Beyond the Build: From Pencils to Progress


Christopher Stanfill
Senior Director, Learning & Evaluation
February 28, 2020

Everything at Pencils of Promise (PoP) started with building a safe environment where students can thrive and teachers feel well resourced. This vision has remained over the past 11 years with the increased understanding that more and more focus must be placed on empowering teachers and communities.

Photo description: Group of students in Ghana gathering in front of the camera
Photo credit: Nick Onken

Beyond the Build is a holistic vision that portrays a future that PoP has made progress towards and would like to significantly advance in the decades to come. The organization’s outlook remains focused on a foundation of building safe and lasting schools, yet brings attention to the resources needed to train and support nearly 2,000 teachers, in three different countries, to become more effective in the classroom. PoP builds safe and healthy classrooms, full of well-trained and supported teachers, where students can thrive. Now it is time to place more focus on what it means to create these supportive and encouraging school environments.

PoP teams in Ghana, Guatemala, and Laos work tirelessly to establish trusted relationships with partner communities. These relationships often begin with conversations around improvements of school infrastructure, but the connection does not end when new classrooms are built. Continued engagement with community leaders establishes a line of communication that ensures PoP can provide the best services possible after the brick and mortar. In PoP’s next decade, Beyond the Build will seek to expand reach in community engagement and work with parents and community leaders to promote WASH activities and reading in the home, effectively extending PoP’s impact beyond school grounds.

Photo description: Students in Laos laughing in the school yard
Photo credit: Justin Xaixanasy

Community relationships also take time and dedication. Whether it be Teacher Support coaching sessions, WASH engagements, or scouting visits for school builds, PoP team members are spending hours on the road to make sure everyone feels attended to and taken care of.  In some instances, PoP will travel for more than four or five hours to visit and support communities. Time spent with the individuals who are the direct recipients of PoP’s programs is critical to establishing a lasting trust and upward momentum and this commitment has paid off. Over the course of more than 11 years, 100% of all 520+ PoP-built schools remain open and fully operational serving thousands of primary school students every single year.

Beyond the Build is an effort to bring more attention to the hard work and perseverance that it takes to deliver the high-quality service that PoP offers. Stories about PoP team members being exemplary definitions of commitment and collaboration. Bringing the necessary focus towards the challenges that come with being a programmatic implementer, in all facets of the work, and the resulting pride associated with the polished end product. Showcasing a focused and cautious use of technology and innovation that doesn’t force unwanted and/or unnecessary gadgets into a classroom, but rather offers products that make PoP team members more efficient in their work and bring sustainable solutions that make teachers more effective at their job.

Photo description: Teacher in Guatemala reads to her class using a PoP tablet loaded with e-books
Photo credit: Nick Onken

PoP has established a recipe for success in offering a holistic education service that enables communities to thrive beyond the physical presence of the organization. This outlook and approach are some of many characteristics that set PoP apart from others. PoP knows what works and has the data-driven evidence to prove it. Now it is time to focus on scale within Ghana, Guatemala, and Laos with the ever-growing understanding that agility is needed at all times. From pencils to progress, PoP is moving the needle and making public education systems a sustainable place where young students will have opportunity for growth for years to come.

The following images were captured during PoP’s Beyond the Build event, held at PoP HQ on February 20, 2020.