Life at a boarding school moves with rhythmic precision. Days follow strict agendas. Nights follow structured plans.
Rising before daybreak, the boys attend morning prayers, share a simple breakfast, gather for a morning assembly, and begin their first class by 8 AM. Moving in periods of 40 minutes, the bell rings for each new class to start as students remain in their room all day waiting for each teacher to arrive with their subject lesson.
A break at 10 AM, offers a reprieve for fresh-brewed Kenyan tea and a moment for the boys to stretch their legs and enjoy the morning sun. Another break beckons just before noon for students to visit the restroom, meet with teachers, and rest their minds for the second half of the day.
A 30-minute lunch starts at 1:10 PM, and students line up by form with their personal plates in hand to receive the daily meal. The menu rotates based on availability and prices at the market, shifting between ugali and cabbage, beans and rice, or githeri. While Kenyan meals have less variety than the American diet, students eagerly force their hands through the kitchen windows, and the teachers line up with great pleasure in the staff room to pile on their plates. When the bell marks the conclusion of lunch, students rush back to their classrooms for quick preps to review lessons and catch up on subjects before the final three blocks of classes bring the day to an end.
By 4 PM, classes conclude, and students are given time for “manual work” to meet with teachers, wash their clothes, and clean the classrooms or their boarding area. On certain days, manual labor is delayed for students to attend school assemblies or participate in club meetings, including scouts, journalism, dance, faith sharing, and drama.
Come 4:30 PM, games begin, and the field, basketball court, and volleyball pitch become overwhelmed with students. Even those students who do not enjoy sports are required to spend time outside cheering on, laughing, relaxing, and enjoying the games. While competitions are only recently returning, the energy and zeal on the field resemble that of men preparing for the final championship.
Around 5:30 PM, the dinner bell rings, and students slowly make their way from the field. Soon after dinner and showers, the students know that the evening will be filled with classes and required study time. Reprieve is not given until after 9 PM, when students are permitted to prepare for 10 PM lights-out.
Weekend schedules do not waiver much from the weekdays. The days still include classes and required study, but breaks for personal time and games are extended. When a Priest is available, students will participate in Saturday morning liturgies, but unfortunately, it is common for the priest to arrive late or not at all. On Saturday evenings, the assembly hall is transformed into a nightclub as loudspeakers are brought out, and students dance and laugh the night away.
For the teachers, their commitment to the students is unwavering. Many teachers arrive before 6 AM and, depending on the day’s schedule, often remain until after 7 PM. Even on weekends, it is not uncommon to see teachers walking to the school for classes and preps. They understand the rigor of the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination and the weight it holds in determining the fate of their students’ lives.
Saint Xavier High School in Bungoma, Kenya, is not unlike most other private schools in the world. The school has a committed faculty and staff who believe in the school’s mission and support the betterment of the students. As a result, the parents trust in the school’s work, and each parent knows their sons are headed for a brighter future.
What sets St. X Bungoma apart from other schools I’ve encountered is that the students here fully recognize the transformative gift of education. The students here are exceptionally well-behaved. Classroom management concerns and discipline issues I’ve faced at various private schools in the United States are nonexistent here. The students are incredibly attentive and respectful. To the man, each student participates in class to their fullest extent, and when they fall short, they are quick to apologize for even the most minor mistake. Perhaps it is fear of being caned? Maybe it is the understanding that their ability to pass the KCSE will affect their future?
As I wander the rows and proctor the seniors’ term exams, I find their tenacity and diligence admirable. Each understands that this moment is paramount to their prosperity. In similar exams on the other side of the world, I recall moments when American students often waned destress, knowing they could live off of their family success.
I wonder who these men might become if they had the same resources as schools in America. Would they strive for excellence or waste the opportunity like so many of their American peers?
In the center of the school grounds, a sign reads, “Strive to excel in all good things.” This phrase seems to have integrated itself into the central heart of this school. During each prep, the students strive to excel on an exam that marks the conclusion of their high school career. During each class, the students strive to excel in each lesson and assignment. During games, the students strive to excel on the field, performing with championship talent for a friendly scrimmage.
In a world that strives to ignore the success of much of the African continent, here in Bungoma, Kenya, students at Saint Xavier High School strive every minute of every day to achieve excellence in making a good difference for the world.
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