Plainview, MN, First Week Teaching

ImageThe Jon Hassler Theater in Plainview, MN

I spent my first week teaching at the Jon Hassler Theater in southeastern Minnesota. I had six students in total participating in my workshops, four from Plainview and two from Pine Island, a nearby town.

I worked to adapt the material that I had learned in Belgrade, geared toward professionals, to material that fit the experience levels of the students in the room, which was a large range. Some of the students were older and naturally more advanced. It’s astounding what difference even two years of experience makes with high school students. I went into the week with a lot of excitement and nervousness (and all the thoughts that accompany that: will they like me? am I prepared? is there enough time?!). I had three hours a day with the students, working on the stage at the Jon Hassler Theatre, who graciously hosted me for the week. I had a lot of balancing to do. The group dynamic and the varied experience level of participants was often enough to monopolize my concentration.

On top of all else, I was sharing the exercises that I had learned in Belgrade. The material is very challenging and some of the students rose to that challenge and really absorbed the material. However, I quickly realized that I often had to adapt more than I had expected. Some of this training from Dah really seeks to help performers to recognize and break their cliches, in order to be flexible and well rounded. But I happened to be teaching in a context where some haven’t gotten their feet solidly on the ground with performance and haven’t had a chance to develop any cliches or habits.

I was also fighting time to include both exercises, training, and creating material (which had little space until the last days). I want to give them plenty of time to make things, devising theatre, and help to empower them to create their own performance. That’s my challenge for next time, because ultimately, I feel that that’s my goal.

It wasn’t all challenge, of course. We had lots of laughs creating small scenes, including using the seats at the Jon Hassler for a movie theatre scene, and my students taught me so much every day, as I observed them.

My only regret is that I forgot to take a picture of us as a whole group. Our three hours a day were always so packed. We didn’t even find time for a group picture.

In two weeks I’m headed north to Roseau, MN, my hometown, to do it all again.

-Jon

Mississippi Is, Mississippi Will Be: The Last Week and Camping

This week was our last week, and in honor of the end of the summer, we took the kids camping. I say camping lightly, because it was really car camping in an effort to cut costs. The first night we camped out in by Selma Alabama, and visited historical sights during the day (the Selma interpretive center and the Edmund Pettus Bridge). The next night, we camped out in Birmingham, and visited the National Civil rights institute and the 16th Street Baptist Church.

Bringing kids to these historical sights was incredible; I watched them make connections to their own lives in ways I hadn’t thought was possible. We saw the street that had previously segregated white and black neighborhoods in Selma, and understood that maybe things weren’t so different now. We watched kids contemplate their own realities: a public school with no white children and a private school across town known to be safer but not necessarily more academically rigorous; two completely separate neighborhoods for whites and blacks in the towns they live in, whites and blacks frequenting different restaurants, stores, etc.  Segregation feels so recent here. The historical sights helped many of the kids see what the interns, many of whom are from northern cities, had long struggled with in the delta: maybe we haven’t in fact come so far. 

Camping was a different story entirely. Many of these kids had never spent the night out doors, let alone been on a camping trip. The mere presence of a raccoon brought an hour of hysteria. In addition, I would recommend thinking hard about camping in the Deep South at the end of July. It was 105 during the day and not much cooler at night. And although the staffers were less than thrilled about the weather, the kids loved it. Raccoon trauma’s aside, the kids voraciously set up tents, cooked meals, and swam in the lake. It was an escape from their daily lives of monotony within the delta. 

Madeline

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The students walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama where the famous Selma to Montgomery voting rights march began.

