Connecticut College Magazine · Spring 2005

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Elli Nagai-Rothe ´03

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Elli Nagai-Rothe ´03

Elli Nagai-Rothe ´03
Elli Nagai-Rothe ´03 and Victoria Matriculation School children.

Principal, Victoria Matriculation School, Periyapalayam, India

by Mary V. Howard


Two years after graduation, Elli Nagai-Rothe ’03 is “walking the talk,” living in Periyapalayam, a rural village in southeast India (approximately 40 kilometers north of Chennai) and working as a principal in a school that provides education to children from marginalized and economically disadvantaged communities.

“Elli is doing what so many CC grads want to do, totally devoting herself to a cause, but few have the courage to actually do it,” says senior Anna Magliaro, who first met Nagai-Rothe as a prospective student.

“The SATA India program that I participated in during my sophomore year was one of the major factors in drawing me back to India, as well as my passion for social justice and enacting meaningful change,” says Nagai-Rothe, who received the College’s Anna Lord Strauss College Medal for outstanding public and community service.

After graduation, the sociology-based human relations major and CISLA (Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts) scholar traveled through India, Nepal and Pakistan. “I feel a connection to South Asia,” she says.

Nagai-Rothe accepted a position as principal of the newly formed Victoria Matriculation School (VMS) last year. The school was founded in June 2004 with the support of People’s Action Movement (PAM), a Chennai-based nonprofit NGO that aims to uplift marginalized communities — particularly women, children and the Dalit (untouchable caste) communities.

“The aim of Victoria Matriculation School is to provide a quality, holistic education for all rural children in the surrounding areas of Periyapalayam, with particular focus on supporting and empowering children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds,” says Nagai-Rothe.

She has introduced progressive teaching methods to VMS, even inviting professionals to conduct workshops with her staff. “I try to use innovative methods … not only to get the students excited about learning, but also to inspire the teachers to break out of the well-trodden standards of wrote memorization and ‘hands-off’ learning,” she says. Nagai-Rothe also introduced arts and crafts to her students, many of whom had never used a crayon or a pair of scissors.

With little funding and a rundown facility, it has been a difficult start for the school and Nagai-Rothe. “The building and school grounds that we rent are too small. There is no running water on site. Most of our younger students sit on the ground for lack of chairs or benches,” she says. All 93 students and eight teachers must share one squat toilet. And although the school offers computer classes, they do not have any computers. “I am in the process of establishing a library, as there are no books available to the students beyond their textbooks,” says Nagai-Rothe.

Recently, the Connecticut College Asian/Asian American Student Association (CCASA) has initiated a partnership with VMS to support the school in its efforts to expand and become officially recognized by the Indian government. Ultimately, CCASA hopes — through fundraising and volunteerism — to help the school acquire land and construct a larger school building to service more students and provide an expanded educational curriculum. Nagai-Rothe was a member of the CCASA executive board as an undergraduate.

Though the road ahead is certain to be long and challenging, Nagai-Rothe manages to keep a positive attitude. “It has been an amazing experience for me so far, everything from adjusting to village life without running water and not knowing a word of Tamil, to jumping head first into my duties as a principal of a school that is essentially starting from scratch.”

For more information on the Victoria Matriculation School, contact CCASA (Attention: David Kahn), Connecticut College, 270 Mohegan Avenue, New London, CT 06320, ccasa@conncoll.edu, http://ccasa.conncoll.edu.


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