I had early childhood education in Nigeria. I did not go to a traditional school. I went to a Montessori school called The Learning Place (TLP). It is located on Rasheed Alaba Williams Lekki 1, Lagos. Montessori is an educational approach developed by an Italian physician and educator named Maria Montessori. I enjoyed Montessori education because I learnt at my own pace, I had great learning materials and learning was practical. The Montessori system encouraged creativity and leadership because I had the opportunity to mentor younger ones. The classes were mixed, in bands of red, blue and yellow teams, in that order. Red is the lowest. Teachers encouraged us to be analytical and critical. We asked questions and we were never afraid to challenge our teachers.
The Learning Place is a private, boutique (small) school. All the teachers know everyone by name, and students know each other and every teacher. I understand that not all schools are like The Learning Place. It is a great school and I enjoyed my time there and in Nigeria. The Learning Place gave me the foundation which I am building at Rabun Gap, my present school, and I credit The Learning Place for helping in the development of my verbal and writing skills. Reading at The Learning Place is compulsory.
Life In RGNS
I got into the prestigious Rabun Gap Nacoochee School (RGNS) through a rigorous academic process. It is a college preparatory school. I had to do a lot of studying to pass the Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT) into seventh grade which is Middle School. The SSAT is a tough standardised admission test for students in grades 3–11 for entrance into private elementary, middle, and high schools. College prep across America admits only the top one percent of applicants. Rabun Gap was founded in 1903. It is a beautiful school at the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. It has a huge campus of 500 acres, well manicured lawns, sport facilities, a bookstore, woods, lakes, chapel, with a diverse student body from many countries. My school hoist the flags of student home countries.
The Middle school is five minutes away from the main campus. We are not allowed to interact with the High schoolers. There are so many dormitories on campus. All are High school dorms, except for the one I stay in called the Anderson dorm. It is a co-ed dorm with boys on one side and girls on the other side. It has a beautiful well furnished common room and a laundry room that we all share. We girls have our own days and the boys as well, but lucky for us girls we have a TV room with a washer and dryer which we can use at any time. Our bathrooms are very clean, which some people are assigned to clean during chore time and it is the same till it is changed. I heard that in Nigerian elite boarding schools that they clean for the children, which is not good because it does not help them to build up their sense of responsibility.
Nigeria has a lot to do on education. Nigeria has to invest in young people… I have seen many schools from the outside in Nigeria and I do not like what I see. The environment is not good at all. It will be hard for young Nigerians in my age group to compete with their peers abroad. They don’t have the tools to help them learn. I wish the government can do something about this.
We have two prefects, one for the boys and one for the girls. The prefects help check our chores and help us with things we need help with like homework. We have two house parents who make sure we are doing the right thing at the right time, like our homework during study hall. We also have a kitchen with a fridge for the boys, girls and the prefects. If you steal someone’s food, the whole dorm gets in trouble until someone confesses.
In the middle school we have a dining hall like the high school. We have selected tables so that we can interact with other people other than our friends. Each table has a teacher that was assigned to it so that we do not do anything silly. We are served a three course meal in buffet style. We choose what we want to eat from the assortment of food. We have student servers and cleaners. We are enjoined to be polite and listen to them.
RGNS have zero tolerance for drugs and substance abuse. At resumption, we were asked to submit all our medications to the school nurse. The nurse keep all medications until you need it is needed. If bad substances are found on a student or in their belongings, it is automatic expulsion. Fighting is another crime that can earn you instant expulsion. On the weekends we have brunch instead of breakfast because they know we won’t wake up early enough and after breakfast and we clean our rooms and get them checked. Most weekends, we take a trip to the local Walmart in the company of our houseparent in case we need to stock up on groceries or if we need to buy food outside for a change. Sometimes we watch movies as well and our dorm parent buys five bags of popcorn and two boxes of every type of soda she knows we like and some chocolates. We sometimes go to the mall, which is so much fun. We have study hall every day except for friday and saturday because it the beginning of the weekend and study hall is basically when we do our homework for an hour and a half till we can come out of our rooms again. We also have tutorials in the middle school which is when we do our homework for any or our upcoming classes or to get extra help on a subject.
My first trimester was quite hard because I wasn’t used to the rigours of college prep and the system of learning. I was missing homework from classes and confused because every minute is programmed for something. As I got used to the pace, I adjusted and felt a lot better about the school. Assessment is not really about the tests. it is about consistency and how well you do in your homework, class participation and projects. Final examination is a tiny bit of the final score. Sometimes there are no examinations at the end of a trimester.
Boarding students must do a sport and the sports are actually fun if you are interested in it. I do swimming, cirque and softball. We also have a lot of showcases or performances. I have had one performance in cirque. My picture was featured on our website and I was very proud of myself. We have aftercare for people who don’t do sports and they give you snacks which cost one dollar each. In aftercare, we do arts and crafts.
Academics at RGNS are very thorough. We get a reading list for Summer and we are tested on the books, the second week of school. Last year, we had eight recommended books to read for our English class, which we read. This year, we have another eight books that we are going to read. In seventh grade science class, we extracted our DNA and dissected a worm and a shark and got to learn about each part of their bodies. At the end of the session, we had a portfolio put together as the final exam for our Science class which consists of all the diagrams that we have drawn during the whole year. We also had a watershed festival where we studied animals in their natural habitat over a period of time. That was so much fun!
Nigeria has a lot to do on education. Nigeria has to invest in young people. Even though we have individual laptops, the school provides us with chromebooks for studying or writing. Everything we do, even in history, English, art, mathematics is very practical. We have all the tools we need. I have used a microscope; I have experimented with liquid nitrogen; I have used enzymes in experiments; I have the best supplies for art and my teachers are very knowledgeable. It is noteworthy that 67 percent of all the teachers at RGNS have Ph.Ds. My parents tell me private education is not cheap. I have seen many schools from the outside in Nigeria and I do not like what I see. The environment is not good at all. It will be hard for young Nigerians in my age group to compete with their peers abroad. They don’t have the tools to help them learn. I wish the government can do something about this. I also think the subjects in some schools are too many. The classes should be merged. Right now I do Science, Maths, English, French (every student must take a foreign language), History and Geography and Visual Arts as an elective. My maths in seventh grade was pre-Algebra. This session, I will be doing Algebra 1 and 2. I am in advanced placement math which means I do higher maths for my grade.
RGNS has been exciting. They take really good care of us. They usually request for flight itineraries weeks ahead of time. Under age 15, we fly as unaccompanied minors. The school bus is stationed at the Atlanta Hartsfield with two chaperones on the day of arrival. On the day of departure, same thing. They ensure we are safe. My school is a long drive to and from the airport but it is a very comfortable ride.
RGNS is Episcopalian. We attend chapel every Sunday for an hour. It is a very conservative school with strict dress code and defined conduct. There are students from Middle East in my school. The school welcomes people of different faiths. The Sunday service is good for everyone. I love my school and I feel privileged to be an RGNS student.
Imani Olateju presently studies at Rabun Gap Nacoochee School (RGNS) in Georgia, United States of America.