Friday, 21 June 2013

What I'm Going To Miss

As I write, we have only 45 days, a short five weeks and change, left living in La Hoya. Although I'm excited about the new projects and future I have waiting for me in Scotland, it's difficult to imagine leaving behind the life Becky and I have created here in La Hoya.

We'll be leaving behind friends, people we count as family, an amazing job, students and a beautiful country that has become our home.

To give you a little bit of an idea of what I'm leaving behind here's a non-comprehensive list of what I'll be missing when I go back to Scotland.

  1. Playing dominoes in the shade on a rocky beach, not always losing but not always winning, with the sound of waves crashing in the distance and salt water drying in my hair.
  2.  Knowing every single child I meet on the street by name, knowing their age and how they're doing in school.
  3. Having a notebook full of the picture my kids draw for me.
  4. Spending a handful of pesos on candy at the colmado, buying coconut cookies and watermelon flavoured gum.
  5. Fried plaintains eaten under starry skies out of a plate on my lap outside on a night when there's no electricity.
  6. My friends, from the school drop out who lives a few houses down to university students to a 7-year-old child to my friends at youth group.
  7. Mango trees and coconut in my rice.
  8. Cracking jokes with my friends in Spanish, knowing that this is my second language.
  9.  The happiness of one of my students when they get a question right or suceed in something difficult. 
  10. An art classroom always full of children's art and the children proud to see it up on the walls. 
My life has changed by being here.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

End of the School Year!

The school year officially ended yesterday with the last of the children's exams, although they'll be coming in tomorrow to get their final grades and report cards.

Like every year, the end is both sad and happy. It's great to be finally moving on to new projects and areas. Teaching has been an immensely rewarding experience and we'll definitely miss seeing our kids every single day but it hasn't been hard adjusting to the peace and quiet of an empty school.

Becky and I have begun re-painting the wall murals of the classrooms and have been enjoying ourselves getting covered in paint. More news as it comes!

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Secondary Projects

All Project Trust volunteers are tasked with establishing a "secondary project", in addition to the main project we are tasked with while on assignment. Our secondary projects are an oppotunity to leave our personal mark on our project, to add real value in our communities using the specific skills that we possess.

Secondary projects aren't easy to think of or establish but they can be intensely rewarding, as I have been learning.

I'm sure that most Project Trust volunteers must have their fair share of failed secondary projects. (At least, I hope so.) I ran a girls sports club for a few weeks that dwindled into non-attendence. Two months of evening adult English class petered out when my students (and myself, to be perfectly honest) couldn't work attendence around their jobs and responsibilities.

However, around mid-December last year I gave semester exams to all of my students. Although they're all eager and sometimes desperate to learn (and non un-intelligent), their ability to be tested clocks in at a low zero. I remember the grading-madness when I began to talk (shout) at the tests about how students could remember the word for "school" on the third page but get an identical question correct on the second. My students didn't know how to read instructions, take notes, study independently or even do something as simple as eliminate wrong answers on multiple choice questions. Bright students nearly failed because, without basic study skills, they struggled to turn a test to their advantage.

In response, I decided to take matters into my own hands and teach study skills and test-taking abilities myself. After discussing it with my principal and the school's educational advisor, I agreed to run an after-school program for 8th graders. In the Dominican Republic, 8th graders sit national exams that determine where and whether they will be able to continue on to higher education. I and the school administration felt it would most benefit the 8th grade. The club ran once a week and had open attendence. Although restricted to 8th graders, I tended to turn a blind eye to the occasional 7th grader who snuck in.

I felt the program was a great success. We covered diverse topics, including flashcards, critical thinking, educated guessing, note-taking and how to prepare mentally and physically for a test. The results were incredibly rewarding, especially when students would approach me outside of class to tell me that something they had learned in "tecnicas de estudio" had helped them do well on a test. Although much was the same here as what I remembered about studying myself (and helping other study as a tutor), there were some adjustments I had to make to another country and culture.

For instance, at home it's important to discourage students from staying up late to cram-study the night before a test. However, since the electrical power in the DR is fleeting and rare in the evenings, staying up would be pointless (it's too dark to study). Most students will instead force themselces to wake up at hellish hours of the morning to use whatever sunlight they can get from the dawn.

In additional, I wanted to run a short course as part of classtime (therefore forcing all 8th graders to attend, also reinforcing my minor repuation as a diabolical teacher who doesn't let you get away with resting) With the end of the school year and the national exams fast approaching, the study skills course began this past Monday the 6th and will finish tomorrow, the 9th. We've covered instructions, educated guessing, the use of flashcards and will be tomorrow talking about how to be ready for the test.

So far, the sessions have been going great and the 8th graders seem to be enjoying and getting a lot out of the course.

While I hope to establish other secondary projects during the summer, teaching study skills has been intensely rewarding and a lot of fun.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

End of Year Projects

With less than a month left of teaching left in the school year, my English classes have begun their end of year projects. I wanted to take this opportunity for my students to use the English they've learned during the year and actually put it into practice in an activity.

In 8th grade, we're reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. While not at the level where they can geniunely read the entire book, we're reading passages and learning vocabulary using the story as a frame work. I've been trying to focus on reading and understanding using content: the idea that they don't have to understand every word in order to understand what's happening!