Research in Nepal: Struggles and Miracles

For a simple mapping research project, Nepal has transformed it into a maze of unforeseen obstacles and a challenge to finish in 3 weeks. My plan to accompany the community health workers to each oral health camp, walk the surrounding neighborhoods while collecting my food source coordinates and data and return back in time to help apply fluoride seemed easy enough.  Even after getting here and observing the never ending lines of small shops selling lollipops, chocolate, packaged noodles and chips along so many streets gave me even more confidence in the many GPS coordinates I could easily collect. However, after a three hour walk – in the monsoon and the mud –  we arrived at the school to find every surrounding shop closed up. This is because most shops in Nepal have irregular hours, opening and closing when they feel like it. Small shops that rely on business from school children often close all day, while school is in session. Since the oral health camps are coordinated with the schools, they are always planned to occur during the school day. Seeing the streets of closed shops made my heart sink as I looked down at my mud soaked shoes and pants and realized the little work that could be done that day. Most shops in Kathmandu are a single room at the base of a building that can be completely covered and locked by a garage door, making it impossible to obtain any information about what it might sell.

The most difficult part of planning anything in Nepal, especially during the monsoon season, is the craziness of transportation. Many streets are unpaved, becoming mud-mountains and deep ponds after it rains, that cars and buses still attempt to drive on, splashing any nearby pedestrians. Since walking can be so unpleasant, even with an umbrella, buses are uncomfortably full and they continue packing in riders until seats and aisles have at least 3 times as many people as they are meant for. This has been the biggest challenge of having to return to the many camp sites in Kathmandu, trying out different times of the day in order to get at least an idea of the types of food sold and accessible.

We have just returned from a small hospital in Bhotechaur, a rural village outside of Kathamndu. The other half of the oral health camp sites are in the schools surrounding this hospital, where we stayed. I knew things in the rural areas would be just as difficult when our taxi driver could not go on after a series of steep mud-mountains, roads turned into water falls, and a portion of the upper hill that had slid down, completely blocking the road. We grabbed our things – bags of fluoride, tooth brushes and food – and continued by foot, about 3 hours. It poured non-stop for the first few days there. We couldn’t go to any of the camps we had planned to because the dirt roads were impossible to walk on. Finally two nights ago Aparna came into my room and told me that we would not be able to visit any of the sites for me to collect my data due to the monsoons. They could come back another time for the camps, but I would not be able to complete this part (which is half) of my project. I barely slept that night, feeling like a failure and that just the Kathmandu portion of my project without a comparison between maps of the urban and rural areas was not worth a Liveit! Fund. I woke up the next morning to a clear sky. We left at 6am to visit as many schools as we could before the rain started. There was a blue sky all day….. we walked for about 10 hours straight through the hills of Bhotechaur and visited every campsite. I am so grateful for Aparna’s dedication to my project, she is almost 60 and was the one motivating me to keep going when I was exhausted and ready to go home before getting all of my data. Though I can’t feel my legs today, if we hadn’t done everything yesterday, my project would have been incomplete because the monsoon started up again today.

Right now I have a mess of GPS points that I have been able to import and save onto google earth. My next step is to go through and label them before I return to Macalester in mid-August to make the final maps. My time here has gone by fast and I have learned so much about the importance of persevering and a positive attitude when trying to complete a project during conditions like monsoon season in Nepal. I cannot thank Aparna enough for her hospitality, translations and most of all when something went wrong, laughing and saying “you’re in Nepal, it’s an adventure, girl!!!”.

–Mika

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Mississippi Is, Mississippi Will Be: Week 7 at Ole Miss

This week we took the kids on a six-day trip to ole miss. It was mentally and physically exhausting for both the leaders and the students, but it was a crucial culmination to the summer. Many Freedom Project students had never been to a college campus. Visiting a college campus is something I personally take for granted. Stanford was my stomping ground as a child; I attended a plethora of sporting events, explored the campus, even found physics tutors in Stanford students. This contributed to my idea that college was a normal and necessary post high school step. My students have none of that. Most college age students here are already kids. Delta students go straight from childhood to adulthood, with no middle ground that is dorm rooms and dining services.

Suffice to say, the week at the University of Mississippi, or Ole Miss, allowed students a peek into a different world. They were thrilled to stay in tiny dorm rooms and attend classes in real college classrooms. Moreover, they saw real college students doing those exact same things—living in cramped suites and rising early to make it to lectures.

