Monday, April 23, 2012
Monday, March 19, 2012
Wow, I have actually been in Jamaica for 2 years, and only have 2 months to go before I return! Already there is a different outlook- last things to do or see, last projects to finish. I am beginning to think about what to give away, leave behind and what to take home. For Peace Corps we have various documents and steps that we need to submit before departure. One of which is called a DOS- description of service. We are to document what we did for the 2 years into a 3 page document, sort of a PC resume. I’ve started working on that- quite a challenge! I am also working with my counterpart teacher to develop a succession plan for when I leave. My last day at school will be May 11.
I received an interesting compliment from the supervising teacher for the practice (student teacher) Spanish teacher who shares the library space with me. His teacher is from Cuba and she came and talked with me after I had had library with one of the classes and had read a Dr. Seuss story to them. She said she wished they had this program in Cuba. (Not actually sure if she meant Peace Corps or library time)) She explained how they have free education and libraries in Cuba but many of the students don’t love books and how important that is. We had a lengthy discussion about schools and learning needs in Jamaica and Cuba and the US.
Breadnut Hill Primary held their Sports Day down at a field near Ochi so all the students had to be bussed there using 1 bus taking 2 trips. So the 9:30 starting time became 11AM. So of course it went on until after 5PM. There have been 2 other field trips recently and both times the students were told to be at school at a specific time yet the bus didn’t leave until at least an hour later. That’s Jamaica time. Good news is that all 4 of our dance groups qualified to go on to the St Ann parish finals in May. And at our District Sports finals at least 2 of our younger runners will be going on to the St Ann parish sport finals. We were proud to finish 4th at this meet – (out of 6) traditionally we are last. Without a field to practice on it is difficult for our athletes to be conditioned and ready.
March 2 was the end of my Biography Book Reading contest for grades 3-6. I was pleased to receive 47 reports and book prizes were given to the winners from each class. For these students this was their first experience reading biographies. March 2 also began Dr. Seuss Time for grades 1-3. Since we have a limited number of Dr Seuss books only grade 3 and 1 are having their contest in March and Grade 2 will have theirs in April. I have been reading The Lorax and Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss to the older grades and it is amazing how attentive they are! I am watching to see if The Lorax movie will be coming to Ochi soon. Wouldn’t that be perfect!
March 22 and 23 are the GSAT test dates for all of Jamaica. Grade 6 students may only take this exam once so it is extra important to be prepared. These students have been having extra classes on Saturday and after school. This is a knowledge based test not an aptitude test. One parent just told me they had decided to keep their son back in grade 6 another year so that he would score better next year and get into a better high school. The rest of the school’s students and teachers (and me) have those 2 days off so that they can use the whole building and spread the students out. It has become more apparent the longer I am here that Jamaican students are expected to absorb facts and that creativity and higher level thinking skills are not stressed. I think the open classrooms, the noise levels and large class sizes makes it much easier to just teach rote learning. Wg/0ES7nslw7pc/s200/DSC05504%2B%25282%2529.JPG" border="0" alt=""id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5721639665330768466" />hen I ask my remedial students to draw a picture to go with a story or a word they struggle- “I can’t draw an elephant or a lion, can I trace it?” Two boys didn’t want to draw a house because I didn’t have a ruler for them to use to make the lines. Jamaicans certainly are creative when it comes to music and dance though!
March 17- St. Patrick’s Day in Jamaica! The word went out that there would be a PCV gathering at Oceans 11 in Ocho Rios for St. Patrick’s Day. 9 of us enjoyed green Red Stripe or Guinness. The wait staff were all decked out in St. Paddy’s Day costumes, and green hats and leis were handed out. It was fun.
Thinking of you all- ...May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Monday, February 27, 2012
January & February 2012 – Travel time!
Peace Corps has a policy that volunteers may not take vacation the last 3 months of their service. So Feb. 21 was the last day I could take time off. In January I travelled to Chicago to visit PC friends and my world wide school in South Chicago. Then up to Minneapolis for my niece Amanda’s wedding.
Visiting my World wide school was fantastic! I learned that they had been reading my blog! (Hi, Bradwell students!) I was suffering from some cold weather re-adjustment issues and left my bag with the Jamaican pictures and treats on the Red Line when I tried to bundle up with scarf, gloves and hat. It was about 9’ F. But I had the jumpdrive with the movie we had made in Jamaica and shared that with the grade 5 students in Ms Rose’s classes. It was great to see their classroom and school but the best part was how interested and attentive the students were. They had excellent questions to ask and shared that a couple of them had done reports on Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley. It is a small world! We discussed Rastafarism, devotion time, sports, and the GSAT exam. I noticed that Ms Rose’s classroom had a basket of Bone books and I shared that our library had 1 Bone book and it was always in demand. It was a great visit! I also learned that one of her student’s older brother is in the Peace Corps in Mongolia!
