the playground of the Sandipani Muni School. Those serving them are the school’s students, young people who could just as easily have been among those with empty stomachs if good fortune hadn’t led them to the school’s gates just in time to be offered one of the completely free school’s coveted places. These children, and the staff who serve with them, provide this service willingly, free of charge, every day of the year.


The food distribution program at the school is just one of the many ways in which the school’s parent organization, Food For Life Vrindavan, engages the community and cares for the impoverished residents of the town and surrounding villages.

2000

Ten years ago this poster was in our Food for Life Vrindavan office window. The children attending the classes in the photo were from our food distribution. Everyday, we had about 800 children coming to eat at our food distribution. We knew that hardly any of them were going to school. So we thought, “Why not start some classes?” That is how it began and in the summer of 2000, we had our first evening classes.

2001

The children had an incredible appetite for learning. Soon, we moved from the open temple shelter, where we had started, to a rented room. The room was 8 by 10 feet, and we squeezed in more than 60 children daily.

2002

During 2002 we rented a little property with two rooms. That’s when it dawned on us that we actually could start a full time school. Within no time, we had 120 children enrolled and many more banging at our door. Space was so limited that one of the classes was out of doors even in the cold winter.

2003

In January 2003, we purchased land, in April, we began construction, and in October of the same year, we inaugurated the school. At the time, we had 200 children enrolled.

2006

In 2004, we purchased land for a secondary school, and in Oct. 2006, we had the grand opening. At present we have 1,300 children in our three schools.

2010

On October 22nd, 2010, we inaugurated our third Sandipani Muni School. On that same day we had the ground-breaking ceremony for our fourth school at Govardhan.

Education

Educated children grow to become an integral part of the social fabric. Their learning and skills shape a nation.

Dr. Best “Learn to Read”

Urmila Devi Dasi with the students

 

Despite the challenges we face, we are optimistic about raising the educational quality of our Sandipani Muni Schools, starting with the introduction of an innovative new English reading program. In the fall of 2010, we were blessed to have Dr. Edith Best (Urmila Devi Dasi) join our educational team. Dr. Best has a Doctorate in Education and a Masters in School Administration, both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has three decades of experience as a primary school teacher and acts as a consultant for schools on several continents.

Created by Dr. Best herself, the English program is a drastic departure from the customary ways of teaching in Indian schools. Ten of the school’s best teachers and sixty of the top English students, selected through testing and interviews, are involved in this pilot program.

The program’s philosophy is in accordance with the original meaning of the word “educate,” which means “to draw out.” The children are being taught critical thinking and reasoning to deduce the right answer rather than simply memorizing and repeating answers they do not understand and quickly forget.

With the support of a team of English-speaking volunteers, our teachers are rising to the challenge and making sincere efforts to learn this new way of teaching. The children are actively engaged and excited about what they are learning. And they are learning!

“Fantastic!” was the answer given by one of our top students when he was asked how he liked his new English class. Recently all the children received a gift of a new storybook, probably the first book they had ever owned. One of the boys in the youngest group kissed his new book, hugged his precious gift to his chest, grinned the widest possible grin and rocked from side to side with extreme pleasure.

Environmental Awareness

With on-going environmental awareness programs, Sandipani Muni School’s children are well on the way to becoming stewards of their community’s future. In years past, they’ve been treated to speeches on recycling and an environmental art contest. This semester, volunteers Maribel and Yohanna from Spain, are taking things up a notch.

Yohanna

“We visited Vrindavan for the first time one year ago,” said Maribel, “and were greatly impacted by what we saw. Such an ancient and culturally rich place, but with so much pollution! We were inspired to return, to do something about environmental education and revitalization of inorganic materials. What better way to start than with children because children really are the future.”

The course consists of five workshops wherein the children create musical instruments, costumes and masks, toys, puppets and collages with sanitized inorganic waste. On the last day, the children will hold a “Festival of Recycling” to exhibit their creations to the community.

