Rift Valley Academy

Rift Valley Academy (RVA) is a Christian boarding school located in KijabeKenya, founded in 1906 by Charles Hurlburt.

Rift Valley Academy was ranked 2nd out of the top 100 best high schools in Africa by Africa Almanac in 2003, based upon quality of education, student engagement, strength and activities of alumni, school profile, internet and news visibility.

Early years

Having met with Hurlburt in the White House in 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt visited Kijabe shortly after leaving office four years later. During this visit, in 1909, Roosevelt laid the cornerstone for Kiambogo, the main school building that remains the centerpiece of RVA’s campus.

For much of the early history of the school, it was difficult to find teachers. Most missionaries had come to Africa to preach the gospel, not educate white children. The primary concern of most missionaries was not the academic achievements of the students, but their spiritual life. After Miss Hope, the next teacher who truly felt called to teach at RVA was Miss Muriel Perrott. She introduced RVA to several British sports such as Rounders and Rugby and instituted the two house system. The two houses, Stanleys and Livingstons, were named for the two explorers and served as an organizational tool for the school. The two houses competed against each other academically and on the sports field. For many years the main goal of students was to win the house cup. Miss Perrott went on furlough in 1931 and was unable to return to Africa, but her influence was invaluable to the development of the school.

Just as World War I broke out, Miss Hope, who was by now Mrs. Westervelt, was forced to leave the field due to poor health. The years during World War I were very difficult because it was hard to get staff to come due to the dangers of sea travel during the war. It was during these years that there were a number of epidemics that forced the school to close periodically as well.

In 1933, Herb Downing was called to head RVA. He was uniquely prepared for the job since he was one of the first Americans born in East Africa and an alumnus of the school. He came to the job with several years of experience both as an educator and administrator, which was handy since both he and his wife Muriel needed to teach as they were the only staff at the time. Downing’s goal was to establish a lasting and positive culture so that parents would feel comfortable leaving their children at RVA. It was during his time as principal that the school became much more deliberately academic, although it retained a mixed European and American curriculum. Another Downing innovation was the introduction of Rendezvous or Mutton Guz, a party to reward those students who had not misbehaved too badly over the term.

Herb Downing went on furlough in 1938 and was prevented from returning by WWII until 1947. Following his return in 1947, Mr. Downing was convinced that the school was necessary to the future of missions. He made a plea for teachers and funding because he recognized that without the school, many of the parents would not be able to stay on the field and that the school was in a very real way training the next generation of missionaries. His desire was the school would be able to go all the way to 12th grade since prior to this students had to return to their home countries for their high school education. In 1949 his dream was realized with the graduation of Paul Smith, and the first class was graduated in 1950. The 1950s saw a huge expansion in the school as a whole with many new buildings going up. At one point the school even closed for a term to repair the roof on Kiambogo.

During Kenya’s struggle for independence

In 1952, at the beginning of the Mau Mau emergency, a contingency of the African Home Guard under the command of a British officer named “Chipps” was stationed on campus along with a barbed-wire fence. Saturday, 28 March 1953 is the date of one of RVA’s greatest legends. It was clear the Mau Mau were raiding in the area, several days before the town of Lari had been burned and RVA was the next target. All went to bed sure they would be awakened by gunfire in the night. The staff prayed for God’s protection, and the attack never happened. Months later when several Mau Mau were captured they said they were on their way to attack the mission station but were prevented from doing so by a large number of soldiers that surrounded the campus. Historical record shows that the only British soldier anywhere near Kijabe that night was Chipps.

With Kenya’s independence in 1963, the population of missionaries grew considerably. It was during the 1960s that many of the programs that RVA is still recognized for today began. By this time the school had expanded enough to begin an interscholastic sports program. The first team fielded was basketball, followed soon after by rugby coached by the South African, Dave Reynolds. The choir and band programs were nationally recognized, and RVA was producing very good drama. Students began taking college entrance exams, the National Honor Society’s chapter of Elimu Bora was founded and a spirit of educational excellence was begun to be seen. The biggest boost to academic excellence was the push for accreditation in the 1960s. In 1967, under Roy Entwistle, the school was the first school in Africa to receive American accreditation.

