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Meet Manjushree Patil, Founder of Aatman Academy

This month saw violent tragedies in Pakistan and Kenya, regions where Acumen works and which five classes of Acumen regional fellows call home. Among them there are dedicated teachers like Acumen India Fellow Manjushree Patil, crusaders against sex trafficking, builders of government, creators of liberating mobile medical technologies, and curators of slum sports programs. The need for strengthening the connections between those who are working for positive change against seemingly impossible odds has never been greater. We at Acumen have never been prouder to be the thread tying together these courageous individuals. Read more about Manjushree and how she is changing her community in India below!

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Acumen India Fellow Manjushree Patil is the founder of Aatman Academy, a school for children with learning disabilities (LD) in Thane, India. The need for a specialized learning environment in a country the size of India springs primarily from sheer numbers. A typical classroom at a government school in India ranges from 30-50 students with even the most elite private institutions averaging more than 25. It is difficult if not impossible for teachers to address the disparate needs of such a wide variety of learners and in general it is the neediest who are left behind.  Manjushree’s career spans almost three decades and includes teaching at the preschool and middle school level in addition to leading training programs for more than 20,000 special education teachers across the globe.  When she became the head of a prestigious international school, it was clear to Manjushree that children with LD not only need inclusion, but integration into an educational system that makes learning easy, uncomplicated and fun. Though she began the role with high hopes for change, the pressure to increase admissions and revenues soon swallowed most of her bandwidth. When asked by a fellow educator what drove her to found Aatman, Manjushree replied “My helplessness”.

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In January 2011, armed only with a clear sense of purpose and a handful of dedicated teachers, the idea for Aatman was born. Aatman opened its doors in June 2011 with just three students and has grown to more than 35 today. Manjushree’s mantra which Aatman shares is “If I’ve willed it. I will Build It” and this humble tenacity radiates  through the school’s culture. Despite running on tight finances, Manjushree and her staff have vowed not to focus on quantity of students enrolled, but rather on the quality of their curriculum. Shilpaa Vaidya, Aatman’s head of curriculum, has been with Manjushree since the dream began. Like countless other teachers at Aatman, Shilpaa left her secure job as Head of Primary Education at an international school for the chance to work in  a purpose driven innovative environment. Teachers have the freedom to try promising new techniques and students have the freedom to learn at their own pace. Aatman class sizes are no more than 10-15 allowing for one-on- one tutoring to happen throughout the regular school day rather than during costly and time consuming after school tutoring.  Aatman believes in looking past the report card to help each child get to know their unique gifts and provide a launching point for future learning.  The school is a hive of activity. The students are co-creators of not only their physical space but also of the values and rules that will govern their learning environment. As you enter you are greeted by students from grade 5 to 10 working together to set goals for the year ahead, shed nervousness, grow bravery, shed fear, grow joy. As you wind your way up the staircase past gratitude trees, walls of appreciation,  and countless pieces of artwork you begin to get a sense of warmth that infuses everything that is done here.  When asked what keeps her going through the countless hours of overtime each week, Manjushree says simply “Hearing parents tell me, you gave me my child back. Thank You”.

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“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King

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