Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Annex Library

As I begin to start to wrap up my time in St. Vincent and my projects here, I have become increasingly discerning in the projects that I undertake and continue.  After two years, it has become evident that some organizations/people do not fully value my contributions and are just taking advantage of me.  At this point in my service, I do not need to continue with projects that are not worthwhile or beneficial; projects that are not worth my time, frustrating for both me and the people I am supposed to be helping, and that have been nothing short of semi-organized chaos. It’s a shame that this is the case, but it nonetheless is the reality of the situation.
 I have now been focusing a lot of my attention at school, namely the Annex Library, and the SVG Rugby team’s Youth Programme. Two projects I that feel strongly are making an impact; two projects that are worth my time, that are valued and appreciated. Two projects that will reach and leave last impressions on many students/children.
In my opinion, the Library has been one of the best avenues for increasing literacy rates, almost even more so than the remedial reading programme.  While in theory the remedial reading programme is an excellent concept, it is met with resistance, a lack of resources, and other barriers to its success and sustainability.
On the other hand, the Library has played an integral part in increasing interest in learning and a love of and for reading.  The Library provides a safe space for students to come and explore/learn when classrooms are left unattended, during break and during lunch. Students of all reading levels come to borrow books; ranging from students who struggle the most to read and are placed in the remedial classes to the very best readers in the Annex (forms 1 & 2).
Often times, unfortunately, Form Period, which is a period dedicated for the Form Teacher to spend with the class, becomes a free period.  This down time or free period often times becomes Library time, giving students the chance to come to the library to borrow books to read during periods of down time (there are many).  Sometimes Form Period is the only time students have the opportunity to come to the library, as teachers do not normally let students out of class to come to the Library.
Additionally, the Library becomes a refuge for students seeking to avoid trouble in the classrooms that are left unattended. Students come to the Library to escape from the rowdy classroom and troublesome students.  Usually, it is the brightest students that have a love of reading, or the very worst students. 
Furthermore, the Library inadvertently caters to troubled students.  Due to the proximity of the Library to the Staff Room, where students are sent to await disciplinary action, out of boredom, usually take an interest in the Library and the books.  There have been many instances where students that would not normally ever set foot in the Library have become genuinely interested in a book that they have picked up while waiting by the Staff Room, and have even asked to borrow to take the book home to read. This usually results in the student coming back to the Library to borrow more books. 
 I find there to be an issue with the way teachers deal with classroom management as well as reprimanding and disciplining students.  The primary solution for disruptive students it to throw the students out of class. Inevitably, the students that have been thrown out of class for disruptive behavior, wander the halls and sometimes find their way to the Library.  More times than not, they come to the library hiding from the Headmaster, teachers, or other students that are chasing them.  But it is my policy that students that are in trouble cannot hide in the library, obviously.  However, I like to try to cut down on the shenanigans that go on in the hallways, as well as try to get these unfocused students interested in something constructive.  I always give them the benefit of the doubt and allow them in the library, even when they are supposed to be standing up outside the Staff Room. Usually, if the students are serious about their interest in the Library and the books, they are allowed to stay, but if they are just making more trouble, being rude and disrespectful, they are asked to leave.  I think this causes a lot of frustration and tension between me and the other teachers, but I don’t think it makes sense for the students to be outside the Staff Room all day long just standing there, so I try to make them read while they are waiting, or if they come into the library, I won’t run them if they are behaving. They can choose to stay in the Library if they behave themselves and sit down and read a book.  They are reluctant at first, but once they search for an interesting or exciting book, they slowly get hooked.
The “troubled” students also usually come to the library because they know I will listen to what they have to say. Many instances, the Library becomes a counseling office of sorts. Though the school has an excellently qualified and dedicated guidance counselor, there are far too many students who need counseling, and there are far too many issues that need to be dealt with in an interdisciplinary manner, by all members of staff at the fundamental level, than one person can tackle on their own.
Lastly, as more students borrow books from the Library, many more students become aware of the library and become interested in seeing what the library can provide for them too. Just the other day, a student came to me and said that a bunch of students in her class were borrowing Goosebumps books, so she wanted one too.
Overall, the Annex Library has gained the interest of over 100 students in Forms 1 & 2 just since the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year.  More than half of these students are frequent borrowers.  Additionally, there are close to 20 students who show interest in becoming a Student Librarian, while about 8 of those have shown commitment and dedication to the sustainability of the library on a consistent basis.

