Sunday, February 20, 2011


I know its been a while since I posted a detailed update about what has been going on in my life. So here it goes.
For the first week we were required to be in Kingstown every day around 830am until about 4pm for training sessions.  In the beginning of the week we had a lot of introductory sessions.  We were introduced to some key trainers. Provided yet more paperwork to be filled out and handed in. We played a lot of ice-breaker type things and just general introductions of ourselves to the new trainers. We had various training sessions that covered topics ranging from service learning, technical training focused around youth development and institutional development, such as project planning; cultural training and integrating into the community, the importance of journaling everything (which I am not too good at), and PACA training, and that is just to name a few! PACA is participatory analysis for community action. As part of PACA training, we discussed the significance of perspectives and using filters to view things.  Additionally, we learned the importance of observation, especially as a new person to the country/community. We set up bank accounts at a local bank, so when we get “paid” we have a safe place to put our limited money.  We also got cell phones! However, there were some technical difficulties and it took a while before we got our phone. But we are all up and running now.  The phone is similar to my very first cell phone, in the sense that it has very limited capabilities, but it is significantly smaller.
We had a very brief introduction into the history and culture of SVG. Didn’t learn too much more than I found myself on Wikipedia, at least so far. Next our IPP (institutional point person), the person we will be working directly with at the school or NGO we have been placed with came to talk to us about our assignments.  My IPP is Shara, who is the Literacy Coordinator/teacher at EHSM. She is very young, a trained teacher from the Technical College (kind of like a community college) and full of life.  I am looking forward to working with her. We got to chat for a while about the school, what her role is, what my role will be, any expectations, a little bit about the students and how things are run and so forth. More on my School Attachment later, for sure.
We had a lesson on the educational system in SVG. Most schools in SVG are government schools, with very few private schools.  The govt plans, funds, and manages the school system. We learned about the education system hierarchy; the Minister of Education deals more with policy and allocating resources, determining the curriculum, and the Chief Education Officer deals more directly with the schools.  There are primary schools, equivalent to elementary schools in the States, and secondary schools, in likeness to middle and high school.  One striking difference between the US and SVG is the CEE or common entrance exam.  The score of the CEE determines where the student will go to school-the govt places the student at a particular school based on the score of the CEE.  In by doing so, the schools are therefore divided based on abilities; with a higher concentration of “better” students at one school, and “weaker” students at another school.  This, in my opinion, causes many problems.  For example, the “less equal” schools do not receive as many resources, or as many trained teachers so there is fierce competition to get into the “more equal” schools. That’s another thing, some of the teachers I am working with are 19 years old! And the teachers do not have to be formally trained to teach. The curriculum is based around the National Exams. After secondary school comes tertiary, or pre-university, also called college.  It is similar to community college and the programs are only 2 years.  College is divided into four divisions; arts, sciences, general studies (prepares for university); teacher education (to become teachers); technical education (plumbers, electricians, etc); nursing education (to become nurses). Essentially, the education system is very centralized, competitive for good placements, and focused on passing exams. In general, there are major literacy problems, difficulty to get students to focus, increased school violence, limited resources, and male underachievement.
An SVG police officer came to speak to us about safety and security within the country.  He was very informative.  The country as a whole places a high emphasis on respect and dressing professionally, and this is critical to our successful integration. We also had a panel discussion about the youth environment in SVG from a school principal and a new (19 year old) teacher. This was helpful, because we got two different perspectives on the outlook towards youth.
So, for the most part, we talked a lot about working in and with schools.  This included good/bad practices to be effective, classroom management, strategies for teaching, establishing a safe classroom atmosphere, etc. We focused attention on PACA and service learning and incorporating this into working with the schools, and how to effectively plan projects. We had a brief introduction into literacy teaching.  This was a little less than helpful for me, as it was focused more on the challenges to literacy and less on how to actually teach literacy.
Of course, there is an emphasis on reflection. For nearly all training sessions we have, we have a reflection time to discuss our thoughts and feelings.  This has never been an interest for me.  But I may have to learn to adopt a love for it, since we are constantly reflecting as a group. Reflection usually consists about talking about the feelings and the importance of forming meaningful relationships with our work counterparts, host families and community. There is a huge push for journaling and reflecting either as a group or individually.
We began going to our school attachments during week 2 of training.  So from now on I will be going to Emmanuel High School Tuesdays and Thursdays, and continuing to go to Kingstown MWF for more technical and cultural training. Observing the school day on Tuesday was very interesting.  It is nothing like middle/high school in the US.  EHS consists of two buildings; the main building and the Annex, which are about 1/8 mile apart.  Forms 1 and 2, grades 7 and 8, are in the Annex, which is where I will be spending most of my time, since that is where the literacy “room” and “library” are.  Forms 3,4 and 5 are in the main building along with the principal and administration. The buildings are extremely cramped.  There is barely enough space for all the students in the classrooms.  There are no teacher desks in the classrooms, only enough space to shuffle in and out of the room and stand in front of class at the chalk board.  Instead, the teachers share a room, appropriately called the staff room, where they have desks similar to the students.  Moreover, the students remain in their classrooms and the teachers go to them as the classes/periods change. Periods are 35 minutes with an hour for lunch, the entire day running from 815m until 3pm.
The library is actually the size of a broom closet and is also the literacy room.  There are some shelves lining on wall, which holds about 14 books that are all old and decrepit.  Its not much of a library, but that’s why I am here! This will definitely be a challenge! On my first day observing, I followed Shara around, introduced myself to her classes, graded some spelling tests that she administered, met with the principal and discussed their expectations for me. We will see how this goes.
On my second day of observation, there was no school, but instead “Heats”.  “Heats” is basically a mandatory track meet for all the students.  All 700 of them, although I don’t think they all came, since some don’t actually like to run, and Heats was held at the Cricket field near the airport, close to town (about 45 minutes away from the school).  The school does not provide transportation, so the students need to find their own way, usually the bus/van. Anyways, this was total chaos.  Most of the students ran barefoot, which is very common, some ran in jeans, and it was the hottest day since I have arrived.  There was not a cloud in the sky, subsequently I got some bad sunburn! 

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