Francesca Oroma Odongkara joined Rugby in the LXX in 2005, via IntoUniversity. She was a member of the Arnold Foundation Board from 2013 to 2018.
“I was one of the first students supported by IntoUniversity to go to Rugby. It must have taken a lot of trust on both sides.
“I was born in Uganda and came to the UK when I was seven. My family were asylum seekers but had the benefits of family already here. When I went to Rugby I felt the other girls in my House wondering whether we would get on but we did – we were all 16-year-old girls. Rugby was hard work and I was busy, too busy to miss home. Choir right after breakfast, then lessons, then all the co-curricular activities. I joined the CCF. The Passing Out Parade, with my grandfather in the audience, was one of the proudest days of my life. The service element of Rugby was very important to me and I believe it should be incorporated into the national curriculum.
“I went to Loughborough University as one of the first students on their Design with Materials Engineering course; this was perfect for me. I took Chemistry, Maths and DT at A level.
“My career has taken me in an interesting direction, and I hope it continues to do so. I started work in London in transport construction – complete with Portacabins, big boots and HGVs – and then moved to an investment bank, where I am now a graphics specialist involved in both the production of and research of other marketing materials.
“Rugby taught me to be fearless, go against the grain, work hard, push yourself, and expand your outlook. There is nothing to lose. You’ll always learn along the way.”
Deborah Wyndham-McCoy, who lives in Edinburgh, is the mother of Torin who joined School House in 2020 aged 13. He is now 16 and taking his GCSEs next year.
‘I found out about the Arnold Foundation from the headmaster of the boys’ prep school in Edinburgh that had given Torin a bursary award for his time there. He knew that I was a single parent and a full-time carer for my elderly mother and that I was worried about how to manage Torin’s schooling once he had to leave his prep school. He said to me “Torin is the perfect candidate for Rugby”. He also introduced me to the Scottish Friends of Rugby School which was very helpful.
‘Torin was not at all fazed by the prospect of going to a boarding school or being so far away from Edinburgh. He was also keen to go to a co-ed school and I agreed. He’s an only child and after lockdown, which was too quiet a life for him, he really needed to get away and be with more people.
‘The application process was simple. We both went to Rugby to have a look around and were bowled over by everything. The School arranged for him to do the entrance exams in Edinburgh which was really accommodating of them. I could not leave my mother when it came to his interview so a friend took him on the train; the School was rather surprised that he arrived on his own but he’s very independent.
‘The School suggested School House for him. I met the Housemaster and Matron who are lovely. So is the Arnold Foundation tutor. I know I could call any of them any time.
‘Torin is playing the cello, loves sailing, goes to the gym a lot (and likes helping the E block students there) and is a keen member of the CCF Royal Marines corp. I do wonder if he is working hard enough but I know I’ll be told if he isn’t! There is so much to do that time management must be tricky.
‘He tells me all about what he is doing (and does very good impersonations of his teachers). I try to live the experience with him - I always listen when the BBC has recorded a service from the Chapel, for instance - because everything sounds so interesting there and he is loving it.’
Efa Wilson is studying Chemistry at Bristol University. She came to Rugby School aged 16 in 2019 when her school in Wales closed its sixth form. The opportunity to apply to Rugby was suggested to her by a neighbour who knew of the Arnold Foundation and thought that it would suit Efa. She was the first student from the area to come to Rugby.
’My first big shock at Rugby was my chemistry teacher taking me to one side after an early test in which I had scored 12% and saying that if I didn’t do better I would have to drop the subject. It turned out that the English chemistry curriculum was way ahead of the Welsh one. He helped me to catch up and arranged extra sessions for me. It was a big jump. I wouldn’t say I was clever but I was very determined.
‘I joined Stanley House where lots of the girls were from state or grammar schools, many with scholarships. We had all worked hard to get to Rugby and shared the determination to do well. You couldn’t just coast at Rugby. Your teachers and tutors wouldn’t let you.
‘I adored boarding. So much so that my mum said “That’s it. She won’t want to see us, she’ll never come back.”
