The School of St Jude held it’s first Form 6 graduation in 2015. Eight more graduations have since followed that inaugural ceremony. Although each graduation is different and special in its own way, this year’s graduation is the first of its kind as it will feature the largest number of graduates ever! 210 graduates will celebrate this incredible milestone.
There are three key stages of school in Tanzania; seven years of primary school from Standard 1 to Standard 7, then four years of secondary school from Form 1 to Form 4 in Ordinary Level (O Level) studies, and finally the final two years of secondary school, Form 5 and 6 in Advanced Level (A Level) studies.
As we gear up towards our largest Form 6 graduation ceremony yet, let’s take a look through history at some of our earlier graduation ceremonies. A lot has changed over the years but the spirit of celebration and a feeling of accomplishment continues.
Carol and Bradley Johnson are a married couple who live in Watertown, South Dakota. They also sponsor a scholarship for a recent Form 6 graduate, coincidentally named Johnson!
The Johnsons recently made the trip to Arusha to celebrate Johnson’s Form 6 graduation. Thanks to the pandemic, the trip had been almost five years in the planning.
“Before we left, we would say to people, ‘The Johnsons are meeting Johnson!’” Carol laughs.
Because Carol’s work takes her all over South Dakota, she is a member of the Rapid City Rotary club, while Bradley belongs to the Watertown Rotary club in their hometown, 400 miles away. It was through the Rapid City Ccub that Carol first heard about St Jude’s.
“Pat Sutliff (a long-time supporter and Rotarian) shared the story about The School of St Jude to our club,” Carol recalls.
Bradley takes up the story, “Well, Carol told me what she knew about the school and asked if we wanted to sponsor a student and of course I said yes right away.”
Since 2020, the Johnsons have been sponsoring Johnson’s scholarship, sending letters back and forth and learning more about the driven student. However, it was their recent visit which really made an impact on them.
“I didn’t quite connect, yet,” shares Bradley. “Now, coming here, seeing the country and meeting the people has been extraordinary…This has definitely changed my life.”
Sponsorship has been life-changing for Johnson too, who started at St Jude’s back in 2009 when he was in his first year of primary school.
“It was great and wonderful to meet Carol and Brad,” he beams, as he stands wearing his yellow graduation sash. “It was beautiful to have them at my graduation.”
Carol agrees. “It was an amazingly beautiful ceremony,” she says.
To add to the excitement, Johnson was named ‘Best in Chemistry’ during the ceremony, which he kept secret in order to surprise Brad and Carol.
His secret to winning the highly-coveted award was, “commitment, focus and a positive mind-set.”
But the connection between Johnson and the Johnsons doesn’t end with Form 6 graduation.
“We’re going to make sure we support him through the Beyond St Jude’s Program,” Brad says.
Soon, Johnson will begin his Community Service Year (CSY) the first part of Beyond St Jude’s (BSJ), St Jude’s program for its secondary school graduates. During the CSY, Johnson and his fellow volunteers will share their time, skills and knowledge on campus at St Jude’s or in local government schools.
Already, Johnson is looking forward to giving back to the community.
“I am planning to participate in the CSY as a volunteer teacher in a government school where I hope to teach chemistry and mathematics. I want to do this so I can help many more people, especially those students who don’t have teachers,” he explains.
After the CSY, Johnson plans to study industrial engineering at university and then begin a career which will help boost Tanzania’s production capabilities, but he also nurtures a strong interest in politics.
“No matter where he goes, he’s driven, he’s bright and he understands the gifts that he’s been given,” says Bradley.
Thanks to a St Jude’s scholarship and the generosity of people like Bradley and Carol, Johnson and 106 other future leaders graduated from Form 6 this May. Without a scholarship, it’s likely that many of these students would have had to leave school early due to financial pressure.
Sponsoring a scholarship is a life-changing gift, perhaps best explained by Bradley.
“When you think about how you can change a life, you’re not just changing one student’s life, you’re changing hundreds, thousands of people’s lives through them.”
There are 107 students graduating Form 6 in 2022.
We have over 850 alumni who have already graduated Form 6 at St Jude’s from 2015 to 2021.
During the course of their studies, the incomes of students’ families have doubled.
