The Whys, Hows, and Whats of Hope Academy

Read for an update and my FAQ for Hope Academy.

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Me: See you tomorrow!
Student: F*** you.

A family member recently asked to know more information about what exactly I am doing in Lebanon, beyond having good intentions and an apparent distaste for financial stability. So, for this update I am embedding recent news in these ‘Frequently Asked Questions’. Please enjoy, and feel free to write back if you would like to know more. I love hearing from you.
 
The following description will start with the ‘Why’ and move down through 'How' and 'What' of our design.

 
 

 

WHY DOES THE WORLD NEED HOPE ACADEMY?
 
Hope Academy is a Non-Formal Education center specifically for children at the Home of Hope Lebanon (be sure to say it slowly). HoH is an non-governmental organizational started by the Lebanese Evangelical Society. It is one of few homes mandated by the Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs to take kids without papers/documentation, despite clear acknowledgement on the part of MoSA, UNICEF, ILO, and other key organizations of the need for more such homes, and functions as a last resort for many children. The Home is staffed by Lebanese nationals and directed by Maher Tabarany. Each one of our kids, whether they were found on the street or in an abusive situation, has an open court case regarding their custody. Roughly half of our kids are Syrian, another third or so Palestinian, and the rest have roots in several other Arab countries, including Lebanon. Some are true orphans, but may not know it. Many are refugees. We take them all with open arms.
 
Even the children who have papers cannot enter public schools because of their custody cases for safety reasons. While some parents willingly leave their kids at the Home, others would pursue getting their kids if known to be in public (often for child labor purposes). 
 
Then addition to legal reasons, our students' traumatic backgrounds impede their ability to attend school. When private schools have illegally (see having no papers) accepted our kids, they have often been asked to leave within months due to low frustration tolerance that leads to violent behavior, stealing, refusal to attend class, and other forms of disruptive engagement. Sometimes these are the same behaviors that enabled our kids to survive in the street and could help them again once they leave us – all adding to the complexity of how to teach them going forward.
 
So, despite large efforts on the part of the governments, Lebanon’s Ministry of Education, NGOs, and accepting local partners, our kids have fallen through the cracks and face a compromising future of prostitution (mostly girls), and/or crime (mostly boys).  When they leave the Home at 18-20 without education in a vulnerable place, our kids are left few choices. This is why we started a school designed to address their needs for safety and love (family), community-mindedness (belonging), and academic/life skills (alternative means for future employment).
 
HOW
 
How does the school work?
Brady, Amber, and Jordan started school efforts two years ago in the Home and found that issues the kids had with each other and the Home staff followed kids too closely into their one thirty-minute class per day. They needed space to have more classes and distance from the kids’ home in order for the kids to move beyond roadblocks to their education. We were approved by the Ministry of Social Affairs to take the kids off-site to school. We do this each day.
 
Who studies together? 
While we would love to teach kids to work together across the sexes, since the boys and girls live together, only separated by floors, to remove liabilities the boys meet in the morning and the girls in the afternoon. Our Montessori program for kids ages 7-10 is an exception to this rule.
 
All of our students are present for Chapel/Discussion and Lunch in the middle of the day.
 
Wait, is there a spiritual component to the school?
Our host organization (who provides our building) runs a Chapel service with Christian education for the students each day, and the Home of Hope is overseen by a Lebanese Baptist organization.
 
No statements of faith are required for students or school staff. In our hiring, we have welcomed any applicants who care about our kids and want to do the hard work of building the school with us. We currently have a passionate, inspiring team (all native speakers of Arabic) with diverse perspectives working together to love our students.
 
How does lunch work? Do you eat together?
Our host organization provides a nutritious lunch every day, and many of our kids have gained healthy weight! This is critical for their learning and development. Our staff eats with the kids at the same tables each day, modeling conversation, manners, and tidiness.
 
How big are your classes? 
At the beginning of the school in September, our older kids were in classes of 1-2 kids to address their specific levels and psycho-social needs. Most of our kids have never been to school (Most of our 14-18 year olds started at a first grade level or below across the board). Where appropriate, we have increased classes to 3-4 students and in March hope to increase them again to 5, allowing classes to meet more often and to empower our students to learn with/from each other. While these classes sound small by public school standards, our students’ traumatic backgrounds hinder them from handling the stimulus and focus required for larger classes. We hope that through teaching peacemaking and self-management skills, teaching like parenting, and consistently providing a safe space for learning and growth, our kids will increase in their tolerance for risk and change that will empower them for future situations. We hope that our kids will leave us with the tools for previously unavailable life choices including jobs, citizenship, and a stable family life.

 
WHAT
5 days per week. Boys in the morning, girls in the afternoon, for three hours of schooling each, including recess every day. 

Total about 50-55 kids – fluctuates with new arrivals and departures

Estimations from current students:
Advanced level who could enter Ministry of Ed Accelerated programs :: 5 - 10
Some previous schooling :: 5-7
No previous schooling :: 38
[the following figures do not reflect 4 children participating in formal education]

Age breakdown::
20 kids - age 7-10
 in a Montessori program (2 groups)
20 No previous schooling

33 kids age 11-17, 18 boys, 13 girls:
5-10 ALP potential
5-7 Some schooling
19 – no previous schooling
 
What does your leadership structure look like? The school administration team is four Americans (Brady, Amber, Jordan, myself). Brady and I co-direct the school specifically. Our teachers and local partners are Lebanese. We work with our teachers daily to develop culturally appropriate messaging and curriculum based in parenting, psychology, and trauma literature.
 
Amber and Jordan in their critical roles pursue our students’ well being and personal growth across the school and the Home. Brady as our team leader is a liaison with the Home and our host organization, taking care of employment and bus issues as well. In addition, he has been pivotal in developing ideas for our ‘Common Space’ where our students learn to self-direct and make choices about their learning each day.
 
So, Steven, what do you do?
 
Last year in the months leading up to the school’s start, Amber, with her deep knowledge of parenting and trauma literature, and I worked closely on the school’s design. Now, I co-direct the school with Brady in a role that most closely resembles a school (vice) principal.
 
This means that when I am not breaking up a fight or encouraging a student on their progress, I run a large share of teacher meetings, collaborate on curriculum and the school’s daily operations, and do what we call ‘visioning’ about the future direction of the school on an organizational level.
 
Recently when we lost a funding source for teachers, I worked with leadership at the Home to pursue partnerships with Ministry of Ed-approved programs that may allow our students to re-integrate into the public school system. Since the meeting with UNICEF Education representatives in mid-January, we have received positive feedback about the program and are hopeful about upcoming direction.

How long do you plan to be there?
 
One of my main goals in coming to Lebanon was to help the school become sustainable whether any one of our team members were here or not (see the ‘if I got hit by a bus’ plan), for the sake of our kids and future kids at the Home, and I am thrilled to be moving in this direction.
 
This chapter has been one of the most challenging, humbling, rewarding of my life.  We truly would not be doing this or even here without the God's guidance. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with our staff and kids, and will continue to prayerfully consider what may come after while investing fully where I am. (in short, I don’t have an answer to that yet :) )

Please pray
- for our future institutional direction to support our kids' reintegration into society.
- for my own health / mental health moving forward
- that we would steward this incredible opportunity to love our kids well, and for the future sustainability of this project, one that UNICEF and others have identified as meeting a current gap in the refugee response.

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