Saturday February 15 2014

Teacher Winnie Bagonza: More than 20 years with the children

Teacher Winnie Bagonza

Teacher Winnie Bagonza 

By Grace Kenganzi

When it is time for the child to start school, there is always the search for that school where your child will learn and come home happy. It is through the search for such a school that Winnie Bagonza got into a field that has now become her career –teaching. The career has grown quite a reputation for her since her name comes up fairly often among parents who are discussing kindergarten and daycare.

Now a mother of a boy and three girls aged between 24 and 14, Bagonza narrates how she got into teaching. “I was one of those picky parents because I wanted my child to be treated a particular way, every school has its own policies and procedures different from the parents’. I decided to find a way I could achieve this,” she describes what pushed her into a career for which she had not been trained. See, Bagonza was an hotelier at the time, working with Nile Hotel (present-day Kampala Serena Hotel).

She started by homeschooling her children and a few others, together with a German friend, Anker Alemayehu, guided by the children’s needs. They did the teaching at Alamayehu’s home, at what is now Rainbow International School. “And we did pretty well because the children seemed happy and eager to come to school. Basically, we were working as parents, not as professionals,” Bagonza recounts.

Professionalising her passion
After two years of working as a parent, Bagonza decided to seek proper teaching qualifications. “I felt there were more issues in life for example, children with special needs. I did early childhood development, special education needs and a teacher training course –where I learnt how to train teachers, because I felt it would be useless for me to come back with all my knowledge and not know how to impact it,” she highlights the scope of training she got while in the UK. She went ahead to teach at Rainbow International School for about nine years.

Starting her own school
In 2005, she returned to Uganda and opened Wind Chimes with only four children. When she talks about that time, she laughs at how grim it all looked, saying she even resorted to having friends’ children in the school at no cost. “But a school is not a school without children so at least I had children,” she explains.

Throughout this “grim” picture that the first year presented, she stayed true to her rule against advertising as she believes that the children’s emotions and feelings when they return from school should be the ones to do the advertising. Her resolve paid off since the school now has more than 100 children, spread out in five classes, each with a maximum capacity of 24 children. The older children are taken up in the British School of Kampala, also owned by Teacher Bagonza, as she is fondly called by the parents and children she takes care of.

Bagonza’s tips on pre-primary issues
Why a child cannot just start off in Primary One:
The foundation years equip the child with skills that they will use in the future. Bagonza does this by molding the children in different ways. “In the Reception class, which is the first class, we deal with personal, social and emotional development, which is basically toilet training, the crying, and learning self-help skills like putting socks and shoes on.
“It is those same skills like dressing up or lacing the shoes that you need for handwriting because you use the same muscles –the three fingers you use to lace the shoes, are the same fingers you use to write. So all those different activities like beading are just to prepare the child for primary school,” says Bagonza, explaining how what looks like simple learning translates into a wider skill.

To help your child stand out
While some children have the ability to draw attention to themselves through their character, these are few and easily risk getting swallowed up in the crowd.
“As a parent, you may be busy but take time off and be part of what is happening in the child’s school. If there are parent-teacher consultations, or meetings, be there and make your presence relevant. I have made sure that we get noticed in every school my children have been to. Not because I want to be noticed but because I don’t want my children to get lost in the crowd.

“So the only way you can do that is that you make some contribution to the school. And I don’t mean a financial contribution, make an intellectual contribution. Find out where you can help. Even if the child is very laid back, it’s okay. The only way you can help that child is by getting them noticed as a parent,” she says.

Learning errors:
There are things Bagonza has seen parents do, usually ignorant of the long term effects on their children. She shares some of these:

Not embracing their children as unique individuals. The failure to appreciate each child for their individual achievements expecting them to grasp things at the same rate. This usually results in self-consciousness, or a child aiming to only gain acceptance from the parents. To ensure that each child is appreciated individually, Bagonza groups the children in the five classes by age and/or ability rather than strictly by age. She, for instance, freely moves children forward without waiting for the end of the term or school year, as long as they master a certain level’s skills.

Not appreciating the person you leave your child with. Bagonza explains that some parents believe their money will buy them the care. She, however, encourages parents to appreciate the people that ensure the wellbeing and comfort of their children.
Leaving your child’s education entirely to the school. When you involve yourself in a child’s education, you remain in sync with their teachers regarding your child’s development.

Impatience, which leads to school hopping. It is true that every school offers certain things, but every child is different. A child needs continuity and consistency in their life. Instead of changing schools, go over to the school and address the issue.

pre-primary SCHOOL choices
Bagonza gives some guidelines for scouting for one:
Make a personal visit to the school. The first feeling you get about the school on your first visit is really important. Also, ask numerous questions to ascertain whether the school feels right for what you are looking for.

The reception you get. If you feel intimidated by the people you meet at the school, it is likely that your child will feel the same.
Safety and Security. Check the playground and the toys –more for how appropriate they are than how exotic.

Is there anything to hide? It is worrisome if a school asks you to let them know before you come. Not that we encourage parents to interrupt classes but they should be able to drop in when they can.
Know what you want. Research and compare different curriculums on offer and decide which one you want for your child.
Location. The closer, the more convinient.

Winnie Bagonza was born in 1968. She is 45 years old.
Before starting Wind Chimes and British School of Kampala, she worked as an hotelier for about five years with Sheraton Kampala Hotel and Nile Hotel. Education
Loreto Conventry Songari in Kenya for primary school.
O-Level at Berkeley High School and Namasagali College
A-Level at Kaimosi Girls in Kenya
Kianda College for Secretarial Studies
Studied Hotel Management at Utali College, completed it through an International Labour Organisation programme at Fairway Hotel. City and Islington College, Metropolitan University, Axlebridge University in the UK for a diploma in Early Childhod Development and a certificate in Special needs education.