After the wonderful winter wedding, I traveled to Texas with my daughter and 2 grandsons for a day before returning to Jamaica. There I had a second opportunity to talk about Jamaica. I visited grandson Jackson’s first grade class and shared the movie and answered questions. They wanted to know about the food in Jamaica. They found Jamaica on the globe. Both of my school visits were great and are what Peace Corps calls Third Goal activates. The third goal of PC is to share about other countries with Americans to help build greater understanding. I plan to do more of this when I return to the US.
After about 2 weeks back in school, Ron and Carole Sand, fellow PCV’s and I took off for a vacation to St. Maartin and Saba joined by my sister Connie. It was a great trip to see a different Caribbean island, one that is a part of the Netherlands Antilles. We had lots of highlights including hiking, snorkeling, eating great seafood and Dutch Gouda cheese, crewing on a 12 meter America’s Cup yacht and taking off and landing on the world’s shortest commercial runway (396m or 1300ft.) Since this is my Jamaica blog, I won’t elaborate more on this trip. I do recommend the book I found in the St. Maartin airport called and a bottle of Rum, A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails by Wayne Curtis. An informative and fun book.Sugar made the fortunes of a few in the Caribbean, and enslaved many more. Rum was created to use up the “industrial waste” of molasses and played a significant part in American history
The first day I was back at school was Jamaica Day- very similar to Culture Day. In the morning there was a student cricket match with the 2 male teachers heading up teams. I did get the chance to bat and managed to hit the ball (they use a tennis ball) but got out when I forgot I had to run to the other end. In the afternoon most of the classes presented an item (Jamaican for a presentation). Most classes sang a song or did a skit.
Last week on Tuesday was Mini Sports Day. This was not done last year so I was eager to see what this was all about. It was sort of what we would call Field Day. Students have been divided into 3 houses: blue, purple and orange, with each house having a mix of students from all the grades. So the competition was between the houses with each team wearing their colours and cheering their teammates on. Well, sometimes they were just horsing around and not watching the races- sounds typical? The races included the spoon and egg race, only limes were used instead of eggs. Then came a tug of war, 4 to a side using tied together jump ropes. There was a water race; each person had to fill their container to overflowing by running back and forth with a cup to a trash barrel of water. This race lead to a lot of controversy – about the containers not being on level ground, and what constituted “overflowing” etc. Later we had a potato race; with oranges- the runner had to pick up each orange and run it to their box, when all were picked up, they had to run the box to the finish line. The last race of the day was the math race. One runner received a slip of paper with a math problem on it, he/she ran to their partner who had to solve the problem and give it back to the runner to return it to the finish line. Only if the answer was correct did they win. The sack race and the three legged race were planned for the day but Ms Gowie the principal ended the event at 4:30PM so the students could head home. It was a long day in the sun- but fun for all. I have no idea which house earned the most points. On Feb. 27 we will have the “real” Sports Day at Walkers Woods school field. Then there will be 60 m, 100m 200m running races and relays in different age categories (under 9, under 11, under 13). That is another long day but track and field is Jamaica’s passion and both the boys and girls are really into running.
Wednesday, Feb. 22 was Ash Wednesday which is a national holiday in Jamaica. Schools and government offices and banks are closed. Jamaica prides itself on being a Christian country, devotions are held daily at schools and most everything starts with a prayer. So it seemed strange to me that there were not any religious activities or emphasis on Ash Wednesday- no ashes on the forehead, no church services or parades or carnival or special foods. I went to the beach- great weather, and that seemed to be a popular activity- the beach was crowded!
I have received 2 update emails from Ms Rose. The students there received permission to hold a coin drive to buy more Bone books for their Jamaican friends! They have raised over $200. Isn’t it amazing how love can spread! As Bob Marley sang “One love, one heart, Let’s get together and feel all right”
Photo- School coin drive with Jonetta and Jakobi
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
The Holidays and Welcome 2012!
School was out on December 16, and second term would begin January 9th, 2012 so those of us PCVs who work in schools had a nice long break! Did you know poinsettias just grow here- in bushes even! So beautiful.
Fellow PCV Juanita made the difficult decision to go home early (called ET in Peace Corps lingo meaning Early Termination). She was needed at home. She is missed. We are in touch and already have plans to meet up when I return.
For Christmas, Diann came for the weekend- we did not go to Grand Market (once was enough for me!) but enjoyed wine with fellow yardies. Christmas dinner was chicken (what a surprise!) but baked not fried and Diann and I were joined by Laura, a Response PCV who had spent 2 years in the Dominican Republic. It has been so interesting to hear her compare the islands, the people and her experiences.
