In 1967, Dr. Rabindra (Rabin) Roy returned to his native Durgapur, India for the first time since leaving to pursue an advanced degree in the United States. At the time, his father, Hemchandra, was the secretary of a one-room clay school with a straw roof. A strong storm had just destroyed the roof, and Hemchandra asked Rabin to donate the $30 it would cost to repair it. When Rabin complied, Hemchandra asked him to continue taking care of the school. Rabin’s promise to do so would shape the rest of his life and profoundly impact Durgapur.
Rabin’s parents, Hemchandara and Sheelabati Roy, were passionate about education in Durgapur. With the encouragement of his brothers and sisters, Rabin formed the Hemchandra Sheelabati Memorial Education Trust in tribute to his parents. Hem-Sheela Model School (HSMS) was born out of the trust, and it held its first academic session in 1995-96. Rabin and his wife, Dr. Protima Roy, envisioned an educational system that would serve the people of Durgapur both academically and socially. “Our educational experiences in India and America helped us build these schools,” says Protima.
The Roys’ great vision was not without its drawbacks. “We’ve sacrificed a lot to open this school,” Protima says. The Roys describe the two-bedroom home they’ve lived in for 40 years, how they’ve never taken an expensive vacation—choosing to visit the school in India time and again—and how they don’t eat out at restaurants. In total, the Roys estimate they’ve invested about $2.25 million of their own money into HSMS and the tribal school. The school is so important to them that, in the school’s academic catalog, the Roys refer to HSMS as “our daughter.”
BUILDING THE SCHOOLS
Because the land for Hem Sheela belonged to a government-run steel factory, it would have been very difficult to get the land on their own, the Roys say. But Dr. John Moore, Drury’s fourteenth president, wrote a letter on their behalf to the factory’s managing director and it made all the difference. “We wouldn’t have gotten permission to lease the land without that letter,” Rabin says.
Moore was there to dedicate the original school built on the family’s former rice farm, during Hem Sheela’s first year in 1995, welcoming 350 students in grades K-2. Student enrollment quickly overwhelmed that first building, and in 1997, Moore was back in India to dedicate the second HSMS building, a K-12 school.
Today, HSMS boasts an enrollment of 5,000 students and employs 153 teachers. Its infrastructure is vast and includes multiple libraries, science labs, audio-visual and computer equipment, accessibility for physically challenged students and a recreation center. The school even achieved the “academic excellence award 2015” from The Telegraph newspaper at the Science City Auditorium in Kolkata.
“The academic standards and state-of-the-art facilities at HSMS are due to the abundant generosity of John and Crystal Beuerlein,” Rabin says emphatically. “Protima and I, and the entire Hem Sheela family, are truly grateful to the Beuerleins. Because of our cutting-edge facilities, HSMS is one of the best-reputed schools in India. Without the funds donated to the school, this would be impossible.”
In a letter published in HSMS’s academic catalog, Beuerlein writes: “I continue to be inspired by the quality of the academic, physical and spiritual development of our students [at HSMS]. I am proud of the entire Hem Sheela family and am equally proud to support those efforts.”
HSMS is continually striving to become one of the best schools in the world. The Roys emphasize the importance of hiring dedicated teachers who give each student personalized attention to meet the school’s academic rigor and allow them to develop personally. “Our teachers are highly dedicated, experienced, teach with loving care and give extra time for remedial classes,” Rabin says. “This is why everybody at HSMS has very successfully passed the nationwide grade 12 final tests, and we’ve had no dropouts. The teachers even invite students into their homes to help and encourage them.”
The Tribal School Takes Shape
All of the tribal children who attend the Roy’s Protima Child and Woman Development Center are first generation learners. The Roys knew their educational endeavors could serve the village of Khatguria, just six miles from Hem Sheela, but the first order of business was to get permission from the villagers to build the school. The village’s 65 families did not believe the Roys when they told them why they were visiting Khatguria. “They thought we were with the government, trying to persuade them to vote a certain way,” Protima says. The Roys were eventually able to gain the villagers’ trust and convince them to donate the land on which to build the school. Since the Roys’ first visit, Khatguria has seen considerable development, including access to electricity. “It looks so different than it did then,” Protima says of Khatguria.
The village children are typically born at home (the births are not registered) and many don’t know their exact age. So instead of placing children into grade levels based solely on their age, the teachers at the tribal school must assess each child’s cognitive ability before placing them in a class. “Most of the children look thinner, smaller and more frail than their counterparts at HSMS. In my opinion, nutrition and education are basic necessities needed to modernize this village and upgrade their living standard. We’re convinced that only through education and training can they improve their lives,” says Protima.
