As I sit here in 18 degree fahrenheit Buffalo, I can't help but wish I am back in Cabarete. People keep asking me how my trip was and I respond with the same word each time: incredible. Because it truly was the most incredible experience I've ever had. Everything about it: the school, the culture, the people, the environment, the weather, the food, etc. My time in Cabarete taught me so much. I realized that when it might seem like my life is in shambles, some people are struggling to put food on the table and shoes on their children's feet. My struggles, aren't even struggles compared to some people in this world. I am so grateful for everything I have. I have been given every opportunity in the world, many of these opportunities that some never even come in reach of. Since preschool I've received a wonderful education. My family has struggled with money here and there, but not even as close to as badly as some. I have every material item I need/want.
Tuesday we visited The Mariposa DR Foundation for Girls. The girls that attend the before and after school program are between the ages of seven and eighteen. The goal of the foundation is to end generational poverty for Dominicans and Haitians. In addition, pregnancy at a very young age is quite common in the Dominican. The foundation hopes to show girls exactly how many opportunities they actually have in hopes that they will be successful in the future. It was truly inspiring to see all that the foundation has to offer for the young women. The foundation offers classes in health and wellness, art, music, cooking, sewing, etc. The foundation also has a library, a pool, a garden, a stage, a shower, and many other amenities.
Yesterday we took a tour of the public school located in La Cienega, Before we toured the school, we had a question/answer session with the principal of the school. He explained to us that there are approximately seven hundred and fifty students in the whole school. The school goes from preschool to twelfth grade. The students that attend the school either attend a morning session or an afternoon session, much different than in the United States. The morning session is from 8-12 and the afternoon session is from 1-5. In a four hour period, the students learn nine different subjects. This has it's obvious disadvantages. However, the Dominican Republic is currently changing the length of the school day from four hours to eight hours. After we had a chat with the principal, we toured the school. The hallways are located outside, and there are many windows in the classrooms allowing for maximum air flow for the students and teachers. In many of the classrooms, only about half of the students had workbooks or notebooks. This is because of the extreme poverty in La Cienega. Something I found interesting, was the students are not allowed to attend school unless they are wearing their uniform and have a pencil. However, this could be a problem for some who are living in extreme poverty.
After we toured the school, we had the opportunity to sit in on a class. The class I sat in on consisted of students around the age of twelve. They were working on Spanish, reading a poem and discussing the usages of commas, periods, exclamation points, and question marks. Although not all of the students had books, the students that had books paired up with students who did not have books. As the teacher asked for students to read, or as she asked them questions, I noticed there was a high volunteer rate. They raised their hands with enthusiasm, obviously wanting to be called on. It was quite obvious the students respected the teacher for the most part. The majority of them were attentive throughout the lesson. I noticed other than their books, notebooks, and pencils, there weren't many other materials throughout the room.
This experience made me realize how much students in the United States take their education for granted. Students in the United States complain about going to school, when in reality, they don't realize how privileged they really are. They are provided with so many materials at school to help them learn, especially technology. They get to go to school for a full day, and because of this, get to enjoy extra classes such as music, art, gym, and technology, that the students in La Cienega don't have the opportunity to enjoy. Despite everything they are lacking, the students at the school were full of life. Their smiling faces and friendly attitudes made me realize that you don't necessarily need material items to be happy. This applies to everyone in La Cienega. While we walk throughout the community to go to lunch, we are surrounded by smiling, welcoming faces. The people and children say hello, smile, and wave as we pass by. It is so important to appreciate the little things in life, and unfortunately we need experiences like this to be reminded of that.
Monday and Tuesday I was helping in El Nido, which in English means The Nest. The children in this room range from ages 1 to 3. It is amazing at such a young age how focused they are when doing their work. They mostly work independently, concentrating on whatever they are working on. It is amazing for me to see a child that young work on the same activity alone for more than five minutes. The children I work with at home become either bored or distracted with their activities within a few minutes. Even the couple children who are only one and a half sit at the table working quietly. They have incredible self control. They also sit so well and are engaged throughout circle time. Even though there are songs sung in both English and Spanish and some of the children might not understand all of the songs, you can tell by the looks on their faces that they are focused, and are enjoying the songs. Some simply smile, some clap along, and some sing along.
