Kate Curran: Changing Children’s Lives Through Education

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Name: Kate Curran 

Business: School the World 

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. 

Industry: Education & Training 

Reason for starting? I have always loved children. I thought I would have six of my own but life just did not turn out that way. So when I left my career as an executive and attorney at GE and began to travel, I was so moved by the children I met in Tanzania and Zambia and Argentina – kids sharing a pencil, kids crossing through crocodile-infested waters just to get to school every day and kids working under the hot Andean sun when they should have been in school – I was reminded of my old dream of starting a school one day or a nonprofit to protect children. And after a year plus traveling and witnessing the beauty of the world and common values shared by such disparate people around the world, I felt like I could accomplish anything. And so I started School the World. 

Related: Read about another education entrepreneur here. 

How do you define success? My definition of success is children from the poorest most disadvantaged environments going to school, loving school, loving learning and graduating primary school with the skills needed for that love of learning to propel them forward in the future. It is proving that even the poorest children love to learn, want to learn and are capable of learning. It is proving that when education delivers on its promises and children are learning, they will want to stay in school and their parents will support their education, no matter how poor. 

Biggest success: Our biggest success to date is one of our first and most challenging schools. Although it is not our model school, it is the one where the change is the most dramatic. In the beginning, the mothers were not even allowed to meet me, the school director was absent for weeks on end year after year and protected by his father-supervisor for the Ministry of Education. After four year, the mothers dominated the Parent’s Committee for the school and told me that when they had two teachers they did not like, “they just got rid of them!” Yeah! That is what I call sustainability! Empowered mothers! The drop-out rate was well over 50% when we started and after five years of working with the parents it is down to 25%! And more and more kids want to continue their education into middle school so we really need to raise more funds so we can give more scholarships for 7th-9th grade! 

What is your top challenge and how you have addressed it? Our top challenge is converting apathetic teachers often teaching for the reasons – i.e., the best job available — into passionate, believing educators. We address it first by empowering parents with the knowledge they need to understand what affects learning the most and the ability to begin to hold teachers accountable. At the same time, we improve morale by improving the physical environment for the children and the teachers with infrastructure and basic learning materials. We give the teachers an opportunity through extensive teacher training so that they can understand the power of their work, believe in their ability to teach children to read and realize their power to create change. Ideally the teacher becomes our partner but when disruption is necessary to change the status quo we take action. 

Related: TSE Quick Take: Oprah’s Influence

Who is your most important role model? My most important role model is my mother. She was a college graduate in 1947, first in her family. Despite being born with spina bifida, she had six children and worked so hard to give us the best life possible, freezing bread and going from store to store with her coupons to save money! She had a generosity of spirit that made everyone love her, even the “letter carrier” whom I will never forget becoming so emotional at her wake. I am sure my mother asked her every day – by name – how she is doing and if she would like a cold or hot beverage. She buried three children, lived her entire life in physical pain, yet believed God had been “so good to” her that she knew only gratitude for a “great life”. She made me absolutely crazy sending me to Stop & Shop with her coupons but she was a truly amazing woman. I miss her. 

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Edited by The Story Exchange

Posted: January 12, 2018

Victoria FlexnerKate Curran: Changing Children’s Lives Through Education