70% of families have progressed from the extreme poverty line (did not afford basic needs) to live above the relative poverty line (can now afford to buy basic needs) upon their child’s completion of Form 6 at St Jude’s.
Once a student completes Form 6, only 1 in 10 of the families are still living in mud houses, versus 4 in 10 when they started at St Jude's.
In the last 20 years, The School of St Jude has grown so much that it’s almost unrecognisable. Buildings, fields, buses, campuses and whole new schools have been added to keep pace with the need for free, quality education in the Arusha region.
Over these two decades, St Jude’s has celebrated milestone after milestone. Barely a term passes without something new here, but as we look back we can see the turning points which have shaped St Jude’s into the school it is today.
1998 is a little more than 20 years ago now, but it’s a very important year in St Jude’s story. In this year, Gemma Sisia was gifted the original land on which St Jude’s was built, by her future father-in-law.
Following the gift of land, Gemma began to plan in earnest and collect donations for The School of St Jude. “The aim is to raise over $150,000, and even if it takes 10 years I am determined to build it,” she wrote, in a 1999 newsletter sent to supporters of what was then called the East African Fund.
Little did Gemma know how generous people would be – in less than four years, St Jude’s first students would be learning on the land she had just been given!
In this year, the very first classrooms were built at St Jude’s, thanks to some amazing Rotary volunteers from the Armidale Central and Gosford North clubs.
Gemma recalls in her book, St Jude’s, “A great friend of my family, Rotarian David Steller, who was an engineer with Armidale Council, offered to lead the Rotary team and there was a young builder, Tyson Jackson, who’d just finished his apprenticeship, but apart from these two, the main building qualification of the first team that went over was goodwill.”
The very first building still stands today as the Visitors Centre.
29 January 2002 marked the first day of classes at St Jude’s. Volunteer teacher, Angela Bailey, was just 19 at the time. She reflects, “It was so exciting, I was a little nervous… It was mostly about orientation on the first day, showing the students our first small library, where the toilets were… My students were completely overwhelmed and shy. It was only a few hours and then they went home for lunch.”
“I remember, I asked Gemma what her vision (for St Jude’s) was and she said she would love to have two streams all the way to the end of primary... I thought that was an incredible vision!”
By 2003 the number of students at St Jude’s had grown to 120 and the school was in serious need of extra classrooms.
In 2005, Gemma and St Jude’s were featured in an episode of the ABC’s (Australian Broadcasting Commission) Australian Story. The episode told Gemma’s story of growing up country New South Wales, moving to Tanzania and starting St Jude’s.
The response to Australian Story was extraordinary. After watching the episode, many new people decided to support St Jude’s as sponsors, donors and volunteers. This increased support encouraged Gemma to consider opening boarding houses and a second school.
This same year, St Jude’s Standard 4 students sat their first-ever national examinations and received amazing results, placing St Jude’s third from 204 schools in the region and establishing a tradition of academic excellence.
In 2008, St Jude’s took a big step by opening a second school. The new school, located in Usa River, about 50 minutes' drive from our original site, began as another primary school.
Today, the campus at Usa River is called Smith Campus in recognition of the generous Smith family, long-time supporters of St Jude’s. It now houses St Jude’s Secondary School, where our Form 1 to 4 boys and Form 5 and 6 girls and boys live and study.
In the same year, we opened a third campus – Moivaro Boarding Campus. As a boarding school, St Jude’s is able to offer students with a safe, stable environment where they can focus on learning without the pressures and challenges they often face at home.
In 2014, we celebrated an exciting milestone – St Jude’s was finally a whole school, with classes from Standard 1 (the first year of primary school), to Form 6 (the final year of secondary school).
In this year, our decade long building program was completed!
In 2015, we held our inaugural Form 6 graduation. 61 overjoyed graduates celebrated the end of their secondary education in the presence of 1,000 guests, including supporters from around the world. We’ve now celebrated seven Form 6 graduations and each time it is a wonderful reminder of how far we have come.
Later that year, these graduates became the very first Community Service Year (CSY) volunteers through our newly established Beyond St Jude’s Program (BSJ). To this day, BSJ supports secondary graduates through a period of community service and then a higher education qualification.
These first graduates spent a year volunteering in the community to share their skills and knowledge. Some volunteers lent a hand in the St Jude’s office, while others taught in understaffed government schools, reaching more than 10,000 students.