Maribel says, “We can see that the children are developing their creativity while learning to recycle plastics, cardboard, cans, etc. They’re having fun while they are learning and are taking to it enthusiastically. Thanks to this course, they are really developing their vision of how Vrindavan was and how it could be.”

Sandipani Muni School Assessment Report, 2010

The assessment report has been done by students from BYU, Hawaii, it took four months of research, surveying SMS children with private and public schools and children not attending school.

In regards to academics, the SMS students did very well. As would be expected, the SMS students outperformed the children not attending school, but what was especially impressive was how well the SMS students compared to the students of other public and private institutions. On almost all counts, the SMS students did just as well as the others even outperforming the other schools in the areas of Social Studies and Math.

In regards to the students well being as a whole, SMS students appear to be more confident, calm, less upset and less strained than children from other schools. All of this may indicate the use of more positive reinforcements than punishments to shape behaviour.

All of these findings indicate that FFLV is successfully making a positive impact on the lives of impoverished children in a multiple faceted approach. The results show an FFLV that is making a difference at laying a solid foundation for our children’s future.

SROI means social return on investment.

University Study Conducted at FFLV Notes Our Positive Influence on the Local Community

Says Ronald Mellado Miller, Ph.D., Associate Professor Brigham Young University – Hawaii led the research team. His credentials include articles on the topics of cognition and learning published in 13 different peer reviewed academic journals and consulting on over a dozen professional and academic statistical research projects, with locations including USA, China, Philippines and the Kingdom of Tonga. Professor Miller had this to say about FFLV: “I have travelled extensively and can say with confidence that I have not seen any organization having as great an impact on the individual lives of the poor as Food for Life Vrindavan (FFLV). Not only do they establish schools for the poorest of children, train parents so they can rise above their poverty, distribute food to the needy, run clinics to help the hurt, micro finance improvements in villages, and much more, but they have done so while focusing almost exclusively on how best to most effectively serve and assist. While some organizations seem to enrich the poor by first enriching themselves, the substantial sacrifices made by everyone at FFLV, from the highest to the lowest positions, speaks volumes as to their intentions and focus. With the myriad difficulties that exist in the world, a basic question must be, for any organization, if they do the good they have set out to accomplish. FFLV is one of the rare organizations where they seem to be succeeding. It is gratifying to see FFLV do so much good among so many, who would otherwise have almost no hope at all.

Students Profile

I also have a chance!

Now they know they have a chance!
They are ready to face the world.

International links

Sandipani Muni School and The Discovery Academy

This twinning project began during the summer of 2008 and has gone from strength to strength over the past three years. The purpose of starting this project was to give students from both schools the opportunity to learn about globalisation and diversity. Since starting a number of new projects have arose including six reciprocal visits between the two schools.

During the visits teachers and students from both schools have had the opportunity to experience life in the UK and India. Students from The Discovery Academy in particular have spoken about how they value life more and the Spiritual life and attributes demonstrated by students at Sandipani has impacted their lives in a wonderful way.

Poonam in UK

“Visiting the school has changed my life forever. My eyes have opened to a completely different way of living and learning and since returning to Stoke on Trent I not only focus more on my own learning but share with my peers about life in Vrindavana” Colette Edwards, Student & International Dimensions Ambassador.

“Many cross curriculum activities have taken place between both schools and I am happy to say that the British Council have recently announced that they will be supporting this project for the third year running. This project has received worldwide media attention and we hope that this project will continue to change peoples lives.” Anoop Watts, Teacher/ International Project Manager

Third Educational Exchange

On June 29th our students Pritam and Pushpa, along with teachers VishnuPriya and LakshmiKant departed to London for our 3rd Educational Exchange Program with the UK’s Discovery Academy. For six days they will attend the Discovery Academy, where they will be shown the school grounds and attend some of the classes.

