Yesterday these 6 kids took the TOEFL test. I have been working with them all year tutoring English. These are the top English speakers in the village and it was a privilege to work with them. Needless to say, I love them all to pieces and I wish the best for them.
They wanted to take the TOEFL to use the scores to apply for American universities that offer the MasterCard Scholars program, Arizona State University and Michigan State University (but don't require the SAT). The MasterCard program is an amazing soup-to-nuts scholarship that provides plane fare and a small living stipend and is one of the only realistic ways these students can study abroad. Lots of universities offer tuition reduction, or even free but our kids cannot afford to get there in the first place, or pay for room and board, so they really need a complete scholarship if they are going to attend.
There were some shenanigans. I, for one, should never be left in charge of 'a' child. (Ask my beautiful, narrowly still surviving niece Kate what it is like to be under my 'care'). Now these kids are all over 18, and can pretty much take care of themselves, but have not been in places like supermarkets (where I took them to by breakfast food) and restaurants, where I took them to feed them dinner. Being under my 'care' in the big city of Kigali is maybe not the most relaxing way to prepare for a big test. I felt a lot of responsibility to make sure all of their needs were met. They were articulating needs 6 at a time at high volume, causing me some anxiety. One particular lowlight was me forgetting to tell one of the kids, Innocent, that the bathroom door in the Kigali apartment is broken and cannot be shut all the way or can't be reopened. Innocent pretty naturally closed the bathroom door to take a shower at 5 AM on test day and found himself trapped. He was in there for a while as I mostly wrung my hands and said "everything is going to be fine" in increasingly shrill tones until one of the other boys freed him using a kitchen knife on the lock mechanism. They their best tried to take good care of me, but it is a tough job.
I'm not sure how they did on the TOEFL. The test is difficult and the day was stressful for them. I tried to make them go to bed early the night before but they wanted to stay up and cram. The day of the test was crazy. They needed some passport photos that we didn't have and this caused some stress. (We got them later, see above.)The actual test seemed much harder to them than the practice tests we had been taking. They left the test feeling pretty down.
In turn, this made me feel pretty down. Maybe I didn't prepare them well enough. Maybe we shouldn't have gone down this path anyway if it is so difficult. A planned 'celebration' lunch after the test was late (due to some transport issues) and glum. They stared morosely at pizza they didn't like and asked to be taken home. It was so hard for me to see these 6 feel so down. They really are amazing kids and so talented in so many ways. I hate that I played a part in making them feel less confident, or question their abilities.
I came home and cried. They went home and went straight to bed. For something I have been working on all year, it felt like a setback. I don't know if any of them did well enough on the test to be admitted to ASU or MSU.
What I am sure about is no matter how this test went, they *will* be successful in the future. These kids are so resilient and have already overcome so much. When I see their work ethic and their commitment, I know they can't help but succeed. I look forward to seeing their progress as the years unfold.