In 2019, after 17 years of St Jude’s, the very first BSJ scholars graduated from university. Since the earliest days of St Jude’s, we had dreamed of our students graduating from university, starting their careers and breaking the poverty cycle. We were so excited to celebrate the graduation of 26 BSJ Tertiary graduates.
The number of BSJ Tertiary graduates continues to grow each year with hundreds more being supported through their tertiary studies.
In 2020, we opened a third school – St Jude’s Girls’ Secondary School, to give more girls, and more students overall, an opportunity to attend secondary school.
On average, girls in Tanzania from poor, rural backgrounds receive just four years of education, and this was being reflected in our scholarship application process. The new school has a capacity for 600 students all of whom are boarders in Form 1 to Form 4. The same number of boys continue to be educated at St Jude’s Secondary School.
In 2021, we celebrated the graduation of the very first BSJ medical scholars – the first St Jude’s educated doctors! Following jubilant graduation celebrations, the graduate doctors started internships at hospitals across Tanzania in preparation for impactful careers.
2022 and Beyond
This year, we celebrate our 20th birthday, take a moment to look back and turn our eyes to the next 20 years. What began with three students, has, with your support, become a school of 1,800 with a successful graduate program.
So much has changed since 2002, but our motivation is the same as ever; together, we are fighting poverty through education.
In Tanzania, the advent of free primary school education means that an impressive 84% of children aged seven to thirteen are enrolled in school. However; only 30% of 14 to 17 year olds are enrolled in secondary school, largely due to financial pressures and a shortage of secondary schools.
These figures are the reason that The School of St Jude offers scholarships for students entering Form 1 (the first year of secondary school). Instead of finishing their education after just seven years, these bright, poor students receive a second chance at education; a St Jude’s scholarship for O Level studies (the first four years of secondary).
On 21 November, St Jude’s held our annual Form 1 Scholarship Application Day. More than 300 staff, Parent Representatives, Community Service Year (CSY) volunteers, and helpful senior students were split across three locations; St Jude’s Sisia Campus in Arusha and centres in Babati and Moshi.
While the St Jude’s team were in different locations, their tasks were identical; to interview and test prospective students to identify those who will benefit most from a St Jude’s scholarship. In total, 1613 students were registered, which included 908 students in Arusha, 325 students in Babati, and 380 students in Moshi.
At each location, the first order of the day was registering the crowds of students who had been queuing since before 6am. Liz, a team leader stationed in Moshi says, “When I saw them arrive I felt awesome because I knew it was the start of a busy day in a good way.”
The students were lined up according to their districts and then registered by a St Jude’s staff member, who checked their documents and marked their names on a list. Next, students proceeded to examinations, where they were tested in key subjects.
“The most challenging part of the day was having to communicate with the other sites for the examination cut-off scores,” explains Sarah, who played a key role in organising the whole operation. To determine which students would progress to the next step in the scholarship application process, the three teams had to liaise after marking the exam papers.
Around 500 students passed the exams and are in the running for the next stage – Poverty Assessments. Following these assessments, 150 students will be offered scholarships for O Level secondary education at St Jude’s. “The day was a wonderful display of how team work and team spirit get the job done,” Sarah enthuses.
A year ago, Perpetua had just attended Scholarship Application Day in Babati. Today, she is a Form 1 student at St Jude’s Girls’ Secondary School.
“I thought I would not pass the exams,” Perpetua shares. “There were many other people there and I was a bit nervous.”
At only 14, Perpetua is already a trailblazer in her family of 16. Her father was only able to attend school until the end of primary, while her mother did not have the opportunity to attend school at all.
“I’d like to be a doctor because in my village we lack professional doctors. If someone gets sick or injured they need to take the bus for one hour to reach a doctor,” she explains.
But before university, Perpetua is adjusting to the regular challenges of secondary school. “My biggest challenge when I started was that I didn’t know a lot of people, but now I have made a lot of friends. We like to tell stories and discuss our subjects,” she smiles.
“Compared to my primary school there are many differences. In my primary school, there were 100 students in my class. There was no food at school, no boarding, no computer labs, no library or upstairs classrooms. And we had to share textbooks, up to five students to one book,” Perpetua recalls.