It is obvious they love their outside time. Even when they are solely running around with their friends they are smiling. They are definitely not afraid to get dirty. There are so many opportunities to teach/practice their English with them while outside. I picked up one of the younger children who was standing under the banana trees. She was point at them so I picked her up so she could touch them. I used few words with her, as she only speaks Spanish and is only a year and a half. I used the words, "green, bananas, smooth, yummy, etc." to describe the bananas as they felt them. She also felt the tree trunk and the leaves as well. There are so many learning experiences that present themselves while outside with children, especially ones using the five senses.
The teachers in El Nido work so well with the children. They constantly call to them for help/attention. It is quite obvious they adore them, and I understand why. They treat them with such kindness and respect. It is important with young children to be smiling, animated, and attentive at all times and they definitely are. They respect the children's independence, which is so important. They do not do things for them that they can do for themselves. For example, rather than wiping the children's noses immediately, they send them over to try to wipe them themselves while looking in the mirror. We need more teachers in the world like those in El Nido.
Yesterday and today I was in the primary. The children in the primary range from ages 3 to 6. Yesterday I read books with a few of the girls who only speak Spanish. We looked through the books and I pointed out objects, places, and people, telling them what they are called in English. As I told them what they were called in English, they repeated. Some of the books had similar things in them, and the girls pointed them out to me saying, "Mom, Dad, baby, tree, etc." It was very rewarding to see that they were remembering the English words for what they were seeing in the books. I also played Jenga with one of the boys. However, they play Jenga a little differently than we do at home. On each Jenga piece there is a word in Spanish on one side, and the English translation on the other side. The child built up the Jenga pieces and then as we took turns pulling Jenga pieces out I said the English word, they repeated, and then I acted out the word to express its meaning (most of the words are verbs). I felt this game was a great way to teach both English and Spanish and I will definitely use this idea in my future teaching.
Today I read with some children as well. First children who only speak Spanish, then with a group of children who also speak English. The two experiences were quite different. I expressed the pictures using a lot more words with the children who speak English, since they understood what I was saying. I also had them explain what they saw in the pictures to me. With the children who only speak Spanish, I used less words to express the pictures so I did not confuse them. I was very happy today because a few of the more timid children approached me while I was reading with a child, and they wanted to join. This was a very big deal because the first day, these children would not even smile back at me when I smiled at them. And today, they were talking and laughing with me. I am so glad they finally opened up to me and allowed me to work with them. As I was leaving, I walked into the primary and waved at a few of the Spanish speaking girls and they exclaimed, "Jessica!" I was thrilled that they remembered my name. What a great way to end my day at the school (:
A lot has happened since we have arrived. So far we've been in the school for two days. It is incredible to see the interaction between the children and the teachers due to the differences in language. Some of the children speak only Spanish, some speak only English, some speak both. One of the children only speaks Hebrew. Most of the teachers mainly speak Spanish, although a few speak English as well. Despite the language barriers, there is an evident flow throughout the classroom. It is obvious the children feel comfortable with the teachers. One of the major goals at 3 Mariposas Montessori is for the children to know both English and Spanish, and they seem to be doing a wonderful job at working towards that goal.
Three more hours.
As I lay here in bed trying to get some sleep before our flight, my head is filled with thoughts of all kinds. I am so thrilled to have been given this opportunity. I'm excited to meet the children, teachers, and families at the school. I look forward to working with them, assisting, and watching them learn.
I'm ready to add to my prior knowledge of Spanish, as it is so very helpful for me to know. My family is from Bolivia and I have family living in Ecuador. Therefore, any chance I get to increase my knowledge of Spanish is quite helpful