On December 29th Jamaica had a national election. The two parties- PNP and JLP had lots of gatherings, a few debates and lots of wearing of orange or green. There has been a history of violence during elections in Jamaica so we were warned to stay home and be careful. The election was won by the PNP and Jamaica’s new Prime Minister is now Ms Portia Simpson-Miller. Fortunately and proudly, this year there was very little election violence. Congratulations Jamaica!She has already taken office and formed her cabinet. The Jamaicans I know are hopeful that she can make things better in Jamaica.
For New Year’s weekend Carole and Ron came down from the Blue Mountains – they enjoyed all sorts of luxuries not available at their site- running water, wine, an oven, pizza, and the beach. We had a fun beach gathering on Jan. 2 with some other volunteers.
January 9th School began. I was ready to see my kids again! My routine is the same. I see 8 pullout groups twice a week, plus I do library time for all 9 classes. The main focus though was to get some things ready for me to take to the World Wide School in Chicago, USA. This is a program linking schools in the US with a PCV. My school is the Bradwell School of Excellence in Chicago. The grade 6 students are penpals with some grade 5 students there. I will visit the school on January 19th for the morning. The grade 6 students coloured some beautiful pictures of Caribbean plants and flowers. We made a movie using Windows Movie maker. I was learning as we went along but it turned out great. Mr Abraham, the grade 6 teacher was able to solve the adding music problem. I will also be taking gizzadas- a special Jamaican dessert- sort of a coconut tart. I am really looking forward to meeting these students and their teacher and sharing a little of Jamaica with them! Of course the students here can’t wait for me to come back and tell them about my visit!
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
November/ December 2011
On the day before Thanksgiving, I had visitors from way back! John and Anita Zavacky from Hope College days stopped in Ocho Rios for an afternoon while on a cruise. We had such fun eating jerk chicken and pork and reminiscing. They also came bearing Christmas gifts for me and my students. How neat is that!
Thanksgiving this year included a real turkey! I had truly missed that last year. Quite an expensive treat, but thoroughly enjoyed, and I have turkey soup in my freezer still! Diann, Juanita, Patrice and Laura, all PCVs, came to celebrate on Saturday. And we had a wonderful time together. A time to reflect and appreciate our blessings and eat down home food!
My next adventure was to travel to Negril to volunteer at the Reggae Marathon. This is an internationally sanctioned marathon (and half marathon and 10k). At least a dozen Peace Corps volunteers and staff participated. Ann and I were lucky enough to be assigned to the finish line to help put medals around every finisher. We managed to get photos of most everyone as well. We had to report to our spot at 4AM- its pretty dark out then! We got done around 11AM and went straight for a swim in the sea! We were impressed with how efficiently the meet was run; runners from 28 countries were there! The rest of the weekend we enjoyed the 7 mile beach at Negril (really only 4 miles, but beautiful all the same!). Sunday noon we left for the 4 hour bus/taxi trip home. It’s funny how accepting we have become about travelling public here.
At school the 4th grade literacy exam re-sit was held Dec. 6. This was the last chance for some grade 6 students to pass this exam. School had been running special sessions for these students and having practice tests for them.
There are 3 components to the exam- vocabulary, comprehension and writing. Students must pass all three sections. There is a lot of pressure- on the school to show that they have a high % passing this exam on the first or second try, and on the students because not passing means they cannot go on to high school in grade 7. Students are only allowed to take the exam 3 times. If a child does not pass, they will be moved on to a special remedial program; sort of a junior high school. At the end of grade 8 they may take another exam and if they do well enough they can move to a high school. Here high school begins at grade 7 and goes until 5th or 6th form (grade 11 or 12)
The Ocho Rios East Rotary Club was officially chartered on November 16. The big topic now is our charter ceremony- to be held Jan. 20th 2012. This will be a formal affair with dinner and dancing after. I am grateful for the financial support I have received from the Wallingford CT Rotary Club as well as friends and family. Otherwise I could not have afforded to become a charter member. Th club has ready adopted the Ocho Rios High School Track and Field team as one of our projects. Some kids on the team are running barefoot- and there is need for nutritional food for them as well. We are collecting used running shoes- if you’re coming to Jamaica, bring a pair with you and I’ll see they get to the right place! Thank you!