Thought I would add this (finally).  The School Anthem written and performed by a past-student and present teacher.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Dont Make Me Go Yet!

Each Peace Corps Volunteer’s experience is completely their own.  No two experiences are the same. And you cannot judge another’s experience based on your own. And from experience it seems as though you either love it or you hate it.  By the end of your two years, you’re either ready to get the F out, or you are scratching your head wondering where the time went, filling out paperwork to extend your service. I am just such a person.
I was assigned to a semi-private/semi-government-operated rural secondary school, serving in the capacity of remedial reading teacher and librarian.  I have worked to establish a library by procuring library books from several US based non-profit organizations. I have taught remedial reading classes.  And on more than one occasion filled in for teachers on maternity leave; teaching subjects ranging from integrated science, maths, and physics.
I can’t say that my service has always been positive or productive. There were many times where I felt very frustrated and unsupported. It seemed like at every turn there was a roadblock, preventing me from doing my assignment.  Other times, it seemed as though there were barriers obstructing my visions and ideas for improved remedial classes, a functional library, educational afterschool clubs, and other initiatives, such as life skills classes, from becoming a reality.
From the beginning I formed a strong and special bond with the school Guidance Counselor.  Together we have created a Guidance Committee aimed at tackling some of the school’s toughest social issues. This has been one of the most rewarding bonds and positive programs I have been involved with.
From early on, I decided that I would want to extend my stay.  Due to the nature of how Peace Corps operates, my group arrived in February, dictating that we would be leaving in April.  This falls in the middle of the school term. I knew that I would want to finish the school year, as otherwise I would feel as though I abandoned my students, the teachers, and the Guidance Counselor/Committee. I would feel incomplete, as things would seem to have been left unfinished, and abruptly.
Furthermore, from the day that I arrived in St. Vincent, I began looking around for a rugby team.  It took nearly a year before I accidentally found them.  Since then, I have been a dedicated player, albeit for fun and not competitive at all, since I am not male, nor a citizen. On my own, I have tried various times to initiate a youth rugby team at the school I teach at, but to no avail. After about a year of trying on my own, the men’s national team initiated a youth rugby program, whereby some of the players go to different schools to teach/coach rugby.  Some players have even started youth rugby teams in their communities.  While it is still a slow go, progress has been made, and it is a step in the right direction, toward increasing awareness and interest in rugby in SVG.
To this end, I proposed that the SVG National Rugby team organize and conduct a youth rugby camp over the summer (as a way I could extend my service even longer). Much to my surprise, the team was very receptive and extremely enthusiastic and supportive of the idea.  Although, we are in the beginning planning stages, it looks like this dream can very well become a reality.
So while most Peace Corps Volunteers begin wrapping up their projects in the last 2 months of service, here I am just beginning a new project. I feel as though there is still so much I have to offer, so much I have to do/see/experience, that two months is no nearly enough to accomplish all my professional and personal goals. For these reasons, among others, I have decided to extend my service beyond the initial two-year requirement.  I will be staying an extra 6 months to finish the school year and formally wrap up all lose ends with the library and remedial reading program, the Guidance Committee, teachers and friends; and to implement a vision of mine: to start a youth rugby team and conduct a summer camp.
Not only will this fulfill my sense of completeness, and give ample time to say good bye (more on that in a later post), but it will give me time to get my act together and start planning my next journey in life.  Spoiler: back to the grind of trying to find a job in engineering, yeah nothing exciting.