An association of former teachers and students of Cotton Hill Girls High School holds special classes for the overall development of students who come from disadvantaged families. Liza George speaks to some of the students and members of the association

It’s a Saturday and a holiday for most schools in the city. But Adhwaitha Nair M.B. is busy getting ready for school. Dressed in her green and white uniform, she looks forward to the day’s lessons. Her friends who come from far and near make it a point to reach school before the bell rings. This batch of 50 students of class nine of Cotton Hill Girls High School are eager to attend classes every Saturday, come rain or shine.

All the students are ambitious. Amala Joseph wants to become a Cambridge professor; her friends Parvathy Surendran S., and Anupama G.S., plan to become an astronaut, and a scientist, respectively. Adwaitha aspires to become a gynaecologist. And helping them nurture their dreams is Cotton Hill Old Teachers and Students Association (COTSA).

Says Ambika Kumari Amma, former principal and COTSA secretary: “COTSA helps provide these students who come from economically backward families with the best of education possible through sponsorship programmes. These students, who have been carefully screened and selected, are bright and show potential of excelling in their studies if given a nudge.”

The sponsorship initiative began when the school celebrated its platinum jubilee in 2010 and COTSA decided to support the education of 75 students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“There were no Saturday classes then, though. The Saturday classes began later that year when we decided to fund 50 students of class eight as part of All Round Development Programme; their educational needs right from school fees to uniform to stationery are looked after. They are sponsored up to class nine. The first batch of students from this initiative did well in their class 10 board examinations and we funded six from the batch for civil service coaching. Although we wanted to sponsor their education till class 12, we found that most of the students were busy with school and studies and could not spare time for the Saturday classes. We are currently into our second batch of students now,” says Edapazhanji Shanta Kumari, former teacher and current president of COTSA.

Classes for these students begin at 10 a.m. on Saturdays and conclude at 4 p.m. While a few travel to school on their own, most are dropped and picked by their parents. Lunch is provided by the Parent Teacher Association. The Saturday classes are not the run-off-the-mill lessons. Yoga, spoken English, personality development, home management, literature and karate are some of the classes for these students. There is no fixed timetable; classes are taken by experts in their respective fields.

“For instance, last Saturday we had B. Ravindran of the Postal Department talk about the postal service and telegraph. He talked at length on the telegraph, its history and what led to its demise,” says Shruti S. Nair, a student. The youngsters find the classes informative. Say Ramseen R. and Asha Jiji R.P.: “It’s nice to hear experts talk on their subject of expertise. The classes pay special emphasis on leadership, scholarship and cultural awareness. If on one Saturday we have a guest lecturer speak on geology, the next we have one sharing the latest in science and technology and another, on cultural values. It is fascinating and loads of fun.”

The lecturers, says Saraswathy Kutty Amma, a former teacher and member of COTSA, come without expecting any remuneration.

Over the years, COTSA has conducted several charitable events for the school and society. “For instance, we started a library and a medicinal garden for the school and we have conducted several charitable drives for various health institutions in the city, says Ambika Kumari.

The association plans to start tailoring classes and other ‘skills’ classes for former students of the school. “There are former students who are not financially able and would like to attend courses that will help supplement their income. We will be starting such classes shortly,” says Anjitha Shankar, an alumna and COTSA member.

Strengthening bonds

Started in 2009, COTSA is perhaps one of the few associations that include both students and teachers. One of the founding heads, Ambika Kumari started it to maintain and strengthen the student and teacher relationship of the school. The association has close to 600 members.