Two Time Chennai Schools Topper pens her academic success

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Anandhi Durai, has completed her Higher Secondary education from the Chennai Girls Higher Secondary School, Saidapet, Chennai. She has stood first among the Chennai Schools run by the Corporation of Chennai in the recent Tamil Nadu Board examinations (2013 – 2014).

Anandhi Durai

Anandhi Durai


My name is Anandhi. I am writing this blog to share my happiness. The very reason behind my happiness is, I have secured an overall percentage of 97.75 (1173 out of 1200) in the recently held Tamil Nadu Higher Secondary Board Examinations and have secured the first rank among the Chennai Corporation Schools. At the outset I would like to express my gratitude to my school Head Mistress, my teachers and my parents. I would like to dedicate this success of mine to my father. I feel blessed to have a supportive father. He did not put pressure on me to score well in my board exams, which in turn helped me to concentrate on my studies without any pressure or stress. I was also the topper among the Chennai Schools in my tenth standard Board Examinations (490/500).

My special thanks go to the Rotary Club of Madras East (RCME) and Avanti Fellows for running Rotary Winners Learning Centres (RWLCs) giving timely support and guidance. They provided special coaching for us at our School to score high percentage in our board examinations. At Rotary Winners Learning Center (RWLC) they helped us to understand the importance of scoring good cut off marks and also gave us special coaching to achieve the same. My cut off mark is 196.50. I now stand a chance of getting a seat in my dream college Anna University (Guindy campus, Chennai).

One of the main reasons behind this achievement is the training and the personal attention we received at the RWLC. Thus I am really grateful towards Avanti Fellows for all their guidance and initiating this program. I would also like to thank RCME for their continuous support and encouragement which is also instrumental in helping me to achieve this result. I would like to thank Chennai Corporation for giving this opportunity to be part of this program.
My kind advice to all the students who are about to start their preparation for the board examinations is don’t panic about facing the board exams. Study at least four hours a day regularly, structure your studies and start your revision early. My ambition is to take up civil services. I would write UPSC civil service examination after completing my bachelors in engineering in ECE or Materials Science & Engineering.

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Recognizing the Talent

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DSC_2580Who could have ever imagined that a girl form a lower middle class family who labour hard to make ends meet, would travel to Japan! Well it was indeed grit and determination that made it to the top, Ms. Puratchi Tamil, currently pursuing her high school at the Chennai Girls Hr. Sec. School, Saidapet always topped in Tamil oratorical skills at her school. Opportunity strikes once and there she was to grab it she made her way to ABK – AOTS DOSOKAI, TAMILNADU CENTRE that organized the“Talk your way to Japan” an oratorical competition when she was in her XI standard, she made it to the second place and lost her chance to visit Japan.

But this did not dampen her spirits to try again when she made it to her XII standard; this proved a tumultuous task for this above average student because she is currently preparing for her Board examinations. Effectively allocating time for her studies at School and at Avanti, she took time to prepare well for the contest and her hard work got paid off, she stood first in the contest and was awarded a memorable trip of a lifetime to the land of the rising sun – Japan! And it was not just it; she was given week long training and educational visits during her stay.

DSC_2575Perseverance and hard work helped realize the fruit of success – not the fame it brings along but the happiness to taste the very essence of being the Top performer in the class X Board examinations (2011) among the Chennai Schools. Ms. Anandhi.D from the Chennai Girls Hr. Sec. School, Saidapet, aims to become a software engineer, ensures she is not a product of rote learning and takes every iota of effort to conceptually comprehend her lessons. Parents stand as a pillar of continued motivation in order to realize her goal.

Children pursuing their studies in Government run schools are often looked down upon in the larger society mainly due to lack of exposure to the wider world outside and lack the competence to outperform and tend to be lost in the mainstream society.

DSC_2577Recognizing the hard work and determination showcased by these students Mr Murugavel Selvan from Rotary Club of Madras East awarded Sivan Arul Selvan (SAS) award to these students. Ms. Puratchi Tamil was awarded for excellence in the field of Arts & Culture and Ms. Anandhi D was awarded for excellence in academic proficiency in her studies. The beneficiaries of the award were also presented a cash prize of Rs. 8000 each. Both the beneficiaries are part of the Rotary Winners Learning Centers (RWLC) in Chennai which are conceptualized and implemented by Avanti Fellows.

