The vision for a better life for their children was always there. The sacrifice to leave their homeland, family and everything familiar to them was made. Like families around the world, the parents of Rochana and Kumudie Wiyathunge packed up their toddlers and moved to America. The brother and sister from Sri Lanka have grown up knowing the ticket to America was only part of the vision; that education was the ticket to their future. With intention and devotion, Gamini Wiyathunge and Chandranie Dissanayake continue to search for educational opportunities and growth for their children.
“Every second they think about our future. Whenever we’re not doing school work, we should be doing something,” says Rochana. “Our parents are always looking on the Internet for fun and educational opportunities. We take classes over the summer to get all we can from education.”
Rochana is a freshman at Hume Fogg Academic Magnet, while Kumudie is completing her final year at John Early Middle Museum Magnet. But their rigorous, educational focus can be traced to Charlotte Park Elementary where they participated in everything from a weekly intensive Parthenon writing workshop to summer adventure at NASA Space Camp.
The opportunity to spend their middle school years in the unique project-based-learning environment of John Early Museum Middle Magnet also had a tremendous impact, including providing opportunities to work in teams to create delightful K-3 educational materials through Parthenon internships during back-to-back MNPS Intersessions. This year, the school expanded access and learning opportunities for its massive collection from Scarritt Bennett, with the addition to the campus of a state-of-the-art museum.
“I work with the museum,” says Kumudie, “leading tours and talking to students about the museum and the experience of attending a museum magnet.”
She also is a member of Early’s Battle of the Books Club. “We form teams and we have to read 20 books and know them, so we can answer questions correctly in competitions,” says Kumudie. “My team was a semi-finalist in Middle Tennessee.”
Physical activity matches her activities. She is a swimmer and also participates in dance classes at the Global Education Center under dance instructor, Monica Cooley. At the April 23rd Earth Day Celebration at Centennial Park, Kumudie and her fellow dancers performed a traditional dance from India, the Bharatanatyun.
Such activities provide a bridge to her Southeast Asian cultural heritage. “We still have family, including my grandmother, in Sri Lanka, and we’ve visited several times, including last summer,” says Rochana. “We’re not fluent in Sinhalese (a language that derives from Sanskrit), but we understand it. Kumudie wins when it comes to speaking,” he admits.
His own museum magnet experience has also eased Rochana’s transition into the magnet high school.
“We have a lot of projects at Hume Fogg, and we do a lot of public speaking and presenting. We had similar project development and presentations in middle school. Last year, our three-person John Early team captured a bronze medal at Project Expo with a project on Mitosis – the process of cell division that allows looking at dominant and recessive genes.” He credits such experiences with helping him prepare for the more rigorous learning environment as well as personal growth. “I used to have a stutter, but now I’m more accustomed to presenting; more at ease.”
As a musician who plays the piano (since age 6) and the trombone, Rochana is also involved in musical performance as a member of Hume Fogg’s prestigious Wind Ensemble.
The magnet high school, ranked among the nation’s best, requires students to participate in clubs. In addition to serving as a member of Model UN, Rochana participates in Rubik’s Cube, “Maker” (working with CAD technology systems and 3-D modeling) and Free Thinker’s (a group based on Socratic Dialogues that discusses current and controversial topics, arriving at a general conclusion). As a member of the Freshman C Team, Rochana and his teammates also participated in the Science Olympiad.
“I want to add more AP (advanced placement) classes such as AP Biology, to my class schedule,” says Rochana. “My goal is to major in biology at Yale University and to continue in neurology and become a neurosurgeon.”
Kumudie’s career path is likewise leaning toward something in the medical field as she prepares to transition into high school at Hume Fogg.
Rochana and Kumudie enjoy the balanced, fast-paced, filled-to-the-brim excitement of their educational experience and see it as the way to fulfill the family vision. They believe building a portfolio of educational and life experiences can be the keys to future success.
So what advice do they have for fulfilling personal goals? They enthusiastically stumble over each other in their replies, “If you have a goal, find out what it takes to achieve it. Do all that you can. Take advantage of everything!”