We've just finished studying vocabulary from the first Sorting Hat Song. Here are some of the kids choosing houses to be in:
In 7th grade, we're learning how to write letters and are going to use our vocabulary to write letters to next year's 8th grade class at my home high school.

In 6th grade, we're learning about questions (starting off with the basic seven question words) and will use our vocabulary and our new knowledge to write and take part in interviews!

In 5th grade, we're reading a English Berenstein Bears book, Catch The Bus. It focuses on time and school language, so we're both using our old knowledge and learning new words.


In 4th grade, we're learning school vocabulary and using that to make a final end of year map of the school, with labels and pretty drawings. Here's an example of some of the vocabulary we're learning and examples of the kids' draft maps.


So far, it's been really enjoyable to be able to see the kids use their English and to see themselves suceeding at communication.

One more month to summer!

Sunday, 10 March 2013

A Day with Ruth – 2nd of March, 2013

(in Spanish, the “th” sound goes unpronounced. Ruth’s name is therefore pronounced “Rue”)

On Saturday, I went to the nearby village of Habinero to visit one of my 7th grade students, a young girl by the name of Ruth.
Ruth is twelve years old and has two young brothers who live with her and her mother. I teach one of her younger brothers, Ismael, in sixth grade. Ruth would like to be an English teacher when she is older and seems pretty determined about it. (Even on days when she doesn’t have English class, she comes and finds me and asks for a word of the day, to add to her ever growing English vocabulary.)

When I arrived in Habinero, having caught a ride with another volunteer, Ruth’s cousin, a boy called Anderson, walked me to her house on the outskirts of the village. (Amusingly, Anderson seemed to be infatuated with a young girl in my 7th grade class called Perla.) I gave quite a surprise to my students who saw me walking through the village, unused to seeing me outside of my own village.

Ruth had cooked lunch and was very proud to serve me up a full Dominican bandera – rice (by the pound), beans and fried salami in sauce. I helped her mother to sort clothes for sale and then Ruth, her family and I sat outside in the breeze while Ruth’s mother ate her own lunch.

Then Ruth showed me around her neighbourhood of Habinero, introducing me to other students and their families, pointing our houses of family and people she thought I should know. We bought sweet oranges from a girl with a big bowl of them and visited another one of my students, Carmen Lina, and her brothers. Ismael showed off with his slingshot and we watched 15 minutes of, bizarrely enough, a Spanish dub of Dodgeball that was playing on Carmen Lina’s tiny tv.

Poignantly, on the way home, Ruth pointed out a small square of concrete next to a deep, rocky trench, with a single room still standing on the edge of the concrete. This was where Ruth’s house had stood, until the tropical storm Isaac washed it away in August of last year. Ruth’s current house, on the edge of the village, was built by the government while Ruth and her family stayed with an aunt in Barahona, the nearby city. The rocky trench I had not noticed earlier was the path the river followed when it overflowed its banks.

Back at home, we fried plaintains and salami for a snack and ate sitting in the back doorway, watching chickens peck at the packed earth. We talked about school and Ismael’s hobby of fighting fish. Her younger brothers demonstrated their reading ability out of coveted textbooks and told me about their classes at Habinero’s small primary school. At the end of the day, Ruth’s uncle took us back to La Hoya on his motorbike and Ruth and I said goodbye at the school gate.

I enjoyed getting to experience another village and pass time with my students, spending my free time in the same way as the children I teach. It was eye-opening to see how some of my most disadvantaged students live and work but rewarding to witness the fruit of my time in the community as I recognised friends and was recognised by students.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Carneval in La Vega!


Today we visited the famous carneval of La Vega! We took a gua-gua from the capital to arrive at the hotwl with plenty of time to get stuck in in the carneval. 

The whole town of La Vega turns into one giant carneval making machine for the whole month of February. Everyone in the town is part of a carneval group that spends the whole year preparing for the month of February, making their costumes and preparing for the four Sundays of Carneval. The atmosphere is one of a giant street party, every house and business converted to selldrinks and snacks to revelers and the streets full of vendors and people celebrating. 

The Parade:

At it's heart, Carneval in La Vega is a big parade of all the costumed "diablos". There are hundreds of differents groups, made up of different ages and genders. Families participate together, from girls and boys as young as eight and nine all the way up to the upper generations.


The Costumes:

The costumes are all meticulously put together, obviously planned and worked on for the entire year. It's almost impossible to see that there are humans inside and they must be hot and very uncomfortable, because most participants remove their masks to be able to breathe. The costumes make noise, sparkle and are covered in about every colour you can think of. Some groups obviously prioritise creepiness, others try to be big and impressive, others focus on traditional sparkly devil forms. No matter what, participants are obviously intensely proud of their costumes and love to show them off and take pictures.


The Butt-Hitting:

It is utterly impossible to describe a day at Carneval in La Vega without recounting the constant state of fear in which you exist as practically every diablo (and quite a few other people as well) try to sneak up on you and hit you as hard on possible on the butt with their whips. Many diablos will simply tap you but the moment you turn you back, you'll be whipped as hard as possible with a long rope ended up a heavy weight. Speaking from personal experience, IT IS INCREDIBLY PAINFUL. Any and all walking has to be executed with an escort and with a constant eye on your behind. You truly spend the whole day afraid for the integrity of your behind!

The experience was a ton of fun and full of "alegria" as we participated in the peculiarly Dominican way of having fun (a holiday all about hitting people on the butt!).