When a learner completes their Ordinary Level, the conventional idea is to head straight to Advanced Level without much delay.
That is the structure that has always been followed.
However, some believe the regular school curriculum may not be enough to prepare model young adults and professionals who will change the world.
The gap saw the birth of STAR Leadership Academy in 2019.
STAR Leadership Academy is a one-year intensive educational and experiential learning program that provides African students with critical leadership skills, improves their cultural awareness, and builds a commitment to servant leadership and nation-building.
The programme focuses on learners who have completed their Ordinary Level and are waiting to advance to Advanced Level.
Three years into its run, SLA is already showing great promise, as students who have enrolled in the Academy are thriving academically and solving problems in their respective communities.
The 38 students from the inaugural cohort in 2019 who have just completed high school passed their exams with flying colours with a 100 percent pass rate in both the Cambridge A-Level and International Baccalaureate (IB) exams.
One such student is Caroline Mukosera, who attended Dominican Convent and attained 3As in her Cambridge Examinations.
At first, Mukosera was unsure whether to join SLA as it was an institution she had not heard of before.
“I was sceptical of taking a gap year and being a pioneer at SLA. However, I decided to deviate from the norm and took a bold step into the unknown. It became one of the best and most beneficial decisions I have ever made,” she said.
Through choosing to apply and the subsequent enrolment, she says she experienced immense personal growth.
“The entire SLA experience was a continuous challenge to me, physically, mentally and spiritually. These challenges have helped me grow in these three aspects.
From the first day of orientation week to the last day of graduation, SLA has challenged me to step outside my comfort zone,” Mukosera said.
SLA is rooted in the Christian faith, which helped her grow a more personal relationship with God.
“The goal-setting and time management lessons I received also helped me enter my new academic stage with purpose. I planned my studies, set goals, and did not let my time go to waste.
During my A level studies, SLA continued to be a robust support system. I appreciated having mentors and advisors who genuinely wanted me to succeed, who were interested in my journey and took their time to contribute to it. It is not something that I could get from teachers,” said Mukosera.
Another student, Thembani Ngwenya, still remembers her work to convince her parents to allow her to enrol at SLA.
“Being part of the pioneers of the Academy and not having any reference to what it was all about, took a lot of tears and nights of research to convince my parents to let me take a whole year off school, but it all paid off,” she said.
She says one of the most vital virtues she earned at the institute includes selflessness and working for the greater good of society.
“STAR Leadership Academy does not only crave community, but it also fosters it. It fosters a WE mentality. Through sessions like Know Your Land, Values and also the volunteering sessions, we learned that there is more to life than just yourself and the time to grab the bull by its horns is now,” said Ngwenya.
In 2019, Ngwenya joined the Youth for Our Planet Movement, a youth collective calling on world leaders to urgently act for nature, the climate, and the oceans, as a country mobiliser.
“I am also a co-founder of a tutoring program, Ace_It Tutorials and ambassador of the Future Africa Ambassador Programme. I believe all this will help in making Vision 2030 a reality,” said Ngwenya.
She hopes to be an influential figure in society in the future and has already begun working towards that.
“I was able to take up a few leadership roles at Dominican Convent, where I resumed High School for my A levels in 2020.
I was elected a senior prefect and also co-Captain of the CASSA Choir, among many others,” she said.
Ngwenya attained 3As in the recently released Cambridge Examinations results and is awaiting admission decisions following American colleges’ applications.
Her options are architecture and engineering.
“I hope to be an architectural engineer, introducing structural development in Africa.
“Through SLA, I got the fantastic opportunity to meet the brightest minds in the country and surround myself with lifelong friendships, networks, allies, but above all, I got to take on new lenses on my worldview whilst having fun doing it,” said Ngwenya.
For Mnumzana Moyo, his SLA journey started with an unusual request from his school prefects when he was in Form 4.
“Uyabizwa nguNcube ndoda (Mr Ncube wants to see you),” one of the prefects whispered to me.
In his four years of high school, he had never been summoned to the headmaster’s office.
“With my heart thumping heavily against the inside walls of my chest, I made my way to Mr Ncube’s office, unsure what I had done wrong.
He greeted me with a smile while handing me an acceptance letter from the STAR Leadership Academy, much to my relief,” said Moyo.
Despite not knowing much about SLA in 2019, his decision to join was fruitful.
“The lessons I received from SLA were invaluable. I learned how to plan a volunteer activity from scratch from the Volunteering classes. With that knowledge, I found myself taking part in clean-up campaigns and visiting children’s homes in and around Harare,” added Moyo.
The experience saw him apply what he had learnt in environmental advocacy in his classwork when he eventually returned to conventional school at St George’s College.
Being at SLA widened Moyo’s view of the world.
“Coming from a school where I would always come first in my academics, being at SLA was daunting. I was surrounded by other students who were extraordinary in one way or the other, from those who were getting the craziest SAT scores to those who were coming up with incredible theories,” he said.
However, the environment was not competitive but instead fostered the spirit of collaboration.
“We were given group assignments. We were taught to focus on collaboration where no one was better than the other, but everyone was a vital cog in a machine that needed to move forward.
Reading through the book Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren with my partner, I immediately knew that I had to find the purpose that God had created me for,” said Moyo.
“Using the lessons I had adopted at SLA, I became a student who was driven by curiosity to learn more by doing Math, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and English. Through hard work and collaboration with other students, I managed to score straight As in my A-Level Cambridge examinations,” Moyo said.
He is waiting to go to university and aspires to read until he attains a master’s in computer science.
“I will use the knowledge that I have to collaborate with medical doctors by integrating their skills and knowledge with technology. With our skills combined, we will be able to detect chronic diseases faster in people living in the remotest of places, and I believe this will revolutionise the field of medicine in Africa,” said Moyo.
SLA provided local opportunities for students, but others also had a chance to go beyond borders during their studies.
Nyaradza Mararanje could not believe her luck when she was first told she had gotten a scholarship.
“The scholarship opportunity seemed too good to be true. Three years of fully funded education, a once-in-a-lifetime experiential leadership learning opportunity, plenty of trips around Zimbabwe, learning with a group of brilliant classmates, and meetings with different world leaders, and I had been one of the few to be selected for this growing and learning experience?” Mararanje said.
She says the experience changed her life for the better.
“I got an opportunity to learn more about myself, make Christian faith an integral part of my daily living, set goals, and most importantly, passionately pursue them.
I carried all these values with me to Waterford Kamhlaba in Swaziland,” she said.
Values instilled in her at the SLA made acclimatising to a foreign land easier.
“Living in an international environment where culture dilution was a huge possibility, I was never swayed from my STAR Leadership Academy values – “Willing to stand out and not just to fit in” and to also “Elevate my thinking”.
The check-up meetings with SLA administration every term in my two years of doing the International Baccalaureate kept me grounded in my STAR Leadership spirit of tenacity and resilience – especially during the COVID period,” she said.
As a result of the community service lessons she received, she started a community service project named Sound and Lighting.
She also tutors math to learners and candidates in communities.
“All this accumulated into what has now become my final IB grades and makes it possible for me to pursue a career in Computer Electrical Engineering.
All the lessons, experiences, laughter, hardships, and challenges have shaped who I am, who I am yet to become, and for now, my IB results. I am forever grateful to STAR Leadership Academy,” Mararanje said.
Mararanje’s IB results of 40 points placed her in the upper 10 percent of students globally in the International Baccalaureate classification.
That is equivalent to around four to five As at A-Level.
SLA graduates who sat for either Cambridge or International Baccalaureate emerged bright stars.
A sign that the programme mentors diligent and determined young leaders.