In the words of Vince Lombardi, “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.

Instead of brooding about life’s circumstances these young children have stood the test by making use of the prospect given them and have proven and are still proving that where there is a will there is definitely a way!

DSC_2604Anandhi D and Puratchi Tamil along with Young Achiever Awardees, the youngest app developers Sanjay Kumaran and Shravan Kumaran; PG Raghuraman Managing Director (operations), Accenture; Mr Sudhakar, president of RCME; Mr & Mrs Murugavel Selvan and other RCME members.

By Grace D, Program Associate in Chennai, Avanti Fellows

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Peer Instruction Workshop with Prof. Eric Mazur

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The Avanti Science Leadership Conference provides a platform to bring together exceptional school leaders (principals and teachers) with renowned education researchers to share and discuss best practices in science education. It is comprised of a series of workshops all year round and participation is by invite only.

Homepage-Slider-Collage-1“Peer Instruction” – The first of a series of our workshops on “Best Practices in Effective Science Education” was kicked off on 11th November 2013 by none other than the pioneer of peer instruction himself – Prof. Eric Mazur – in collaboration with the Department of Education Technology, IIT Bombay.

It was a 2-hour session attended by 70+ principals and teachers from affordable schools across Mumbai – – Sion, Dadar, Andheri, Chembur and more – as well as education researchers from IIT Bombay and Homi Bhabha Centre of Science Education.

The first half was an interactive session with Prof. Mazur where he spoke about about why he started using peer instruction in his class and how he implements it using ConcepTests.

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In the second half the participants took part in an exercise to gauge the goodness of questions so as to test higher order thinking skills and thus better conceptual understanding of science.

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We were blown away by the feedback, every single participant told us they would recommend such workshops to their colleagues and reported that they had significant learning gains from the workshop.

Some of the comments we received

” (Peer Instruction) is really required to be known to the teacher for today’s generation as children want to learn everything in limited time”

“It will help us make our classroom teaching more interesting. It will helpful to understand the concepts “

“Great thing to take away and very much applicable to classroom”

“Such workshops refresh & motivate for better teaching.”

“Lively, great speaker & relevant topic. Felt lucky to be a part of it.”

Upcoming Workshops
By Invite Only, however if you would like to recommend yourself or a school, please write to us at

1. Workshops on making questions for Peer Instruction – Nov 30th, 2013 (Based on the feedback you gave us, we shall be conducting follow-up sessions for the participants of the first workshop. You will be contacted by a member of the Avanti team with more details)

2. Science Activities and Visualizations – Dec 2013, Mumbai (more details to be announced)

3. Assessments – Jan 2013, Mumbai (more details to be announced)

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Our Fellows and their Tales – 1

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What immense joy it brings when you get a phone call out of the blue from a former fellow just to give an update that she has secured the first rank in her Cycle Test I in her department (Information Technology) and stood second in the First Year batch in her college – having secured three cent percent scores in her subjects. What’s more to come!

Quizzed by her teaching faculty about her schooling, she was startled to hear them quip in surprise “You passed out from the Chennai Schools – meaning City’s Corporation School?!” And then they exclaimed in awe, “You have done absolutely brilliant”. The teenage girl adds, “The First rank student is from one of the best private schools in Chennai, hence the surprise”.

Well, what absolutely stirred this young girl to excel in her first giant leap when youngsters who enter the portals of college education would want to have the time of their lives. Maybe a short rewind would be helpful.

“I need to support my family, I cannot pursue my higher education” was the constant cry from the sixteen year old Miss. Harini D, when she graduated from one of the Corporation Schools, CGHSS MH Road, Perambur that caters to economically backward students in Chennai. She was a bright-eyed student whose zealous dreams started to fade away at the threshold of the final high school examinations held in March 2013 when the economic hardships faced by her family sunk in.

Living with her single parent (mother), a frequently ill aunt and two young school going nephews took a toll on young Harini’s education leading her to take up the responsibilities of a caretaker for her little nephews. Surrounded by a swirl of dejection and no support for her continuation of education, the only option left to her was to take up a job to support her family. Pursuing her higher education seemed far beyond realization due to the prevailing uncertainties. As she shouldered responsibilities while her friends studied 24×7 for their exams, her academic performance left her unnoticed in school.

