The Power of Schools

By: Natalie Jaeger – Principal at Big Sky High School

Sometimes in my day to day work as an educator and school administrator I forget how powerful schools are in the life of a society.

Our first site yesterday was visiting the New Generation secondary school of YSEALI alumni Bunnath Pham. Bunnath visited me at Big Sky High School in 2015. The New Generation School is a public school that has has been part of an education reform initiative across Cambodia. I gave a presentation to staff and visited in classrooms. Students explained their projects about Khmer native nutrition and the de-salination of water and asked questions about school the US. Students were curious and friendly and easily shared smiles with me. I also visited the traditional public school where I saw broken furniture, garbage on the floors of the classrooms and students and staff were less welcoming.

I am inspired by the major change the staff, students and parents are embarking on at New Generation Schools. They are literally changing the course of education in Cambodia. School leaders spoke with me of the importance of changes that would not just have an impact for the next five years, but of generational change – a heavy, but necessary vision in this country.

The other place we visited yesterday was the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It is notable to me that this prison was created from a school building (see picture above). Literally the school was closed and the classrooms were partitioned off into prison cells. During the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia public school was suspended and educators were targeted to be imprisoned and killed. A whole generation of teachers and professors were lost to the genocide – impacting the education of an entire country.

I was reminded how essential equity in education is to a strong democracy. I am an educator because I know education gives students and their families the chance to change their lives and their communities. I believe it deep in my heart, but I was reminded today why I am passionate about public education.

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