To Rise Up and Build During COVID-19

Think of a time you’ve built something.  It could be an actual building, maybe a house or even a shed.  Maybe it’s more conceptual or relational, like a business, or a church, or a family.  Possibly it’s just Legos or a sand castle.  Either way, inevitably, you faced challenges in the pursuit of your goal.  No pain, no gain – that’s the nature of the game.  

In January of 2020, the Christ School Bundibugyo staff began studying the book of Nehemiah together.  Our theme for the school year was “Rise Up and Build”, because Nehemiah encourages the people of Israel as they are rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem to do just that – Rise up and build.  But he doesn’t pretend that it will be easy, and the people of God truly did face opposition to the rebuilding, both from within their own ranks, as well as outside the walls.  As a CSB staff, we chanted the mantra to each other, Rise up and build, and carried trowels around campus, literally, to remind us of the task ahead.  Like everyone else in the world, we had no idea what challenges the year 2020 would bring.

As we rose up to build near the end of January, Christ School welcomed a record number of students – 357.  The school year began smoothly, classes were in full swing, chapel and Sunday services preached the Gospel, and our boys football team clinched a spot in the district tournament’s knockout round.  But then we faced external challenges, as in COVID-19 in Uganda, and President Museveni gave us 36 hours to close school and send our students home.

We locked down like the rest of the country for some good time.  Yet, as the new reality set in for several months, with social distancing and masks and limited movement and curfews and the fact that school was not going to resume any time soon, we had to re-evaluate our calling to Rise up and build this year.  Our vision was not going to change – “to be an academically excellent school producing servant leaders for the good of Bundibugyo and God’s glory” – even if outside forces, like a worldwide pandemic, threatened to derail that vision. So, after deliberation as a leadership team in June, we decided that despite the challenges we would not sway from our vision but would continue to Rise up and build in 2020.  Here’s how our staff have done that so far:

Distance Learning:

CSB Staff preparing academic packages for delivery to students

From the very beginning of the COVID-19 school closures, our faculty knew that we couldn’t just leave our students hung out to dry in regards to learning.  There simply weren’t the resources, mentors, or opportunities for them to continue to learn at home.  The government promised radio lessons, but those took many months to organize, and were inefficient and ineffective, at best.  So our teachers decided from the outset to provide academic packages for our students.  These included hard copy notes from each subject they were taking, including some comprehension and application questions to work through independently.  These packages were hand delivered to over 350 students around the district, by CSB members on bodas (motorcycles).  Students have been engaging with these packages throughout the school closure. In a district with 25 secondary schools, Christ School Bundibugyo is the ONLY staff that is providing support for their students in this way.

CSB’s new Online Distance Learning Team preparing for their first lesson via WhatsApp

In addition, since our mission at CSB includes an “emphasis on sciences and mathematics,” a small team collaborated to create an online distance learning opportunity for S.6 Science students.  Six staff members have been working to provide online lessons, with dialogue and feedback opportunities using WhatsApp on smartphones.  These lessons occur on a weekly basis for the students who are in their final year of studies prior to university.  

Instructional Methods Training:

One thing that closing schools and sending students home provided positively is Time.  Without students on campus, staff are free to engage in professional development at deep levels, not just in a quick staff meeting here, or a short teacher training there.  Afforded to us now is time for delving deeply into instructional methods.  

Kalegha Zakiel, an English/Literature teacher, engaging in a “friendly” as he attempts the new instructional method with his colleagues

At CSB, our goal is to develop our students for success in life after secondary school.  To do so, they need skills beyond memorizing and learning content solely for national exams.  Our students need to be critical thinkers.  They need to be problem-solvers and collaborators.  They need to be creative and entrepreneurial to benefit their communities in their current context.  They also need to be caring, thoughtful, and respectful citizens.  So if that is our end goal, then we cannot teach them in a traditional way like our staff were taught as students themselves.  We must engage them in dialogue, inquiry, and problem-solving.  We must allow meaningful opportunities for students to talk in class, to communicate effectively, to build a community of learners.

I (Patrick McClure – Director of Development) began facilitating weekly methods trainings for teachers by department.  First, we learned a method called “Turn and Talk,” which provides opportunities for students to use their words to express ideas, and offers the teacher formative assessment on how well they are learning or not.  It also leads to deeper discussions where students explore complex ideas together.  It moves away from teachers simply telling their students information, to students more truly learning information, ideas and concepts.  

We’ve also learned a method called “Fingers and Thumbs,” which is a way for all students to respond simultaneously to a question.  This allows for maximum participation and engagement, puts to cognitive load back on the students’ brains, and offers formative assessment for the teacher as well.  We will next be exploring a method called “Shots on Goal”, which emphasizes increasingly rigorous questions, ones that move from simply remembering and recall, to comprehension, analysis, synthesis, and even metacognition.

Baguma Godfrey, an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) teacher, having his “students” Turn and Talk about modern uses of computers

Since many staff are huge fans of football, particularly the English Premier League, we use the coaching construct as a model for our trainings. Our teachers learn these methods by experiencing them as students, and we refer to this as the “practice” part of training.  Then, they are turning around and teaching their colleagues a lesson while implementing the strategies involved in each method.  We call this stage of the training process the “friendly”, like in football where teams scrimmage against each other to practice and get feedback and insight on their skills.  Only later does the actual match come where the stakes are much higher.  Teachers are excited to be learning and growing and improving their craft, and are very eager to have students return someday so they can increase the academic engagement and rigor for their students.  That is what we call “Matchday,” and we truly cannot wait for that to happen.

Spiritual Discipleship:

As a leadership team, we felt that growing our staff professionally and providing our students with learning resources was not enough.  We are a Christian school, intent on disciplining the next generation of Christ followers.  So we saw this time as an opportunity as well to learn the Bible together and build our community in the Gospel.  Pastor Mike Forrest has led this effort, utilizing the “Gospel-Centered Life” curriculum on a weekly basis.  He walks the Spiritual Discipleship Team (4 staff members) through a lesson on Mondays, and then each of those 4 people leads a small group of staff through the lesson on Tuesday.  Throughout the study, we have learned and wrestled with big ideas and deep concepts, the truth of the Gospel and its impact and influence in our lives.  We have discussed biblical topics such as God’s holiness and our sin, the law and the Gospel, repentance, heart idolatry, forgiveness, conflict, and much more.  Staff members are grappling with their own sin and truly seeing God as their merciful and loving Savior.  They are understanding more deeply that they are not a spiritual orphan in God’s eyes, but rather a son or daughter of the King.  The impact of these fruitful conversations from the study is impossible to quantify.  But the time spent on reading and discussing and asking good questions has been invaluable.

Tumusabe Benard (arms outstretched) leading a “Gospel Centered Life” discussion with his discipleship group

A Different 2020:

Christ School Bundibugyo began the year with a sky-high trajectory.  Stakeholders were very hopeful, both inside and outside the CSB walls.  Enrollment was at record levels.  Our many new staff provided a feeling that things were moving forward, and the energy and excitement for the year was palpable.  Every day we were eager to Rise up and build.  And then COVID-19 hit.  Now we don’t know what the rest of 2020 will hold, but our staff have banded together, picked up their trowels, and continue to Rise up and build, for the good of Bundibugyo and God’s glory.

It is impossible to Rise Up and Build without financial partnership. If you would like to support the ongoing efforts of Christ School Bundibugyo, please give through the following link:

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