Materi Girls: School where rules are unheard of but the girls turn out just right
|Materi Girls Principal Sebastian Mbae with students at the flower bedecked fresh grave of the late Bro. John in the school compound.|
SEE ALSO :Boda boda rider runs over police officer“We had no timetables, for instance. It was assumed that common sense was sufficient for one to toe the line that others were following. No one would tell you that morning prayers at 5am were mandatory or that prep time fell within particular hours. There were no rules to be broken.” The school’s rewarding system for excellence in class work was different from what most schools do. Those who took positions one to five in their classes for three consecutive terms qualified automatically for scholarships that ran into their remaining academic years, but would be withdrawn without notice if they relapsed. “Once you came to Materi Girls’, no one pushed you around as to what you should do because it was assumed that everyone was responsible enough to do the right thing,” says Kendi. Unlike other schools at the time, bullying was foreign at Materi. The school’s principal of three decades, Sebastian Mbae, confirms the absence of written rules at the school. “What we have are guidelines, not written rules as you know them. We have a school culture that all students are expected to shape up to or ship out if they prove totally incongruent,” says Mr Mbae. Family culture
SEE ALSO :Photos: CS Matiang’i inspects PSVsThe principal says it pays to show human beings that they are responsible instead of watching over them like sheep. “It has worked for Materi as we have never had a recorded strike or school uprising all these years,” he says. Mbae attributes the school’s academic success in a difficult terrain to the family culture assiduously cultivated over the years. “Here, every teacher plays either father or mother to the girls with the responsibility of instilling the right character and discipline in students. Twelve of the 32 academic staff members are trained counsellors in various aspects of adolescent behaviour,” he says. The school’s head girl, 17-year-old Yvonne Kagwiria says the love and adoration showered on the girls plays a role in ensuring that they do not stray from the expected norm. “The seed was sown by Bro John who went out of his way to provide nail polish for our nails, lip stick, earrings and bangles to enhance our beauty. We paid a token for it while those from disadvantaged backgrounds had free helpings. Where else does that happen? Small things such as sodas and biscuits on Valentine’s Day count in winning the loyalty of girls. We feel loved and wanted during our sojourn here,” she says.
SEE ALSO :Sonko suspends matatus CBD banAfter a pause, he says: “Bro John belonged to that rare breed of parents who believe in giving everything to their children to the extent of denying themselves earthly comfort. It was normal to see him in shoes torn at the soles, his socks squidgy with water during the rains. He didn’t feel discomfort when it came to the girls and his staff.” But the school’s uniqueness benefited Mbae. Mbae’s promotion to principal was dramatic, coming just one and a half years into his graduation with a Bachelor of Education degree from Kenyatta University where he majored in mathematics and physics. He reminisces: “Bro John must have seen something rare in me. But I was hesitant. I asked for two weeks to ‘think it over’. I reluctantly accepted to try and the rest is history. I have never been to any other school, since.” Mbae has five children, but he and his wife regard the 780 girls in the school their daughters. This culture without rules, how does it relate to sound discipline? “The school has cultivated an atmosphere where the administration and teachers are close to the students, an ingredient that dissolves discontent. Being open and creating a free atmosphere where grievances are aired without hindrance or fear of victimisation at all levels helps. Dialogue must be encouraged at all times. We have done that here,” Mr Mbae says with a grin. The team of teachers with motherly and fatherly attributes helps the students solve most problems not related to school work. As an afterthought, Mbae says: “I know you must be asking ‘why a male principal?’. To me, girls are just like boys but for the fact that they are feminine. “Their problems including adolescence are the same. This idea that girls’ schools must be headed by women and vice versa is nothing but a stereotype. What really matters is the personality and status of the man or woman in charge.” Head girl Kagwiria and her deputy Vivian Nkirote concur. Out of the principal’s earshot, Kagwiria confides: “Mr Mbae knows how to handle the girls. We are sincerely proud of him”.