Thursday, July 25, 2013

Cambia, Todo Cambia

Positive energy, rather than mosquitoes, has been currently swarming us here in the Polochic Valley as we are seeing and feeling tremendous development in our impact in the school-day, our after-school class, and our overall presence in the community of Nueva Mercedes. A proposed library system, four fixed computers, greater scheduled computer/reading/art classes, proposed singing classes, and weekly river trips, it's almost overwhelming, yet music to our ears and kudos to our efforts.

The relationships that we are building with the teachers --what I find to be perhaps one of the most important steps--is really beginning to blossom, as there are conversations before, during and after classes about how we want to be more involved in and out of school, and likewise how they can be more involved in what we are doing (This was a problem I  faced and have noted again and again, and perhaps it is just time permitting, but also for future volunteers, I'd like to note that it is imperative to take the initiative to reach out to the teachers and get to know them as best as possible for we must learn to feed off of each other.)  With attendance for our after-school class climbing above thirty children we have proposed a solution for the teachers to help promote and support us by dividing the children into two groups based on grades: first, third, fourth, and second, fifth, sixth. They gladly accepted and now the teachers each have a fixed weekly schedule posted in their classrooms that identifies which group practices on each day and likewise they announce reminders at the end of class. This little effort by the teachers is important as they are the main authoritarian figures on the school grounds, thus it reminds the children that our class is an extension of the school-day, and deserves the same mandatory level of respect. Most importantly, this involvement signifies a bridge between the two teaching bodies, which at times in the past seemed detached from and disharmonious with one another.

School director, Reginaldo, has been of great help lately by lending us school records of student evaluation scores permitting us to begin developing a statistic-based tracking system that will allow us to see our impact in student performance. Also, he has approved of our plan to introduce a library system where children can check out books for certain amounts of time to bring home and read. This idea was inspired by the discovery that very few children in Mercedes have access to books , therefore have zero opportunity to read leisurely outside of school. Our small volunteer operated library would be a means to provide children with books to bring home and practice reading, and hopefully will promote greater reading interests among all ages in the community as well as responsible behavior since the children will be expected to care for the books and return them on time in the same condition when borrowed. Lastly, Reginaldo has spoken to the first grade teacher Anna on behalf of us and received permission to open up her room in the afternoon to be used for our after-school agenda. Our plan is to have the computers in one classroom with only the students practicing, and the other classroom to be a library setting or art class. This idea including the split groups we find to be a potential solution to the on-going problems we have faced in regards to distractions and over-crowding.

Since the arrival of our current volunteers over a month ago our after-school class has tremendously improved. Being here for the entire school year, it is an incredible experience to see something step by step grow and mature as new minds and personalities contribute what they can. Beyond the arts which Jess has been largely responsible for (check out last weeks Blog by Jess detailing her efforts) the IT class has really evolved since Quentin's arrival. Possessing technical skills I and others have lacked the past 6 months, Quentin has fixed four malfunctioning computers (we now have 8 functioning machines), and got them all up-to-date with the current Edubuntu software that we use the majority of the lessons. The increased number of laptops allows more children to practice each day and at longer intervals. With our split agenda this means that 15 children get 45 minutes to 1 hour of practice twice a week. A giant leap forward.

Something important we have realized about the math programs we are currently using is they do not not effectively “teach” the children new concepts, but only allow them to practice which they already know, therefore we have begun to give one-on-one lessons on the dry-erase board. For example, my third graders are working on multiplication so I use to board to explain alternative methods of counting to find the product of two numbers. Like most third graders, larger factors such as 8 and 9 are more difficult for them to calculate internally.   We intend to begin creating lesson plans that we could give for 10-15 minutes to five or six students prior to each computer session. This will be specifically helpful for the students who are falling behind in their day classes.

On top of all of this I have constructed an educational board game incorporating day-time material into a race against peers that has become extremely popular among the third grade students (soon to be shared with other grade levels). We have begun weekly river trips to Pueblo Viejo on Sundays, a day to simply cool off, relax, practice swimming, collect flowers, search for flat rocks to paint, and explore the awe of the Polochic Valley walking through the many corn fields which have decorated this region of the world for thousands of years. We are trying to make more frequent trips to the village in the late afternoon to interact with families, for instance, we have begun to visit one of the local churches to support the children's choir. These evening trips have inspired the idea to bring music to our after-school program, which is in the works as I am talking to Reny, a community member and guitarist who is enthusiastic about playing music with Quentin and myself which we will in turn share with the children.

"Cambia, todo cambia" -Mercedes Sosa

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