Abena Mkawasi Nkurmah

Abena Mkawasi Nkrumah attended Woodland Star from 2011 to 2013, and was one of the original seventeen students who attended Woodland Star when it first opened. Although Abena currently lives in Virginia, she plans to pursue a degree in Illustration at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. Her experience at Woodland Star enriched her artistic abilities and encouraged her to choose a career in the arts.

“I love art. I enjoy using mediums to express emotion and tell stories. My goal is to become a professional illustrator and animator. I want to create designs for books and magazines in addition to animating for companies like Pixar or Dreamworks. Currently, I am working on independent art commissions. Honing my skills outside of the classroom gives me a feel for what life as a freelance artist could be like. Woodland Star played a major role in my extensive, budding career as an artist. The special ‘freedom of learning’ at Woodland Star shaped how I interact with new and unknown challenges to this day.

One thing about Woodland Star that stood out to me was how the classes were geared towards creative thinking and imagination. This kind of educational freedom and creative structure taught me that there are so many different ways to learn. I’ve carried this lesson with me through every transition I’ve been through since leaving Woodland Star. It provided a safe space for growth as a person, a student, and an artist. Performing in plays and recitals encouraged me to try out for roles when I transferred to high school in Nairobi. Learning different art forms (including musical instruments, poetry, and dance) taught me to dabble and venture outside of my comfort zone. Woodland Star School was a little treasure trove of growth and possibilities for me. It actualized  my potential and helped to pave the way to where I am now in my career. I am so grateful to the teachers, staff, directors, and students who made my time at Woodland Star so formative. I hope current and incoming students can have the same memorable experience.”

Kofi Amoafo

Kofi Amoafo was one of the original seventeen students who attended Woodland Star when it first opened. He spent three years at Woodland Star before completing high school at a larger international school in Nairobi. Currently, Kofi attends Ashesi University in Ghana and is a member of the Melton Foundation, a prestigious institution for exemplary global scholars. His poem “Morning strolls in on violin strings” was recently published in SONKU Writers, a literary magazine based out of Temple University. Kofi is only twenty years old and has a bright future ahead of him in the field of poetry and literature.

“When I think back to my first day of school at Woodland Star, I remember being scared. I was joining a new school, my first international one. I was pensive, unsure, and very worried for what I did not yet know. However, as scared as I was, I was also excited. There was a rush in my stomach as the expectation of what was to come rattled my insides. I felt a strange wind on my back that, little did I know, was going to soon ferry my young sails to shores I could then never have imagined.

Thinking back on it, Woodland Star was always going to be a unique experience for me. In the enlightening discourse between teacher and student – mentor and friend – I came across a gift that Woodland Star would impart to me that would change my life. It was here, amongst vocabulary quizzes and art lessons that I stumbled upon poetry; it was here that Woodland Star awoke in me something that I had been waiting for all of my life. In my latter years at the school Woodland Star offered a poetry class. I was twelve. The words came spilling from my fingers and I did not know from where; all I knew was that very suddenly I was very in love. I still remember the name of my first poem: “Running across the field of battle – an image.” I could not stop writing. I loved the opportunity to picture things and search my memory for rhymes. I would see sunsets, rolling hills, and the eyes of the girl I liked. Poetry gave me the ability to store all these images and emotions and then write about them. It was a gift that I had never experienced before.

I recall going to the Hay Festival, a festival hosted in Kenya that is concerned with the arts. There, we joined a poetry workshop facilitated by poets Lemn Sissay and Imtiaz Dharker, and their words caught me in a spell and sent me imagining a day I could express my own thoughts and tribulations as well and as beautiful as they could. They taught me how to title poems, how to allow them to be simple or complex, and how to simply be inspired by the casual and mundane. It was Woodland Star that even enabled me to go to the festival and when my teachers saw worth in the words I was writing, I realize that I, too, would value them for the rest of my lifetime.

I can never forget to thank Woodland Star for what it inspired in me. Even today, as I begin to get poems published, I think back on those days. If only I’d known that the excitement wasn’t just about starting school – it was about school starting in me something I would forever cherish.

Below is the poem I got published. It is many things at different points to different people. However, in this moment, it is an ode to Woodland Star and what it gave to me.”

Morning strolls in on violin strings

Morning strolls in on violin strings
and Billy’s lost kite is tangled in the grass
with the never-went-to-sleep spiders.
Corn turns to ballroom of dancers and
the wind tiptoeing among them
stills enough for
the birds; wings reprise, as
yellow tulips aglow purple in the
slow sun’s waning wink,
the dew turns to nuggets of gold and
diamonds –
rebirth:
tossed back across the sky,
unfolded paper of day.
yawning creases and crumples smoothened into hopeful promises.
I squeeze my palms shut and hold nothing.
Perfect.
So early, there is endless space in them
to seize the day.

Merideth McKelvey

Meredith McKelvey was one of the original seventeen students who attended Woodland Star when it first opened. After completing high school at a larger international school in Nairobi, Meredith published a successful travel blog during her gap year called “The Alchemy of Wandering.” She currently attends Emory University in Atlanta, where she is busy studying political science and as many other subjects that fit into her academic schedule as possible. In addition to working alongside disenfranchised groups in the greater Atlanta area, Meredith is in the process of publishing research about ethnicity and eating disorders. She hopes to have a career in journalism that connects environmental injustice to international conflicts.

“Woodland Star was a place of healing and acceptance for me after I was bullied in other schools. Like many children in the international community, my family moved across continents several times during my childhood. I had already attended five different schools by the time I turned twelve. In addition to never really learning how to make long-lasting friendships, I was identified as a “gifted” learner at a young age. Many gifted children defy traditional stereotypes and roles – we’re androgynous, highly intelligent, brutally honest, and somewhat eccentric. The characteristics that contribute to my giftedness are the same ones that made me a target of bullying in every school I had gone to before Woodland Star.

The teachers at Woodland Star understood how to make me value my giftedness once again. The unstructured approach of the classes gave me space to connect a vast array of concepts that most other educational systems would disregard. There was no such thing as “too creative.” Instead of being dismissive whenever I came up with an unusual idea, my teachers asked me to explain my reasoning and followed my thought process with encouragement. While the unstructured approach developed my creative capacity, it also pushed me to be more disciplined in other ways. My teachers realized early on that I had not been challenged enough in other educational systems. I had problems with procrastination because, prior to attending Woodland Star, I could rely on intelligence alone to complete academic assignments. In a more unstructured environment without clear benchmarks of what was “good enough,” I had to learn how to manage my time better in order to produce truly excellent work. Being smart wasn’t enough anymore – my giftedness could be actualized more fully when I was organized.

Apart from building strong academic foundations, Woodland Star has an incredible ability to prepare students for life outside the classroom. I remember learning how to genuinely laugh again as I made new friends during the first few weeks of school. I found the courage to play my violin in public, and secretly cried tears of joy after some of my teachers told me that they loved hearing my music. Members of the Woodland Star community continuously reinforced me with positive messages as I gradually blossomed into the confident, charismatic person that I was always meant to be. I still keep in touch with a few teachers who continue to mentor me through the upheavals of young adulthood. My experience at Woodland Star has guided me through my academic career at Emory University and various artistic and intellectual pursuits. As I work towards a professional career in journalism, I will always remember the lessons of tenacity and resiliency that I learned at Woodland Star.”