On the brink of dropping out of school and leaving her dreams behind, she was given a ray of hope through continuous moral support, mentoring and follow up by the Avanti team. When she fared well at her Boards, she received a glimmer of hope – to dream her lost dream again but yet another hurdle loomed large, the funding of her college education.

Fortunately for Harini, at the appropriate time, 5 donors – Anantha, Nizar, Satheesh, Shravan and Vijay – stepped in to lend a generous hand, and she was able to join Information Technology in one of the city’s best engineering colleges, Jaya Engineering College.

It is still a long way to go before she completes her higher education but this positive start is music to one’s ears.

We thank Rotary Club of Madras East, Foundation for Vocational Training for funding and Corporation of Chennai (Education Department) for giving us this opportunity to help 150 students from Chennai Schools perform well in Boards and join good colleges and courses.

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Merlin writes about our Chennai Program

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Maria Merlin, who worked with Avanti in Chennai during her training as part of her Master of Social Work course speaks about her experience in Chennai After-School Program.

Hi, as a trainee I did my block placements at Avanti Fellows for 35 days; Avanti’s pedagogy is totally different from what i had expected. It really gave me a good professional exposure where I had to work in a co-ed school for first two weeks of my internship.  Especially while doing my case studies with boys, I was expected to play the role as a motivator, and also to practice all the social work principles. In both professional and personal way Avanti had given me vast exposures to learn and understand the student’s family related problems and helped me to understand and practice various interventions could be made to help the students to concentrate on their studies.

The life skill activities , really made me to utilize my talents and also gave me a precious time to send the content clearly to the students. The students also took active participation in various activities that were conducted.  Most of the students took special interest for the spoken English classes that were conducted. Most of them do like to speak in English, but they were afraid of the negative comments, they might get from their classmates. so, the Saturday ”SPOKEN ENGLISH” activities was a big platform to make every students to take their initiative and talk in English. I was really happy when some of the students met me personally and said that they really enjoyed this type of life skills and spoken English sessions. It made them feel refreshed. Some students even suggested us to conduct life skills one hour every day. At Avanti for the first three weeks we were working with students, the other two weeks we were working on documentation and preparing life skills module for the post summer session. During training at Avanti we were being trained to be Professional at work.

 Trainees Kezia, Maria Merlin and Suganthi (from left to right) at work in one of the Chennai Corporation Schools

The video lectures classes really made the students to learn new English words and to have good relationship with students from other stream and medium. Regular tests were really helpful to make the students to score better marks in their tests and exams. Especially the conceptual questions sessions were interesting for the students. The personal sessions with the students were meaningful and helped to know psychological problems of the students.

Avanti made me to think sometimes ”why dint i have all these in my school times’’?”..Especially every day tests, conceptual questions, follow-ups with drop outs and etc. It gave us a chance to recollect our school days once again. It made us to differentiate the changes we see in our self personally and professionally…!


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Kartik’s journey to Stanford

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It should surprise no one that Kartik Sawhney, a top-performing student from the prestigious DPS R. K. Puram, has been admitted to Stanford to study computer science. Blind, Kartik has excelled at calculus with the help of a program he coded that describes the contours of functions using a musical tone. He has mastered the complex geometries of organic chemistry through modifying the conventions used to portray the 3D relationships between atoms. And on top of that he’s a world-class singer, having graduated from Prayag Sangit Samiti.But just two years ago, Kartik’s prospects were quite a bit bleaker. Then, he was in the middle of petitioning a bemused and skeptical Chairman of Delhi’s Central Board of Secondary Education for the right to study science and math. Across nearly all of India, blind students are prohibited from taking the science and math track during high school. Adequate resources are nearly nonexistent and skilled mentors are hard to find. But the most important impediment for high-achieving blind students is the pervasive prejudice and lack of awareness that characterizes the vast majority of India’s educational system. In Kartik’s case, for instance, the special schools in Delhi that do cater to blind students called his dream “an impossible affair”. As Kartik put it to me, the consensus is that blind students should be taught basket weaving – not biomedical engineering.

Finally, after a dozen letters and months of persuasion, fervent appeals and petitions, the Board issued a circular that allowed Kartik, and all visually challenged students in Delhi, to opt for the sciences. But his success was fleeting. Kartik was soon told that the best engineering schools in India, the revered IITs, lacked the adequate resources for blind students and didn’t even consider them suitable candidates.

