How We Work

What makes One School at a Time Unique?

We believe that a school is an ecosystem — fixing just one thing will not repair the whole. We recognize that a well-functioning school is composed of much more than just buildings and infrastructure, and we take a whole school approach.

Our Ugandan Program Director, Hussein, training at one of our partner schools.

School board working diligently on their 5-year strategic plan.

  1. We use a community-based approach and require partner schools to identify their own needs and develop and implement their own strategic plan.
  2. We engage with our schools for five years or more. Long-term relationships with our partner schools build trust, good working rapport and community empowerment. It also creates the necessary conditions to build sustainability.
  3. We use communication techniques developed by Marshall Rosenberg  to engage our partners. These techniques make it possible for stakeholders to respectfully negotiate through differences and conflicts.
  4. One School at a Time does not dump resources and leave. We monitor each school’s progress to ensure that existing programs are functioning as intended. If something does not work, we learn from our mistakes and make adjustments.
  5. We collaborate with partners on infrastructure issues to identify simple Ugandan technologies that require minimal maintenance and are easy and affordable to repair.
  6. Each partner school is required to assist and encourage the next partner school, thereby building a local network of ongoing resources and support.
  7. By empowering a coalition of highly functioning public schools, One School at a Time creates the leverage needed to ensure that the Ugandan government allocates more resources to our partner schools.
  8. One School at a Time promotes sound financial management practices at parner schools and we foster school-based income-generating opportunities. Partner schools eventually become self-supporting.
  9. All One School at a Time employees in Uganda are Ugandans who understand the local languages and customs.

The Process of Working with a School Unfolds Like This:

We select schools that exemplify a “can do” hardworking attitude. We then guide school stakeholders to develop a five-year improvement plan for their school that typically includes:

A teacher presenting his school’s “SMART Goals.”

  • Improving school infrastructure (building classrooms, clean water systems, and teacher’s quarters);
  • Addressing health and sanitation issues;
  • Supporting teachers with appropriate trainings
  • Implementing useful and appropriate curriculum;
  • Removing sensitive cultural and economic barriers that inhibit students from attending school—specifically young women;
  • Establishing a school lunch/farm program; 
  • Fostering school-based small businesses to generate funds for existing programs.

After the plan is completed, One School at a Time supports the school to successfully implement their plan by:

  • Helping the school identify potential funding sources;
  • Engaging the school to advocate for resources due from the Ugandan government;
  • Identifying sustainable local technology that fulfills their needs;
  • Assisting with infrastructure construction;
  • Empowering the school board to make decisions and lead the school forward;
  • Connecting school to local government experts and other community resources;
  • Intervening and championing when problems occur;
  • Organizing stakeholders to share progress and overcome obstacles in the execution of their custom plans;
  • Providing key resources when all other funding possibilities have been exhausted.

Bay greeting Juliet, the Ugandan girl who inspired us to create One School at a Time.

Juliet and Bay at the One School Field Office, July 2018.

Patty Gilbert with students.



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