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Imagine Scholar History

2009—The Journey Begins

The Imagine Scholar journey began in 2009 when a young American named Corey Johnson came to South Africa’s rural Nkomazi region, looking for potential scholarship recipients on behalf of a private donor.  The thinking was that there were talented individuals coming from humble backgrounds—they just needed help paying for school. By identifying talented 12th-graders, Corey and the private donor believed they could make a lasting difference in South Africa.

As Corey began his hunt for students, however, he began to learn more about the education system in rural South Africa. He soon discovered that the problem was not students getting into university—black students from across South Africa make it into university all the time. They just weren’t doing so well once they got there.

Why was that? After several discussions with community members, a few root causes began to emerge. 

  1. The immense class sizes (often 50-60 students for every one teacher, with no teaching assistants) make individualized character development a near impossibility.
  2. Most rural schools fail to put a premium on critical thinking skills, choosing instead to “teach to the test” with rote memorization strategies.
  3. The English reading, writing, and speaking abilities of rural students lag far behind their fellow university students.

2010—The Creation of the Imagine Scholar Program

The Imagine Scholar academy was created to address these three shortcomings. After all, what was the point in spending money on a student’s university education if the chances of success were so low? Wouldn’t the money be better spent equipping high-school age children with the tools to be successful in university and beyond?

With those ideas in mind, Imagine Scholar’s pilot program launched in 2010 with five talented ninth grade students from around the Nkomazi—Promise, Zodwa, Prince, Siyanda, and Pro.  

The beginnings were humble. The students met with Corey twice a week at a women's crisis center, discussing an array of topics. Each meeting differed from the last, with meetings driven primarily by the students' interests.  Through time, however, a certain form and structure began to coalesce around the program. The passion and creative input of those first five students were instrumental in making the program what it is today.

2011—A Year of Expansion

The following year, the program expanded. Ten new ninth graders joined the fold, for a total of 15 students. The curriculum for Imagine Scholar also became more fluid and cohesive. The main thrust of the program evolved to focus on three primary objectives: 

  • Character Development
  • Critical Thinking
  • English Language Skills

To facilitate these objectives, we created interconnected learning modules including Goals, Problem Solving, Writing a 5-Paragraph Essay, Creative Writing, and Community-Based units such as Community Identity, HIV/AIDS Awarenes, and Community Service Projects.

Last, but not least of all the changes, Imagine Scholar finally got a true home!  Through one private donation, the Education Center was built in Kamhlushwa.  While it may look like a small concrete rectangle, it is so much more to our students.  

It is a safe haven with a family-like environment. It is a library with hundreds of books, thanks again to another generous private donor. It is a sanctuary from the trials of a disadvantaged upbringing. In short, it is a place the students can call their own.  In a setting and culture that faces many hardships and cultural stigmas against education, the Education Center offers Imagine Scholar students a place to be themselves and openly share their thoughts, dreams, and beliefs. 

2012—The Adventure Continues

At the time of writing, we have a total of 25 students (five 11th graders, ten 10th graders, and ten 9th graders). At any one time, the program is run by a full complement of three volunteers, in addition to Corey. The full enrollment of the program is expected to grow to 40 scholars at any one time, while plans for a potential second Academy are in the nascent stages.

It’s been an amazing journey since Corey came down in a rental car looking for a scholarship recipient. We hope you’ll help as the program continues to make a difference in the lives of these amazing kids.