‘Rugby worked well for me because I loved being busy and stimulated, and I was very sporty. I had rowed in my local club in Wales from the age of 10 but unfortunately there was no rowing club at Rugby although Mrs Hampton tried to start one. I played netball for the School and set up a women’s rugby team with Mrs Hampton, and became a member of the Co-curricular Levee. I also did my Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award at Rugby. It was great to have two women (Mrs Skene and Mrs Hampton) as the Heads of Sport and Co-curricular while I was there.
‘Once I was at university I started rowing again. I attended the GB team development camp and took part in the November trials and have been invited back in December. Rugby helped me to be very determined about what I wanted to achieve and to build my days around what I needed to fit in. Now I am studying at university, I get up at 5 every morning to do my rowing training so that there is time to do everything else. I learned that discipline at Rugby. ‘
Jasper Kraamer was at Rugby (Cotton) 2015 – 2020, having been recommended by Clarion Voice in Leicester. He is now studying History at University College London and, having done a law internship in the summer of June 2022, has been offered a contract to work for that city law firm. He will therefore spend two years at law school on finishing at UCL.
‘I was scared and shy arriving at Rugby so it’s strange looking back and remembering that I had grown sufficiently in confidence to have a part in The Comedy of Errors at the end of my first year. I remember the thrill of finding out that I was short-listed for the role of Head Boy (I didn’t get it but I did become a member of the Pastoral Levee). Although at that stage my lived experience was different from that of most of the boys in Cotton I made very good friends who remain as important to me now. There was a strong family feeling in Cotton and I think the House system is something that Rugby does very well.
‘New students had to hand in their phones for the first three weeks so that they could get used to living away from home. This was hard for me and my mother (who is Dutch). Boarding schools are very rare in the Netherlands and we both took a lot of convincing by Clarion that Rugby, or any boarding school for that matter, was a place where I would thrive and enjoy myself.
‘But it all worked out well. I had a great education, got stuck in at sport, really liked my Housemaster and Matron and was very sad that lockdown denied my year a good send-off. I deliberately chose a London university because I was ready for a different experience, to step out of the bubble I had lived in for five years. I play football, not soccer!
‘I would not have attended Rugby without the Arnold Foundation. But I do not feel like I deserved to be at the School any less than my fee-paying friends. Earlier this year, I made a speech to donors about being an AF student. I said it was important to recognise that, in defining the criteria for being awarded an Arnold Foundation bursary, it is wrong to use words like disadvantaged and under-privileged. These labels feed the worst stereotypes. Yes, economically we are different from the average student, but we are not necessarily disadvantaged culturally, socially or intellectually, nor in any other way. We should not be assumed or judged to be under-privileged. Due to my experience at a comprehensive and a boarding schooI, growing up in the Netherlands and England as a multi-heritage individual, in many ways I feel very privileged. I come from a very happy family and it is an insult to my mother to suggest that my life before I went to Rugby was ‘disadvantaged’. That was not, and is not, my story.
‘In my own case, the smaller class sizes of Rugby as well as the House system made it easier to get to know the other students and for them to get to know me, to become interested in and enjoy our similarities and differences. I came to realise that what I could give to the school was as important as what it could do for me.
Dan joined Rugby School in 2015 and is a Mathematics teacher, Assistant Chaplain and Deputy Housemaster of Rupert Brooke.
Being a keen sportsman, if I am not fulfilling one of these roles, I will often be seen refereeing rugby, cycling or hitting a tennis ball. Throughout the last seven years, I have had the privilege of being an Arnold Foundation Tutor. A main part of the role is to support the Arnold Foundation students as they adjust to life at Rugby, which may be vastly different to their previous school. Alongside this, the tutor will support them throughout their time here as they look to make the most out of the opportunities available to them. For me a highlight of each year is seeing Arnold Foundation students flourish. This past year has been no different. Particular moments that come to mind are a student’s joy after she got accepted into a highly competitive Product Design Engineering degree course, hearing a new student’s excitement at being given a part in a play that will take place early next year and witnessing a student thrive in music as he performed a piano solo. More than anything, it is wonderful to hear the Arnold Foundation students speak of how they feel part of the Rugby School community and experience a sense of belonging. It has been a delight to have a front row seat in seeing so many students benefit from the Arnold Foundation and the school is a richer place for having them here.
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