Cat Biddle Works to Close the Education Gap in Rural India

After graduating from Brown, Cat was interested in education, but wasn’t ready to jump into the classroom fulltime. She was looking for a program “with a lot of scaffolding,” and was immediately attracted to the training and support that Citizen Schools offers. Cat joined the Teaching Fellowship program in 2006 and taught for two years at the Gavin Campus in Boston. During her time at Citizen Schools, Cat learned the basic blueprint of a nonprofit organization and, when she graduated from the fellowship, she used this newfound understanding to help strengthen the Nanubhai Education Foundation, an organization dedicated to youth education in rural India. Aside from teaching in Boston, Cat had the chance to work in several different areas of the program side of Citizen Schools and was inspired by the organization’s dedication to improvement and growth. As she puts it, “I learned a lot about what it takes to make an effective nonprofit run.” She began to understand how Citizen Schools uses data to inform its decisions about the next big step or new direction. In addition, her partnership with the curriculum team taught her how training and program decisions are made. This experience in each pocket of Citizen Schools gave her a big-picture understanding of how a successful nonprofit functions.

One of the highlights of her time as a Teaching Fellow was seeing how her students progressed in these apprenticeships. For Cat, the apprenticeship model emphasizes Citizen Schools’ commitment to finding the best way to approach youth education. She loved that they were given “the chance to be exceptional;” a student that had a hard time throughout the program would surprise her during a WOW! “The apprenticeship program was where I saw my students shine,” she says. And from the program side of things, Cat was able to see this inspirational model from the inside-out.

As she wrapped up the Fellowship, Cat was offered a teaching position in special education out in California. However, when the opportunity to teach in India suddenly arose, she changed directions and headed abroad with the Nanubhai Education Foundation. Cat knew she wanted to go into education, but she never quite knew “where, in what capacity, and with what student population.” Her choice to work at Nanubhai clarified these questions. The Nanubhai Education Foundation works with the Kadod High School in rural India to help close the education gap between students in rural and urban areas. The Nanubhai fellowship program sends foreign teachers (Americans, for the most part) to India where they are trained to teach spoken English to middle and high school students both during and after the school day. As a member of the first group of American teachers sent to India, Cat also spent a lot of time working with the school and community on a program model for the future generations of teachers. After her a year of teaching, Cat was asked to take the Executive Director position, and just recently moved back to the States to continue that work.

Under Cat’s leadership, the foundation has grown immensely over the past two years. After a lot of fundraising, marketing, and business development, the Nanubhai Education Foundation is a full-fledged program with more teachers, wider-reaching resources, a solid fundraising arm, and a plan for local sustainability. The program now partners its Fellows with newly-educated Indian teachers who usually have no practical teaching experience to improve teaching methods until they can successfully and comfortably run a classroom.

According to Cat, everything she learned at Citizen Schools about the inner workings of a nonprofit and how to run a youth education organization served as a platform for her work at Nanubhai. Her understanding of each department’s specific responsibilities, different methods of building support, teacher training, and program design helped her to put forth a sturdy plan of action as Executive Director for the Nanubhai Education Foundation. She says, “I wouldn’t have had any of that experience if I hadn’t worked for Citizen Schools.”

Cat has enjoyed strengthening each part of the foundation as the Nanubhai Foundation keeps moving toward educational equity for all Indian students. According to Cat, it has been extremely rewarding to pilot programs and then watch them succeed in the school systems. Cat will shortly move to the board of the foundation so she can return to graduate school to earn a PhD in rural international education. In the meantime, she continues to watch the organization grow and help move the Nanubhai Foundation toward a sustainable future.