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Monday, August 15, 2011

More Model School and Rain

August 13, 2011

I enjoyed teaching roots and stems to my seventh graders this week. (My fellow volunteers love to laugh when I say root in my dorky Midwestern way. I wasn't as often reminded until now of how Midwestern I am. It's nice in a way. I'm the only representative in my group for Wisconsin and Minnesota) I had my students rip out a plant from the school yard. We all identified the parts and determined between taproots and fiberous. They loved it. I made the material relevant when I explained that staple food they all eat: cassava, is a root. And that sugarcane (which they all like to chew... I tried it, and wasn't swept off my feet but take time and I may like it more) and onions (which they put into almost every soup here) were stems that they eat. Minds. Were. Blown. I also made my 10th graders form a circle and stuck a few of them inside it to demonstrate the cell membrane and it being semi-permeable.

I know I kicked ass teaching model school because not only did my students do well (on average. My 7A class did not study for the test o.O) but they would write about science information I taught them in their English classes. The English teacher trainees would look over at me across the table while grading and raise a brow. "Steph? Are you teaching your 8th grade about habitats?" ..."Yes.." ... "Well, they're learning it." English teachers would ask for paragraphs and kids would remember what I taught them and incorporate it into their assignment.

When Model School started I decided on Miss Stephanie as my teacher name. My family already knows me as Stephanie* (or Lee-la which is my kpelle name. My family gave it to me. It means 'satisfied') and I didn't want to correct 50 students after they call me Miss Nice. Although, Holly and I toyed with the idea of making our students at site call her Captain Cook and call me Lieutenant Nice. (When I say Miss Nice, I mean it in the sense that my last name, Nys, is often mispronounced Niece or Nice.) I don't really want to be Miss Nys only because they will assume I'm nice...which is not true :P

I also got around to dying and cutting my hair again with the help of an artsy Nora Watson (thank you Nora). My hair is still blazing red which leaves me as the only redhead volunteer, natural or fake (makes picking me out easier...not that it was ever hard. *self burn*).

Speaking of art, I already have a authentic canvas painting of a Liberian beach scene painted by a very talented Liberian, Victor. Matt lives near him and helped commission me a Liberian painting. Victor asked what I'd like on it, of course there had to have some ocean in it...duh. Anyhoo, it's done now and colorful, huge (hoping that getting it to my site won't be hard), and is very Liberian. It will be framed and hung in my house and if I forget to upload a picture of it in the next few months, remind me.

***I interrupt this blog to report that I just had a bathroom break (amidst a beautiful rainstorm going on outside) and then, while trying to get my hand sanitizer from my hand, scolded a cockroach for being in my bag... yes, scolded. Either I'm soft or I'm giving up. ...oh well. We'll see if he listens and stays out.

Last week was also Charlene and Nate's birthdays. We made Mexican food again and it was just as wonderful the second time around. We finished the night with dancing, games, and drinks. Charlene's the oldest in our group at 29 and Nate the youngest at 21. It's not a bias thing, having all younger volunteers, just that passing medical requirements for a country with limited medical care, non-existent refrigeration upcountry, and little electricity isn't easy.

We also have eight new response volunteers who flew in a few nights ago. They'll be up in Kakata on Sunday and will do an accelerated training and swear in with us on August 19th. We're all excited to meet them and we will this weekend as our LR2 group is going down to Monrovia for some burgers, pizza, and to all hang out together before we're all sent away to our various sites on the 24th. I'm still in my denial stage. I want to be at site...but I don't know if I'm ready to say goodbye to my newest group of close friends.

Teaching: The First Days

August 4th, 2011

Model School. Translation: summer school set up just for us Peace Corps Volunteers to test our training in the classroom and figure out what works and what does not. Model School runs for two and a half weeks and has grades 7 through 12. I'm teaching 7, 8 and 10th grades. I'm teaching plants: root/shoot systems to my 7th graders, ecosystems to my 8th graders, and introduction to the cell to my 10th graders.

I was kind of terrified my first day of class. I've never taught in front of a class full of students (always done tutoring) none the less Liberian students. Luckily, the volunteers from last year where here to help and they helped with lesson planning and first day jitters. I introduced myself and went over rules and grading the first day. The students were excited to have us, and we were eager to get to the material and teach them. 
We have observers (tech trainers and fellow trainees and volunteers) in every class and they write amazing notes. It's like an extra pair of eyes in the back of the class helping you become a better teacher. I'm writing this blog one week into Model School and I love it. Classroom management is my biggest hurdle now and to come. I love teaching science though. I get to get excited about cell membranes and ecosystems while drawing crazy pictures of cells, plants, and monkeys all over the chalkboard. It's almost a crime to admit that it's work.

I assigned diagram homework to my 10th grade class on Tuesday and they all turned up on Thursday with big 'ol poster boards with drawings! I was expecting simple printer paper with a pen sketch but no, these kids didn't take homework lightly. I was pretty flattered and we had a mini 'show and tell' and art gallery walk to start the class off.

I also caught my fair share of cheaters (or spying, as they call it in Liberia) on quizzes and copied homework assignments. Liberians are very good at spying and you have to be very quick and smart to catch them.