In the school’s early years, there was an attendance problem—some parents would pull students out of school because they needed an additional hand in their rice fields —and the dropout rate was about 50%. In response, the teachers began visiting homes and taking action to bring students back to school. The retention rate is now 80%. In 2015, 25 students passed class four and will continue their studies at a nearby secondary public school.
All of the school’s teachers earn a fair wage, and two of the teachers are tribal women. A tribal man also joined recently. These women have done remarkable things with their wages; one built a concrete home, which is not typical in the village.
Unlike HSMS, the tribal school is free for children to attend. “We provide everything,” Protima says. “They don’t pay a cent. They’re the poorest of the poor.” All the finances for the school—including teacher’s salaries, furniture, the well for the water, and more—are covered by the Roys and the scholarship fund set up by John and Crystal Beuerlein; Michael and Janice Doyle; Jim and Teresa Davis; and John and Catherine Porter Moore. Protima says, “My life has changed since I started going to the village and interacting with the tribal people.”
The Protima Child and Woman Development Center, located in the tribal school, launched its inaugural skill training program in November 2010 with around 10 women making laboratory aprons, curtains and school uniforms for the tribal school. Now about 70 women from 10 villages participate in the program. It can host more than 100 women. “The goal is to give basic education and sustainable skills to these women so they will be literate, self-sufficient and empowered,” says Protima.
A Partnership Overseas
Rabin envisioned a partnership where Drury faculty, students and staff could connect with Hem Sheela faculty, students and staff to learn from each other, and that formal partnership was established in 2002. All HSMS students who score well on India’s standardized test and the SAT are eligible for admission to Drury with a scholarship. Since the partnership was established, four HSMS students have come to study at Drury, and five HSMS teachers have come to the states to learn about the latest technology and teaching methods. In total, the Roys estimate that about 45 Drury faculty and staff have visited HSMS as well as 100 students.
There are also two scholarships available each year through the Hem Sheela Model School Endowed Scholarship Fund that enables Drury students majoring in education to complete part of their student teaching requirement at HSMS. Recent Drury students who received this privilege include Megan Taylor ’13 and Kelly Gallagher ’13. “Students at HSMS seem happy to be in school and are eager to learn,” Kelly says. Megan adds, “The experience was one that has left an amazing impact on me.” Protima says that, in her experience, Drury student teachers who teach at HSMS and the tribal school are better able to appreciate the poor and homeless they might encounter in their stateside schools.
After their retirement, the Roys plan to spend four to six months at a time in India, eventually moving back to their home country full-time to concentrate completely on HSMS and the tribal school. Their entire retirement nest egg will go to the schools: Protima’s to the tribal school and Rabin’s to HSMS.
In the future, the tribal school will become a full-fledged National Model Secondary Tribal School. The skill training center will develop into a production house fully managed by the tribal society. All of these endeavors are an attempt to help the tribal women become more self-sufficient. Protima would ultimately like to see all the women manage their own money and have improved access to healthcare. To that end, the campus will also house a health clinic for the tribal society in the future.
In addition to ensuring the schools continue to grow and develop, it’s important to the Roys that the citizens of India have access to adequate healthcare. The Board of Trustees at HSMS have embarked on building an urgently-needed health clinic. Dr. Porter Moore ’95, daughter of Dr. John Moore and one-time student of Rabin’s, has donated money to build a clinic in India in memory of her mother Louise, which they expect to dedicate in December.
The amazing infrastructure the Roys, and members of the Drury community have inspired, has had a profound and lasting impact on the citizens of Durgapur and on those in Springfield who have been involved with the school. As they continue to dedicate themselves to the schools and the city of Durgapur after their retirement from teaching at Drury, it’s clear that their legacy, which spans the globe, will carry on through the thousands of lives they’ve touched.
BY CASSY COCHRUN ’10
Rabindra Roy promises his father he will take care of the school in Durgapur.
Hem Sheela Model School opens its doors for the first time.
The second HSMS building opens, expanding it to serve children in K-12.
Drury formalizes its partnership with HSMS.
The tribal school opens its doors for the first time.
The Protima Child and Woman Development Center launches its first training program.
A new building in the village of Khatguria expands the tribal school and skill training center.
Photos from India
In 2011, Drury Magazine executive editor Jann Holland traveled to India as a representative for the Hem Sheela Model School Founder’s Day celebration.
Explore photos and learn more about her journey in this Web Exclusive feature.