Since independence

In the 1970s it was realized that the school was much too crowded. By 1974 the school had nearly 400 students enrolled. Students were sleeping on the floor because there were not enough beds, and the student to staff ratio was much too high, leaving large numbers of students without adequate adult supervision. A building program was begun that continues to this day. In 1976, Roy Entwistle took the job as principal at RVA. He began the process of breaking down the us vs. them barriers between students and staff with programs like Caring Community and building more, smaller dorms.

The 1980s was another time of growth for RVA. New buildings were going up and more staff were arriving. Under the leadership of Roy Entwistle, the school was gaining recognition worldwide for its academics and nationwide for its sports. During this time the school reached its full complement of students, and the school board put a cap on enrolment at 550. In 1981, the RVA rugby team won the inaugural Prescott Cup under the coaching of Colin Densham, and in 1994 they won the trophy for the 10th time in 14 years.

In 1998 Roy Entwistle handed over the reins of RVA to Jim Long who served as superintendent for 5 years before turning it over to Tim Cook, in 2003. Tim Cook served until (date missing) when he turned his position over to Tim Hall. The current superintendent is Mark Kinzer, who began his reign in 2016. During the 1990s and early 2000s, RVA has continued its march towards academic excellence. In the 80s and 90s, the school made great steps towards standardizing of curriculum, prior to this the curriculum left with the teacher and new teachers were forced to start from scratch.

Having survived the Mau Mau Rebellion of the 1950s and terrorist threats in the late 1990s, RVA has continued to grow. Today it enrolls roughly 500 students, from kindergarten up to grade twelve, and allows both American and British curricula to be followed by its students. Students hail from North America (roughly 60% of the student body), South Korea (20%), Kenya (15%), and other countries (10%). Graduates frequently attend college in their home country. The class of 2007 had graduates go to Harvard, Yale, University of Pennsylvania, M.I.T., Stanford, The US Air Force Academy, and the US Naval Academy.

Many RVA students, whose parents are typically North American, European, or Asian Christians working in East Africa, consider themselves third culture kids, in that their cultural identity is neither that of their parents’ home country nor that of East Africa but rather is a hybrid of the two.

Sports

The Rugby First XV has won the Prescott Cup multiple times as well as the Black Rock tournament (most recently in 2017). The sports teams are known as the RVA Buffalos. In 2007 Rift Valley Academy varsity sports swept nearly every championship, including men’s and women’s soccer, basketball, and volleyball. In 2010 the Men’s Varsity Soccer won the ISL Championship undefeated and even won the sportsmanship and character award.

TermBoysGirls
Term 1Soccer, TennisBasketball, Tennis
Term 2BasketballSoccer, Field Hockey
Term 3Rugby, VolleyballVolleyball

Theatre

RVA has a theatre program, with productions ranging from “The Matchmaker” and “Arsenic and Old Lace” to “Get Smart” and “Up the Down Staircase”. Several productions have been written by RVA staff and students, such as “Behold, Here’s Poison”, a two act play written by Kristy Faber, and “Synergy”, a one act play written by Joshua Hobbs.

Dormitories

Titchie:

  • Tembo
  • Davis
  • Propst

Junior High Boys:

  • Twiga
  • Okapi

Junior High Girls:

  • Simba
  • Sunni


High School Boys:

  • Nyati
  • Chui (Mixed grades 11–12)
  • Westervelt(Mixed grades 9–10)
  • Mbega
  • Bongo
  • Duma

High School Girls:

  • Ndege
  • Suswa
  • Kedong (in 5 sections)
    • Kedong Upper East (KUE)
    • Kedong Middle East (KME) (Wiarda)
    • Kedong Upper West (KUW) (Rabenold’s)
    • Kedong Middle West (KMW)(Doughty’s)
    • Kedong Lower West (KLW)

About the Author

Sande Kennedy is the founder and Editor in Chief of SandeKennedy.co.ke & Kenyans247.co.ke He is a Kenyan-based Internetprenuer,blogger Political Activist & informer who has an interest in politics, governance, corporate-fraud and human-interest. Kindly drop me a note if you feel aggrieved on any matter that you would want to be highlighted  Twitter: @nyosake , Instagram: @itssandekennedy WhatsApp: +254791890826 Read More about me here