Pritam is extremely happy “my family is very proud of me, this is the first time I will go somewhere abroad”, teacher LakshmiKant adds “England is a very developed country, therefore we have a lot to learn on this trip, they have such an advanced education system, it’s a complete different country, we also want to bring the magnificent culture and knowledge we have here in India, our student Pushpa dances Odissi, while Pritam knows Martial Arts, they would like to have a performance for the students at the Discovery Academy”.

They all are very excited due to this opportunity and are very much looking forward to this educational and cultural exchange.

The Hindustantimes newspaper has written an article about our students going abroad, to read please click here

SMS Students and Teachers visit UK

On July 10th, SMS students Pushpa, Pritam, alongside teachers Vishnu Priya and Lakshmi Kant came back from the Exchange Program trip to the UK.

A day after their arrival we spoke to them to hear about their experiences abroad. With smiley faces each of them told us with details everything that happened, letting us know they had a wonderful and very enriching time in England.

A day after they reached London, they were taken to the Discovery Academy. Our students and teachers were warmly welcomed, followed by a tour around the school campus. Pritam in an excited tone told us “It was a really nice experience to go to the Discovery Academy. The classrooms, the facilities and mainly all the green! not only in the school, but all over the city. It was wonderful to see so much nature around us, here at SMS we have some green, but around Vrindavan hardly any. It would be a good thing to bring Vrindavan back to it’s real green state”. Once at the Academy, they were bombarded by the school kids asking them questions about India, SMS, their lifestyle and Krishna, amongst other things. And they made many friends as well, whom invited them on a city tour, even taking them to other to near-by cities, while sharing their culture and wanting to know more about our SMS students, teachers and their backgrounds.

Teacher Laksmi Kant adds that this opportunity brought different experiences which were interesting in many different levels, something which invites one to reflex and react. Reflex about India, Vrindavan, the school and how they can incorporate good and better things on a daily basis and reacting to it, by making it happen and putting things into practice. Vishnu Priya loved the organization and the children’s yearn for knowledge, “they would ask about every single thing and it is something which I would like to inculcate in my students, to teach them to not be shy and speak up. It is very important for both teachers and students to have trust and confidence in each other, to be able to share and ask questions whenever it is needed, like that teacher-student communication reaches a higher level and if there are any doubts, they will be cleared”.

The Educational Exchange Program with the Academy School started since 2008, where students and teachers from both parts get to experience and have a cultural exchange. Over the years this twinning has grown stronger, bringing a lot of knowledge and wonderful experiences into both schools.

Extracurricular

Extracurricular activities empowers students with independent decision making ability for their future instead if depending on others. And it help them gain vital experience and skills to lead them on the path to their future. Sandipani Muni school offer various extracurricular classes to bring out the natural talents of these children. We facilitate dancing, singing, art, mehandi, tabla, martial arts, acrobatics  computer learning, play acting etc. The children perform in and outside the school events, and have won prizes on many occasions. This proves that they have natural talent and just need the opportunity  to display it.

Dance:

At Sandipani muni school we have odissi and folk dance lessons by expert teachers. The girls have much  enthusiasm which is revealed by their regular attendance of the classes.

On festivals and events our girls perform beautifully on various musicals.

Vocal and instrumental music:

Harmonium, Tabla and Vocal classes are also provided by a trained teachers. 

Art and Craft: Classes for various activities are available.

Volunteers from various parts of the world also teach these children different forms of painting.

Martial arts:

We also have martial art classes taken by a professional martial art teacher. The girls also become capable of defending themselves. They have won prizes innumerable times in this category.

Mehandi:

Many girls from our school are expert at henna tattoos (mehandi). They are given facilities where they can practice and use this skill for their livelihood in the future.

Sports:

On various occasions we organize sports day program for the children so they learn the importance of fitness and health. This also gives them a chance to relax their minds and gives them a break from year long studies.

Apart from these we also have embroidery and stitching training for girls that goes all the year round and open more doors of opportunities for their future.

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