However, the week at Ole Miss also provided a wake up call for many of the students and staff about the realities of our racially divided world. One night, a group of students and another teacher was walking with a group of kids, and a truck slowed to a crawl next to them. The window rolled down and a bunch of rowdy guys screamed a series of racial epithets and expletives. The kids, as well as the teacher, were shocked. Ole Miss was supposed to be a bastion of the educated and the path to a better future away from Mississippi’s disturbing past. And I had really believed that. The other freedom project teachers who were college students from Ole Miss were some of the most socially open-minded, thoughtful and considerate people I had met. The professors hosting us had again, seemed thoughtful, open-minded, and least of all, racist. It was easy to forget the torrid history of this state when meeting a select population. And yet, for these kids, and everyone working to overcome that past, this incident is a constant reminder of how unequal things remain.  The way out for many of my students in the delta is a degree from Ole Miss, the best in-state university and often-cheapest option, and yet in order to graduate, black students must attend a school with a segregated Greek system and vastly different social circles for blacks and whites. No matter how hard we emphasize a collegiate future for these kids, we must confront what going to college would mean in Mississippi.

Finally, the way we ran the week gave me insight into a small and stretched budget of a non-profit. The university allowed us to stay in the dorms, but in an effort to pressure us into buying university meals at ten dollars a person, did not allow us access to kitchen. So we bought plastic bowls and ate cereal and milk every morning that someone had run to Wal-Mart to buy so it hadn’t gone bad without a fridge. We made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch on the cheapest bread, that our students took in bag lunches to class. This frugal lifestyle was definitely more challenging than encouraging our students to head to the dining hall, but allowed us to take over forty students to visit the campus. Running a non-profit is incredible; I had never realized exactly how far you could stretch a dollar.   Image

This picture shows me and Mr. Washington at Ole Miss

Paint, soccer, blessings, and goodbyes: The last week in Chapadinha, Brazil

The final days of the community center’s construction were overwhelmingly busy, incredibly productive, and tremendously rewarding. We painted the building a light green, made the floor and roof of the wrap-around porch, lay the tiles of the doctor’s office and bathrooms, installed electricity and plumbing, and prepared for Friday’s community party. Each day, many more volunteers than we expected arrived to lend a hand, and lunch continued to be generously supplied by local wives and mothers.

Wednesday evening, after a long day at the site, the van we have been borrowing from the district’s church broke, leaving us stranded after sundown on the dirt road that passes through Chapadinha. Juliana and Danilo jogged to the closest house, and returned to the van with Seu Zé and Isael, two men who have been helping us with construction. They figured out what was wrong, but lacked a car to pull it off the road. We called one of our host families who has a car, and their young son and uncle came to help us tow the van to Seu Zé’s house. As tired as we were from a full day’s work, it was uplifting to be in the company of these several people whohelped us without hesitation and with warm generosity in the late evening.

Friday afternoon was the big inauguration party for the center. All of the community members we have come to know over the past month and many more from neighboring communities came to attend a mass led by Padre Kyti and enjoy a massive potluck, bonfire, and dance party. The Father led a thanksgiving service and several local leaders thanked us for the work we’ve done with the community and all of those who dedicated their time and resources to the project. He blessed the doctor’s office, and prayed for our safe travels and that we return to the community again soon.

Seu Roberto attended with his wife and eight year old son, João Vitor, who quickly became best friends with Seu Zé’s grandson of the same age. The balloons with which we had decorated the porch quickly came down to delight the younger children, and the examination bed in the doctor’s room was put to use for the first time as a changing table for a three-week old baby boy.

