Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Day in the Life (Part 1)

I have to apologize again for the long delay! This time my excuse is a broken computer keyboard, and things are not easy to get fixed here. The cliché is actually super true - we really do take a ton for granted. The ability to hop in a car and drive a computer somewhere it can be fixed, maybe even be left over night with confidence, and come back to get it the next day, for example, is not something I or anyone has here.

There is so much going on here all the time, I thought it might be good to bring everyone up to speed on what a typical school day is like here, at least for me. It should help to give a little context.

The day starts at either 6 or 5:30 a.m. when I get up to go to breakfast and do whatever internet chores or class prep I have to do (since we don't have internet in our house). Breakfast varies, but during the week it invariably includes beans and the signature corn tortillas. My favorite breakfast is hole beans (verses mashed) with steamed plantains and a delicious sauce they call mantequilla, which is kind of a liquidy, cheesy, sour cream. We have it every Monday with banana licuado, hot milk with some sort of add-in, a lot of times rice or oats.

The jóvenes, or teenagers, here get up at 5:30 every morning so that they can leave for high school by 6:15ish. It's a half hour walk and school starts at 7. So breakfast is a casual affair in the comedor, with kids, teachers, madrinas and padrinos filing in at different times depending on their schedules. At a little before 7, the metal bell outside the comedor that serves as the signal for the beginning of every activity here, rings for all the elementary school kids to line up outside to walk to our school, which sits behind the big soccer field at the back end of the campus. They all wear light blue button down shirts and brown pants. Their uniforms usually look really nice during this time each day (they get taken off and washed immediately after school); after a couple hours, it's amazing how un-bonito they look.
My day doesn't start until 8, which is when the preschool school day begins. I usually end up going to breakfast just at the end and staying after the bell rings to eat and talk with some of the jóvenes who don't go to high school in the morning. I love the subdued chaos in the comedor when the little kids are there, the way they'll jump up behind me with their bean-y hands to cover my eyes and make me guess who. I also love when they all leave and peace settles (sort of) and I can talk one on one with one of the jóvenes. Today I got to talk for awhile with one of the especially outgoing jovenes who wanted to know what the buildings are like in the United States. They're not made of concrete like ours are, are they, he asked me. For example, this comedor, he said, waving a hand to bring in the scope of the long cafeteria with it's five rows of long wooden tables and benches; this would be the size of one family's house, right?

I try to get up to the library by at least 7:15. If I have a library or an English class that day I usually need to prep some materials or books, and I always need to pick out books to read to the preschoolers and to my one-on-one special needs student. At 8, I head down to the preschool classroom and the craziness begins. On Mondays through Wednesdays there are 3 extra youngsters in the class for the first hour, all of them three years old. My special needs student is in the classroom every day for that first hour. I watch in amazement as my fellow volunteer Emily begins class with circle time and marvel at how she's able to keep it up for 4 hours. The kids have nicknames like pollita, little chicken, or mami, the only word one child could say when she arrived, or rana, frog, my special needs student's favorite animal (I'm going to call her Rana here).

After the first hour, Rana and I head to the library for an hour of one-on-one time. I will need to give Rana her own blog post some day. For now, suffice it to say that she will be one of my biggest challenges this year, but our relationship will probably be one of the most rewarding I form here as well. As I begin to see better what God has to teach me through this little girl, I'll write more. Our first week she bit me twice; tonight at dinner, she sought me out in the comedor and wrapped her skinny little arms around my waist from behind: ''rana! rana!''

I walk Rana back to her dormitory at 10 and head back up the hill to the school. It's already hot, hot, hot. In the library, I'll be sweating sitting still. I teach library classes to our 6th grade and two mixed classes of kids in about 4th to 6th grade, one of them a special ed class. These classes have been super challenging because of the range of abilities, particularly the special ed class, which includes kids with learning disabilities as well as serious behavioral problems. It's amazing, though, in that class in particular, how invested I feel in every kid. As I get to know them and their stories and see their desire to learn, even though it's my most exhausting class, I'm so glad I get the chance to teach them. I could tell you a story about every one of them. For now, I'll just tell you about one. One of the new kids from the last post is in that class. He can't read or write or do basic math or identify the letters of the alphabet or simple numbers, not because of any disability, but because he's never been to school. He's thirteen years old. After four weeks of school, he now can write his own name and identify most of the letters and he loves to read by repeating each word after me and saying the simple words he knows alone. Today he sounded out the word las by himself; it was like Christmas morning.

Three days a week I also give English classes to the 6th grade, and I love it. I love the 6th grade; there's another class full of wonderfully unique personalities, and they're also super eager to learn. It's amazing how badly the kids here want to learn English. They already know how much it could help them to speak that language, the amazing opportunities it could give them.

When I'm not teaching my own class, I help out the two volunteers who co-teach the two mixed grades. A lot of times this means I'll work with one of their kids one on one on reading or math, and in the afternoons it means I'm a classroom aid to my fellow volunteer (and roommate) who teaches the special ed mixed class full time. She has 5 of the 10 kids for the entire day, when they're not in specials. I am every day amazed by her patience and creativity and passionate advocacy for these kids. Every class she makes it a point to tell the kids how smart they are. For some of them, it's the first time they've ever heard it.

The school day ends at 2:15 and that's where this post will have to end as well. I'll follow up with a part 2 in the next one! Thanks for reading!

Hasta pronto.

p.s. my foot is doing really well. I don't limp anymore and even though it's still a little sore, I kicked my first soccer ball yesterday so we should be good to go. [:

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