In the middle of his 12th standard, Kartik was referred to Avanti by Retina India, an Indian nonprofit that works to empower the visually impaired. It was at this point that I met Kartik. After graduating from Yale in May and moving to Delhi in July 2012, I was looking to continue my volunteer work in education. Avanti, with its forward-looking approach to expanding access to higher education, was a natural fit for me. I began working on a strategy to help Avanti’s students apply to U.S. universities for the 2013-2014 cycle. When I met Kartik, however, everything had to be accelerated since his applications were due in mere months.

Taylor Gregore-Wright is a volunteer at Avanti and has been leading our work helping high potential students gain admission to top US and Candadian Colleges

Working through Avanti, I helped Kartik navigate the application process for several top-tier U.S. universities. I engaged Kartik in a high-touch manner that let him take the lead and receiving guidance when he needed it. “Reflecting on the entire application process,” Kartik said, “I feel that the best part was the way you would encourage me to think for my own self, rather than simply telling me what was to be written.” At the same time, he admits he would have struggled to understand just what the American applications were looking for, especially in the essay component. Understanding the financial aid procedures was also challenging, but I’m relieved to say that Kartik received a full scholarship to attend Stanford.

Asked what he took away from the whole application process, Kartik replied, “I was surprised. I had never reflected as much about myself as those essays required me to. I learned a lot about who I am.” His experiences, he says, has “galvanized my vision for a more equitable society where everyone has the same chances”.

In the coming months, Avanti will continue to expand educational opportunities for bright, disadvantaged Indian students. Next year, we intend to help multiple students apply to elite U.S. universities in addition to those in India. Personally, I’m humbled by the drive, optimism and intellect that characterize Avanti’s students, and I’m grateful to get the chance to work with them.

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Our Fellow Search – Joys & Furys – Part II

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Deepak Maun, our Program Manager in Kanpur recently had an amazing experience in the process of our search for students…

These days, I am in Kanpur. I am setting up the Learning Centre (LC) and helping the IITK team with home interviews. Today, I went to interview a girl who lives in a locality at quite a distance from our LC location. After having interacted with a prospective student (academic review) and the student’s parents, the IITK team ranks every student on 2 parameters –  a) Academics: A1-A5 (A5 being the best ranking) b) Financials: F1-F5 (F5 being financially most needy)

Along with this, the team gives multiple comments that give the interviewer a fair idea of the points to focus on. This girl was given A5-F5 rating. Her parents are illiterate and work as potters, making clay items and selling them, earning barely 2500-3000 per month. They are 4 brothers and sisters. During her interview at IITK, she had said that it would be tough to join because of distance if centre comes up at Rawatpur (the location we finalized). Since I knew she was A5-F5, I went for the interview with just 2 aims – a) check her motivation level and b) convince her (and more importantly her family) to come to LC despite the distance.

During the interview, I found out that she is in a very low grade school as her family could not afford better schools. She would need help with English as her school is Hindi Medium. Most of all, forget about approx. 900 Rs. / month for LC, she cannot afford even the 35-40 Rs. / day required for travelling to the LC. Having judged her motivation level and the financial condition of her family, I decided then and there to get her into a better school, recommend her for full fee waiver at Avanti and even give her extra money for daily travel.

I convinced her family about sending their daughter to LC and asked her brother to look for some better schools in the neighborhood and inform me. I was thinking of ways in which I could help her. The thing on top of my mind was asking my colleagues from Marico to provide some amount for her support. I was planning to write an e-mail. All this while I was returning to IITK campus, which is where I am staying.

Then something unbelievable happened.

I received a call from one of my friends, while I was walking towards hostel and we were discussing things in general. Then he mentioned that on his sons birthday, his wife has pledged to give Rs. 50,000 from their income to someone in need. He asked me if I knew someone who really needs that money.

I was amazed. I did a quick calculation and I guessed this would be sufficient to help this girl get into a better school (2yrs fees + uniform/books/stationary) plus her travel expenses for 2 yrs. I told him YES I KNOW A GIRL WHO NEEDS THIS MONEY.

I just need to convince his wife about this case but I guess I can do that. The remaining is logistics. This was a lovely moment for me. Somehow, things just fit in. Somehow, you find ways. Somehow, dots get connected. I am overwhelmed at the moment. Happy. More happy than I have ever been in life.

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