A Future Doctor: Perpetua enjoys the opportunity to study in the specialist science labs under the supervision of Mr Elisante.
Now at St Jude’s, Perpetua has discovered new ways of learning and is benefitting from St Jude’s plentiful learning resources and facilities.
“I like the school environment and the way the teachers are teaching us. My favourite subjects are physics, chemistry, and biology,” she says.
One of the biggest changes for Perpetua this year was moving from her home in a village outside Babati into boarding at St Jude’s with her fellow secondary students. Here, she has her own warm bed, reliable water for washing and drinking, nutritious meals, and a stable environment for study and fun with her new friends.
Like Perpetua, 150 more students will soon receive a second chance at education in the form of a St Jude’s Scholarship. Like Perpetua, they’ll receive learning resources, safe boarding accommodation, meals, uniforms, tuition, extracurricular activities, and transport, completely free of charge. For every one of these students, the journey towards a successful secondary education began on 21 November 2021; Scholarship Application Day.
It’s no secret that English is a difficult language to learn. However, as the most widely spoken language in the world, it’s incredibly useful to know.
In order to help St Jude’s students become the best English speakers they can be, the school has introduced an ESL (English as a Second Language) Program, where students learn using state-of-the-art computer software, in addition to their regular English lessons.
Since the school’s establishment, English has been the language of instruction at St Jude’s. Students read, write, and speak English daily, and achieve outstanding exam results. So, what more can the ESL Program offer St Jude’s students?
“There’s no worry about whether our students can read or understand English,” says Mr. Valence, Head of ESL at St Jude’s Secondary School. “Our ESL Program is aimed at improving their speaking skills. We have tailored it to focus on listening and speaking skills.”
Ms. Mary, another ESL Teacher, elaborates, “Regular English classes are more focused on examinations and the mechanics of language, but ESL classes are more focused on conversational English, like, how students can interact with other people using the English language.”
And how does the software help the students learn?
“The ESL software is self-guided. The students use the computers and move through the modules and lessons. It’s interactive and the students can read, write, listen, speak and get instant feedback,” explains Mr. Valence.
In order to implement the program, St Jude’s ESL staff have worked with the IT team to create four dedicated ESL Labs – two at St Jude’s Secondary School, one at St Jude’s Girls’ Secondary School, and one at St Jude’s Primary School. Here, students from Standard 1 to Form 6 attend twice-weekly lessons under the guidance of the school’s five specialist ESL teachers. Students can also visit the labs during free periods and on Sundays.
One student who is already benefitting from the new ESL classes is Shani, in Form 1. Twice a week he visits one of the two dedicated ESL Labs at Smith Campus. Under the guidance of Mr. Valence, he collects a headset, logs into his profile, and begins learning.
“I started secondary school this year after attending primary school at St Jude’s, so I have been speaking English for many years,” says Shani. “I feel good about ESL because it is helping me improve my English speaking. I think it is very useful.”
With strong English skills, when students like Shani graduate from St Jude’s, they’ll be better equipped for tertiary studies and eventually, employment.
The program is particularly useful for students who join St Jude’s in Form 1 or Form 5. “ESL helps these students a lot because the medium of instruction for all their subjects is English. ESL helps them catch up quickly and learn new vocabulary to help them learn in all their other classes,” says Ms. Mary.
One way the software helps students improve their speaking is through voice recognition technology. When students speak into their headset microphone, the software rates their pronunciation. As students improve, they move to the next module where they learn more challenging skills.
“They really like that challenge. And they get competitive with each other too! They really enjoy it,” smiles Mr. Valence.
But ESL isn’t just fun and games, it’s already bringing tangible benefits to St Jude’s students as they move through the modules and build their skills.
“I see that they want to try hard and break barriers. They want to be the best they can be in conversational English,” says Ms. Mary of her hardworking students.
“It’s always great to see someone change over the course of time. When I receive students who can’t pronounce words very well developing into competent students who are confident in the language, who can speak well and communicate freely and accurately… it brings me joy to see that change,” says Mr. Valence.
As a school, St Jude’s aims to provide students with an international standard of education, which includes English as a key element, in order to help them break the poverty cycle. Now, with the advent of our ESL Program, students will receive a further opportunity to become world-class English speakers.