The Schoerke Foundation is a qualified tax exempt organization in the United States under Section 501( c ) ( 3 ) of the IRS Code.
The Foundation was founded in 2006 by Melissa Schoerke Koomson. Melissa is the wife and philanthropic partner of Kwesi Koomson, the founder of Heritage Academy, the Ghanaian school which the Foundation currently supports. Heritage Academy is a licensed and registered private educational institution in Ghana.
Kwesi Koomson was born in the village of Essiam in the Central Region of Ghana, 60 miles form the country’s capital of Accra. Essiam is a collection of bare cinder-block dwellings with tin roofs. It is a rare family that makes more than $2 a day. When Kwesi was a boy, his bright personality and intellect were recognized with special scholarships to prep schools in England and college and graduate school in the US. He now teaches, along with Melissa, at The Westtown School, a Quaker school near West Chester, Pannsylvania.
In 2004, Kwesi returned to his home village with the intent of starting a small school. He started his school in a church with 32 students and the Heritage Academy was born. Ironically, his initially “small school” idea has grown tremendously in scope, size and success. In 2011, the Heritage Academy enrollment stands at 1,057.
Unfortunately, the public school system in Ghana is severely under-funded and generally under-performs. It is overwhelmed with an estimated 50% of the Country’s 24 million population under the age of 15. Most children do not go beyond junior high. Good quality secondary school is extremely difficult to be accepted into and is expensive. Furthermore, the educational system is based on the old English system of rote memorization and rigid adherence to nationalized standardized tests, a vestige of colonial rule. Students must pass the Basic Education Certificate Exam (BECE) at the end of junior high to go on to secondary school. Most students do not pass.
Kwesi has noted, “There are so many people in my village and all throughout Ghana just like me, people who could do really great things, but they just never get the chance.”
A New Kind of Education
Kwesi’s vision was to create a new kind of school -- a progressive school -- that would not only produce graduates who could pass the national exams, but could also think critically and be positioned to do well through the college level, and in life. In addition, Kwesi’s vision included a student value structure that is designed to result in a call to give back to the community - to pass-on the kinds of opportunities afforded by Heritage to others.
Heritage Academy, the motto of which is “Knowledge and Integrity” has very distinctive characteristics that are leading the way toward a new form of education in Ghana.
- Girl empowerment. In general, every year a girl stays in school, her income increases by as much as 20%, and her children have a higher survival rate. Women invest 90% of their income in their families. A woman who is educated will marry later and have fewer, healthier children. At Heritage, girls and boys are equal. There are an equal number of girls and boys as students, and Heritage empowers girls in more ways than academics. Just one example: Heritage was the first school in the district to have a girls’ soccer team. Today, 17 other schools have girls’ soccer teams.
No corporal punishment. Caning is common in most Ghanaian schools. Kwesi was told that it would be impossible to maintain order without caning. But there is no caning at Heritage, and only one student over five years has ever been expelled due to disciplinary problems. Students are respected as individuals, expectations are made clear, parents are brought into the process, and very few disciplinary issues arise. This principle is based on the belief that students need a certain degree of decision-making freedom to explore and maximize their learning potential.
Alternative subjects are taught. The standard curriculum is mathematics, English, French, general science, and social studies. In the summer program, Heritage has added subjects like creative writing, critical thinking, geography, entrepreneurship, music, philosophy, and agricultural science. In addition, the seven core values of Heritage are emphasized: Knowledge, Integrity, Responsibility, Respect, Discipline, Simplicity and Hard Work.
- A pre-K program is offered. It has been demonstrated over and over again, that a head start for children as young a 2 years is an important determinant of future academic success. The public school system is especially ill equipped to cope with younger children. Therefore, Heritage offers a pre-school program that provides basics like rhymes, poems, alphabets and numbers that primes these young students for successful entry into primary school.
Heritage Academy has grown from 32 students in 2004 to 1,057 students in 2011, something quite unheard of in Ghana. A second location was established in Ochiso also in the Central District. However, demand continues to explode and the Academy struggles to keep up. The reasons for this extraordinary success are two fold. The first is the progressive approach that, in spite of the naturally traditional nature of the culture, has become much respected and admired in the community. 1,000 community members attended the 2009 graduation as a sign of heart-felt approval.
The second is the unprecedented educational accomplishment of Heritage. In 2007, Heritage’s first graduating class achieved a 97% pass rate on the BECE National exams; in 2008 it was 100%; in 2009 it was 100%; in 2010 it was 100%; ad in 2011 it was again 100%. Some students performed spectacularly well, including a perfect score. The norm pass rate for private schools in Heritage’s region is 50%. The pass rate for the public school in Ochiso village in 2009 was 0%. In addition, 100% of the graduates of Heritage Academy have been placed in secondary schools.
Long Term Vision
The Schoerke Foundation was founded to:
award scholarships to students to attend Heritage Academy, and other progressive and successful schools
fund a summer school operated by Heritage primarily for local public school students
provide scholarships to deserving Heritage graduates to attend secondary school
raise capital support for needed infrastructure, like buildings and buses
- offer grants to American students to travel to Ghana to teach, experience the culture and help others.
The Foundation’s longer term vision is help spread the best educational practices and success of the Heritage Academy to other schools in Ghana. However, our primary focus for the foreseeable future is to help Heritage continue to improve and expand its programs, stabilize financially, and eventually achieve self-sufficiency.
In June, 2010, the Foundation received a very generous and extraordinary restricted gift for Heritage Academy to establish a secondary school. The gift specifically allows Heritage to build a classroom building to accommodate approximately 100 secondary school students. This is truly a watershed event, because it will allow Heritage to apply its progressive educational philosophy, and its “Knowledge and Integrity” value structure directly from pre-K through secondary school. The first secondary classes are planned to begin in the Fall of 2011.