Last night at the party many Chapadinha boys and fathers suggested that we have another soccer game the next day. The four of us agreed, and after a morning of laundry and packing, we met everyone at the field for a few-hour game of 12 v 12 on the field we had made two weeks prior. Some moms came to watch, and made us all little bags of popcorn in the community center, which we enjoyed with soda after the game. We found out at the game that the dog who has been chasing our van, eating our food, and getting on our nerves, spent the night at the building. With events ranging from church services and soccer games, medical appointments and community dance parties, we hope the dog chooses to become the community center’s guard: a permanent resident in the place where we have worked with a truly generous, special, and welcoming village to build a space for education, celebration, and community.

Portalester!

Our friend Java has been making lots of awesome art at La Colmena. He used some old posters and other recicled materials to create amazing collages and put them back at the places where the posters were originally found. He also wrapped an anafre and a couple bottles with some more of those old sonidero posters, and created a colorful sculpture that we put outside our door. The sculpture makes a lot of people stop to look at it and ask about what we do, and now people also stop to look at our supe cool bike rack!

Photos of Teñido por técnicas de reserva, Yoga para Niños, Language Exchange, and all our other spaces and workshops are now also in our photoblog http://lacolmenadf.tumblr.com/, thanks to Yaqing Wen ❤

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-Mariana

Last Weeks of Teaching

I have officially finished the teaching portion of my summer. For the last five weeks, I have spent my days planning, revising, executing, and reflecting on my lessons; nothing has been more exhausting. Like I said earlier, I am left with a newfound appreciation for the teaching profession. I really hadn’t realized how much thought, how many hours of prep, how much love, how much patience, and how many revisions went into a lesson. 

Other than my astounding appreciation for teaching, I am still processing my overall feelings towards my past five weeks. I am left with so many questions, realizations, thoughts and concerns. To start, my teaching this summer has allowed me so much insight into my own educational upbringing. This summer, we spent hours of our teacher training–probably the majority of it–learning how to discipline, practicing our teacher voices, and understanding the behavior management system (a three step discipline system we use at the Freedom Project). And that training seemed fitting because much of the time I felt like a disciplinarian–no you cannot brush your hair in class, you cannot have to go to the bathroom more than once in an hour class period, the concept of raising your hand doesn’t work if you simultaneously scream my name–rather than an educator. I would have loved to learn more about how to actually be an effective reading teacher, how to write more creative and engaging lesson plans, and what strategies improve reading comprehension, but training was jam packed and running a well oiled classroom machine was imperative. However, when I think back to my schooling, discipline was not emphasized. In fact, I remember around three instances of students getting in trouble, and I know there was no heavily discussed school wide discipline system like we have a the Freedom Project. I thought of my teachers as people I admired and often had a great relationship with them; now, everyday I worry about coming across too harsh. 

I couldn’t help but wonder why my experiences at the front of an eighth grade classroom were so different than my experiences sitting in one. Of course, I came up with the factors that most obviously influence life chances and opportunities: class, race, place, gender, and more. These kids live transient and ever changing lives. Even their language reflects this; fittingly, they never use the word “to live” to describe where they reside, opting to instead for the more representative verb “to stay”. Everything from the town they “stay” in, to the person they “stay” with, changes. School, for better or for worse, is consistent, in people, in location, and consistent in rules. Unlike my small, sheltered, private elementary school, kids don’t arrive with a sense of discipline. So I have to be that force in addition to a teacher. I am, above all, consistent. 

These two contrasting experiences leave me wondering what the ultimate purpose of an education is. Is it to learn material, to learn to think critically, to learn socially acceptable behavior and social skills? I wonder what role I played as someone who was not trained at all to teach, filling that role for the summer. I am curious about organization like Teach for America, who take motivated youth and push them into situations like I got pushed into. Like I said, I am left with more questions than answers. 

But after reflecting, I am mostly just grateful for the experiences I’ve had that prompt me to think critically and ask these questions. I love kids, and teaching this summer was incredible, incredibly hard, incredibly fulfilling, and incredibly fun, but would be much less valuable if I didn’t have the education I did. If I couldn’t place my experiences within the larger educational system and ask these questions how could I believe in the value of education?

-MadelineImage 

This picture shows some of the other teachers and students on our last day of school.