But most of my classroom challenges come in the form of classroom management (I opt for giving them the 'shut up right now' face while staying silent. It works oddly well. Taking points from their grade does too. One volunteer mentioned throwing the eraser at them, but I'll save that one for site. :) The other challenge is the lack of resources. There are no computer labs, students have no textbooks (they only have copybooks and pens) There are no posters on the walls of the classroom, no lights, wooden benches that are not very comfy to sit on at all, and no printers. You have a chalkboard, chalk, paper and pens.... and you need to teach cells... go! :) Fortunately, I do well in this environment. That year and a half of being an art major is going to get a huge workout. My science classes are mini art classes and the students get a break from boring lectures to copy down my drawings. I'm looking forward to the challenges of having no lab, no microscopes, no computers or textbooks etc. It's the real teacher test. Can you teach science, with no equipment? and still make it relate to Liberians and their lives? (ie. How do you teach genetics and heredity when your whole class has brown eyes and black hair?) Yeah, you're thinking right. not easy. But I thrive in those situations and I know there will be rough times too, but that's all part of my personal self growth too. :) 

(I'm adding this part for Lisa and other friends who know how much I talk of poop) I was teaching my 7th graders about the term multicellular and drew the words 'one cell' 'some cells' and 'many cells' on the board. We identified that the many celled example was a human, and the one celled organism was a bacteria. For the some celled? I asked them how many of them had a dog... or had a neighbor who had a dog. Many raised their hands. I then asked them if they'd ever taken a good long look at dog poop.... yep. I said that. Many looked a little confused, but I rephrased and asked if they had ever seen anything in dog poop that was alive... lives in the dirt. One brave girl raised her hand. "Worm!" and I had a proud teaching mama moment. (I've already had several of these) I'm glad to know I can relate class to their life and that they try so hard. It really makes me excited to go and teach at my site.

Speaking of site, I only have two weeks left of training. Two weeks and I'll finally graduate from Peace Corps Trainee to Peace Corps Volunteer! I've spent (yes I did the math) 484 days working toward becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer. That's 11,616 hours, 696,960 minutes, and 41,817,600 seconds Since April 2010. On August 19th, when I swear in, I'll only have 730 days, 17,520 hours, 1,051,200 minutes, and 63, 072,000 seconds to be the best Peace Corps Volunteer that I can be. :) 

I need to have a shout out to BWI too. BWI is the technical college in Kakata...they also make the most wonderful food in the world. By most wonderful I mean that this Wednesday they made us Macaroni and Cheese.... and salad with tomatoes, and honest to god french fries. I think we all got second helpings and we certainly all overate. If foodgasms exist, and I'm sure they do, this was one.

fam about Liberia and had some relaxing idle chit chat. We made food early and ate community style...out of a big bowl. I hung back. Hand washing isn't very common and I get sick easy so I took the pictures. I gave my family there 26-O's too. (lots of people ask you 'My 26-O?' which means simply 'Do you have a present for me?' Many small children happened to ask me for their 26 and I was sharp to respond with 'What about /my/ 26?' I wish I had physical proof to remember their faces. They were all 'whhaaaaat... I didn't buy you a 26.' Messing with the kids here every once and awhile is a hoot). But presents in the form of gifts and food are common on this day. I got my mom a bracelet and my handmade hot pads. My dad got a pack of gum from the US and a book on God and stories with the bible. My brothers got copybooks (notebooks like the composition notebooks you find in the states), and a football (they totally flipped out with happiness in seeing the football=soccer ball). My sisters got books, coloring books, crayons, a kite and copybooks. They seemed very happy and I read the coloring book to Leemu while she colored the pages in. At night we went out to the club (City View) which felt a lot like a club in America except that it was filled with Liberians. A/C, fans, strobe lights, elevated dance floor, colored lights, real toilets, giant speakers. I was really impressed.

I'm really getting into the groove here. I have five lapa suits/dresses to keep cool and have 'African dress', I love teaching science and thinking up fun interactive activities to keep my students interested, I'm really liking some African food (eddo soup is soooo yummy) and I'm eager to start cooking at site, my little mutt is growing up and learning how to sit (I've already taught him 'come' and 'sit') and he's only 7 weeks, my principal and town are preparing to host Holly and I, I eat cheese* (no it's not real cheese...but I have grown to like it) and powered milk at least twice a week, the heat isn't bothering me very much, the little Liberian children are simply adorable, my students are inspiring, I have a stash of V8 cans in my room, the rain when it pours is simply beautiful, my iPod gears me up for class in the morning, the Liberian Club Beer is really growing on me, my mefloquin (malaria medicine) dreams are worth writing down they are so crazy, I'm inventing songs about soap while taking a bucket bath and dancing around my bathroom..... sorry too much information. But you get the point: I'm still weird, optimistic, and adaptable. I do have my bad days, but my fellow volunteers really know how to pick me up and I'm always smiling by the end of the day.... not to mention they sometimes bring me M&Ms to cheer me up (that's my shout out to Matt Krause).

I also got some mail from you! No, not you. I said you. :) Thank you, mom for the cards. Thank you, Morley for the pictures. Thank you baby sister Taylor, for the letter that lifted my spirits! My host family made a point of telling me I was fat when I was younger in the pictures.... I tried not to give them the evil glare and explain that I don't want to be fat. :) Because they are trying their best to fatten me up. Here, being fat is good. Means you are well fed. However, I'm attempting to bring back my high school karate muscles and so I won't be stuffing my face at every meal.