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Rwanda Scholars



Rwanda Scholars is a program at Spring Street International School that accepts high school juniors from Rwanda and prepares them for higher education in North America.

Zula, our first graduating Rwanda Scholar, has been accepted at a top US college and an excellent Canadian university, both on full 4-year scholarships.

More importantly, Zula (in the red scarf) has had time to adapt to life outside Rwanda by making friends and being part of a caring community. Her future is a bright one—academically and personally.

Your gift will open the same doors for two more girls.

Thank you!


Between April 6 and early July 1994, a period of just three months, genocide of unprecedented swiftness left up to 20% of Rwanda’s population dead. Pervasive war rape spread HIV/AIDS to women and babies; by the late 1990s, the virus had infected 13% of the population.

Since that terrible time, ethnicity in Rwanda has been formally outlawed. The postwar government has placed a high priority on development, bringing water to remote areas, providing free and compulsory education, and implementing environmental policies with the goal by 2020 of achieving a service-based society and a significant middle class. Remarkably, there is little corruption, and the right to equal status for women is guaranteed by law.

Spring Street’s partner Rwandan school, the Gashora Girls Academy, is an upper-secondary boarding school for 270 girls founded by the Seattle-based Rwanda Girls Initiative. It envisions its graduates as “inspired young leaders filled with confidence, a love of learning, and a sense of economic empowerment to strengthen their communities and foster Rwanda’s growth.”

A former Spring Street teacher now teaches at the Gashora Girls Academy. Here’s what she writes about her strong, motivated students:

I should say that these are amazing girls. They are admitted largely based on their national exam scores and are essentially the smartest girls in the country. They all excel in math and sciences, and those who have taken the SAT do relatively well, not surprisingly, on the math section. What they are really lacking is critical thinking skills, which they just don't get in the Rwandan curriculum. I so want to see these girls succeed and get the opportunities they deserve that I just couldn't help but ask if there might be some way for them to come to Friday Harbor.

In January 2014, Spring Street enrolled its first Rwandan student: Zula. For this young woman, a Spring Street education provides benefits such as critical thinking skills and multiple points of entry to higher education not available at schools following the Rwandan national curriculum and system for post-secondary placement. The benefits accrue largely from Spring Street’s rigorous and highly individuated programs, not only in science and technology, but in the arts and humanities as well. Additionally, many US colleges and universities seek the sort of diversity that comes with an African student; being enrolled at Spring Street is a natural way for Zula, and her recently arrived schoolmate Michaella, to gain from that interest.

Many Rwandan students are accepted to US schools, but few can afford to attend. For even the wealthiest Rwandans, the cost of US private school tuition is absurd. Without scholarships for foreign students like Zula, the opportunities afforded by a US education are mere fantasies.

Friday Harbor and the San Juans are positioned perfectly to serve as a safe and welcoming environment for students like Zula as they take their first homesick journey to life in the US.


Spring Street International School (SSIS) is a private non-profit co-educational school located in Friday Harbor, a town of 2,178 in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. The school serves 75 day and 25 boarding students in grades 5–12. Students come from nearby islands, the broader US, and other countries.

The mission of SSIS is to mentor its students to achieve academic mastery, internal strength, global perspective and integrity. Its guiding philosophy is to teach students, not classes, allowing faculty members to vary teaching methods that meet each student’s individual level of development. Students learn to put theory into practice on local and international expeditions that build character and group cooperation, preparing them for success in higher education and life.

Each fall, the entire school packs up and heads for the North Cascades Wilderness for 5 days on the trail, rain or shine. After returning safely one year, a 6th grade international student from Beijing wrote about the experience, “When I saw the mountains the first time, my jaw dropped open. I thought, ‘this is impossible.’” Over the years, SSIS students have engaged in experiential travel and service projects on 5 of the world’s 7 continents.

SSIS graduates are regularly accepted at highly selective colleges and universities, often with scholarships. Its faculty of 18 teachers, most of whom hold a Master’s or higher degree, has been recognized by the College Board, based on student performance on standardized tests and judged against the national average for schools with fewer than 500 students, as "best in the world." Facilities include 5 buildings on a 2-acre campus, with 9 classrooms, a science lab, a music studio, and a new dormitory.

A volunteer Board of Trustees meets each month and is composed of 10 voting members and 2 non-voting members who serve as faculty and parent representatives, respectively. The majority of voting members are parents of former students.

SSIS opened in the fall of 1995, led by Founders Peg and Ted Hope, and has since graduated 175 students. Today, SSIS is the definition of a community school, providing island families with vital independent educational choice regardless of ability to pay. More than half of all day-student tuition revenues come from grassroots fundraising led by a passionate corps of volunteers. Over the last 5 years (2011–2015) volunteer efforts raised more than $500,000 from local donors in financial aid for island students. Volunteers are also instrumental in keeping administrative and maintenance costs low, assisting SSIS in a wide spectrum of expertise, from professional legal and financial assistance to hands-on work doing carpentry, painting, and building renovation.

Spring Street’s unique combination of a spectacular location, new dormitory facilities, deeply experienced faculty, expeditionary excursions, whole-person philosophy, small classes, intensive academics, and impressive college placements qualify it, uniquely in the islands, for the honor of serving students like Zula. If Spring Street succeeds, as it has in the past, there is little doubt that other good schools in the region will be quick to follow its lead.


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3 years ago