This year, the AASA International Seminar takes us to Morocco. The education system here provides free schooling that includes six years of a primary education, three years of middle and intermediate schooling and three years of secondary. School attendance is compulsory up to the age of 13. The system focuses on erasing illiteracy and the languages of instruction are Arabic and French. Pre-primary programs are also available to children of ages 4-6.
This year’s Delegation includes 22 participants. AASA President Deb Kerr and AASA President-elect Kristi Sandvik are part of the group along with three AASA Past-Presidents. Our first school visit was to the Ecole Lhadchat, a tribal school outside the city of Merrakech. It is a school of 110 students at the primary level. The school operates a daily split session with half of them attending in the morning and the other half in the afternoon.
Our group was overwhelmed by the welcome we received. A tent was raised outside the school full of the parents of the children. We shook hands and hugs with them as they told us how honored they were to have us visit. The principal of the school, Mr. Abdul Wahat, greeted us along with the chief of the local tribe and the Imam.
After the welcoming, we went to the school which consisted of two classrooms, each one holding about 25 students.
The children were thrilled to see us. They regaled us with songs and we returned the favor by singing, “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands…” to them. It did not take long for our delegation to fall in love with these beautiful children. The school consists of three classrooms and one of them is not usable because it leaks when it rains and the ceiling and walls are crumbling. That means that two classrooms have to accommodate six grade levels in two daily shifts. The school has a total of four teachers including the principal. The most alarming development is that there is no available water. There are no toilets and relief is sought in a ditch behind the school.
Yet, the children are happy. They walk a mile or more to school but they are getting an education.
For all of us coming from America, this is a situation that is totally foreign to us. The school needs a well that would cost about $3,000 dollars and fixing the third unusable classroom would be another $10,000. Those are amounts that are impossible to attain by that community. We all want to give, we all want to help.
It is this attitude of caring that makes me so proud of my colleagues. They do what they do because they truly care about and love children. Everyone is taking pictures with them, hugging them and kissing them. It’s hard to say goodbye. The kids hang around until we are all on our bus. Even then, they line the road to wave goodbye.
We are in Morocco, an Islamic country, but that is never a point of consideration. These are beautiful children that respond to the love and affection we feel for them. We will do whatever we can to help them build their well and reconstruct their third classroom. After all, we are the champions for children and public education.
Dan Domenech is the executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association.