Schools here run on 3 terms per school year, so term one ends just before Christmas holiday. The last 2 weeks at Breadnut Hill were full of activities- first came exams- for all grades even grade 1. Then we had a fair and a crowning of Miss Breadnut Hill that evening. The Miss Breadnut Hill program was just like on TV- the 6 finalist had to model, give a talent (most of them sang, one said a poem), then they were each asked a question. There were 3 judges and then the crowning by the former Miss Breadnut Hill from 2009. Quite a production. (This didn’t happen last year) Then on Tuesday, we had a school Christmas Carol sing. The school choir sang a few carols including my favourite- Go Tell it on the Mountain. Their version is one I had never heard before- I hope I can download it for you to hear! Each class did a song and the grade 6 students did the Christmas story. I really enjoyed this; very Jamaican. But I was frustrated and sort of disappointed about how noisy the students were. Only 1 teacher was even sitting with her class. It didn’t seem as if that is a teacher’s responsibility here. The principal would occasionally yell at the students but that only lasted a few minutes and then it was noisy again. School does not have a sound system- that had been stolen with the office computer last year, but I'm not really sure that would have solved the problem. Wed. Dec 14 was a very rainy day and the last day of school for the year. Only 50 students (out of 240) even came to school. I had invited my 8 library helpers to an end of term thank you Christmas party on that day. Only 5 of them even came to school, but we had a fun time. My daughter Carrie had sent, on my pleading, How the Grinch Stole Christmas DVD. We showed that to most everyone that day. Only 1 or 2 kids had ever seen it. It has such a wonderful message I just love it. There is no Santa Claus here, and Christmas trees are only in the big stores or around tourist areas. Then our principal announced to the teachers that school would resume on Jan. 9th not Jan. 3rd as scheduled. Seems so amazing that the date can be changed so informally and at such a late day! I also observed how there really was no instruction going on at school for any of the last 4 days. Seems like not the best use of student time.
I’m getting ready for Christmas now, and enjoying the down time!
Merry Christmas to you all!
Thursday, November 24, 2011
HALLOWEEN IN JAMAICA + GREAT SHAPE INC.
October 21 & 22 was the Peace Corps All Volunteer Conference in Kingston put on by VAC. VAC stands for Volunteer Advisory Council. I was nominated and elected as one of 2 PCVs from my Group 81. Group 82, the newest group on island, also elected 2 volunteers. The 4 of us are like the board of directors for VAC, and are responsible to be the voice of the volunteers to the PC Jamaica staff. This conference was a step towards promoting better rapport between the 2 Peace Corps groups and with the PCJ staff. Various volunteers led small focus groups on a variety of topics such as organic farming, understanding the Jamaica school system, health and nutrition promotion and one titled “ What to do when you are bored in Jamaica”. I got a great recommended book list and recipes from some other volunteers. The conference went very well, and now the 4 of us are compiling the survey results and writing a report and recommendations for next year’s conference.
I had the chance to visit Ann and PCV G82 who lives in St. Mary parish- more rural than my site. We enjoyed the local beaches and I saw her school garden and the baby goats. I love visiting other PCVs and seeing their communities!
Halloween is not celebrated here in Jamaica but most of the students knew about it a little from cable TV and books. I made 2 Jack o’ Lanterns- one from a green pumpkin (that’s the normal colour of pumpkins here), and one from a calabash gourd. I brought them to the school library, and even lit a candle after closing the windows for Grade 2! The students loved seeing, touching and smelling them. I did not hand out treats to all 240 students at school! It was fun!
November 7-18 Breadnut Hill Primary was fortunate to have volunteers from Great Shape Inc, a NGO out of Oregon which is dedicated to assisting Jamaica in three areas. It runs free dental clinics, eye clinics, literacy programs and supplies computers all around Jamaica. The Sandals Foundation and Resorts host the volunteers. I was invited (Peace Corps approved) and was allowed to stay at the Beaches Boscobal Resort for the first week. Quite a luxury to stay at an all inclusive resort- with elaborate buffet meals, drinks of all varieties at no charge, two pools, a beach and a fitness centre. I’m sure I gained some weight!
The literacy volunteers went to 4 area primary schools near Ocho Rios. They had met with the Ministry of Education and were asked to concentrate on writing skills. On both the Grade 4 and Grade 6 exams there is a writing section which many students score poorly on. I was so impressed with these teachers and their volunteer assistants. They came prepared with a variety of activities to encourage writing skills. Teachers were asked to stay in the room with their class because helping the teachers learn new methods is an important part of Great Shape’s mission. This was not always successful, but it was encouraging to see some teachers excited about a new method and eager to learn more on how to implement it. Back at the resort I was able to share some Peace Corps stories as well as explaining some Jamaican culture and norms to the volunteers. We talked a lot about how to initiate change, and what Great Shape can do to be more effective and more sustainable. That is very much like Peace Corps discussions and concerns. I was able to arrange 2 groups to go visit Mel and see baby Hawksbill turtles hatch and make their way to the sea. That still awes me every time I see them! I met many good new friends at Great Shape and hope and intend to visit some of them when I return to the states and go on the road with my RV! (next dream to fulfil!)
Thank you Great Shape for your dedication to Jamaica and your kindness to me- I really enjoyed my Sandals vacation and getting to know some of you! Blessings!