Eight thousand miles may separate Quest Forward Academy Omaha in Nebraska from Mtakuja Secondary School in Moshi, Tanzania, but they share a common goal: to successfully and thoroughly implement Quest Forward Learning. To achieve this, each location’s Quest Forward Coordinator tackles very different responsibilities for very different reasons at each school.
Mark Smith is the Director of Quest Forward Academy Omaha and also the school’s Quest Forward Coordinator. Prior to this position, Mark served as the vice principal at a public high school in Omaha. Currently, 33 students are enrolled in the Academy, which is located on the campus of Bellevue University. As its Coordinator and Director, Mark cites the university’s proximity and resources, which include access to their cafeteria, library, and computer labs, as an ideal setup for him to focus primarily on school operations instead of logistics.
Boaz Msechu also holds a number of important roles at Mtakuja Secondary School. In addition to being the Quest Forward Coordinator, he serves as the Head of the English department and the Project Coordinator for partnerships and community projects. Mtakuja oversees 122 Quest Forward students, who not only study at the school but also live there. Almost all private schools in Tanzania are boarding schools because students travel great distances for their education. Unlike Mark, Boaz serves as the chairperson for the school’s food and meal planning.
Both Mark and Boaz taught in traditional classrooms prior to implementing Quest Forward Learning. They agree that the process of transitioning into a Quest Forward Learning classroom highlighted the limits of their nations’ educational norms. For Boaz, one of his largest challenges as a Coordinator has been ensuring that all classrooms have electricity. Traditional classrooms in Tanzania face frequent power outages, and many classrooms are built without electrical access simply because they don’t need it. Located on the equator, Tanzanian classrooms are well-lit and temperate. Likewise, students don’t need functioning internet or electrical outlets to read their textbook, take notes, or listen to their teacher. With the introduction of Quest Forward Learning and its accompanying technology, Boaz’s attention turned to generators and extension cords in addition to his other responsibilities.
In Omaha, the electrical resources didn’t pose a challenge for Mark as he transitioned from his public high school to Quest Forward Academy. Instead, he had to acclimate to the freedom and responsibility of making changes associated with managing a Quest Forward Learning curriculum. The large classes sizes, mandated standards, and regulated curricula of a large public high school left little room for innovation. “When there is change, it’s always little change,” Mark says. “Here, we’re evaluating all the time. If we decide that something is not working, we have the freedom to change it. We’re expected to change it.”
From their opposite sides of the globe, Mark and Boaz agree on one thing: The success of a Quest Forward program is in the hands of its mentors. Tanzanian Quest Forward school mentors and US Academy mentors both attend four-day workshops prior to the start of their school years, to learn about the Quest Forward methodology and to begin planning their courses. According to Mark, Quest Forward Learning is only successful when mentors embrace the methodology and incorporate it into their practice.
Boaz stresses that mentors also need to develop an awareness of their own teaching methods. “For a school to have a successful implementation,” he observes, “teachers must have an awareness of how they teach and the impact it has on students.” This advice applies to any Quest Forward program, anywhere in the world. Quest Forward Coordinators help mentors develop this awareness by observing their classes and reflecting on how a mentor’s methods align with the program goals. When a school faculty collaborates successfully, their multiple perspectives generate expectations that support and guide student achievement.