Monday, January 28, 2013

Can't Help But Smile

Ice cream is a popular morning snack.
Yes, the public schools are allowed to sell ice cream. 
J$50 for a cone this size (just over $0.50).

School children share their snacks. 
You'd be hard-pressed to find one that will not give you at least a few banana chip crumbs or a lick off their ice cream cone if you demanded. 
I suppose we were kinda like that as kids, too.

This little girl scored some fruity flavored rice puffs to stick on her ice cream today.
And I couldn't help but smile at the deliciously vibrant, sugar-filled snack before 10am.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Why am I Here? Why I am Here:

One of the most common questions I encounter is,

"What do you do in the Peace Corps?"

Generally speaking, Peace Corps Volunteers exist in order to influence lives. 
Politically speaking, I am here to build positive relationships through a cultural exchange of knowledge. 
Specifically, I am teaching literacy and numeracy at the elementary school level here in Jamaica. 

In The Gambia, I was supposed to be a primary teacher trainer. Other volunteers around the world help build sustainable small business practices, improve water sanitation, raise HIV/AIDS awareness, and practice a myriad of other development efforts.

I came into this literacy teacher assignment knowing almost nothing about teaching reading. Sure, I can read myself, I can develop reading curriculum for the American classroom, and I can teach a basic writing course. But to start from nothing? To teach 8-, 9-, and 10-year-olds their basic letter sounds and sight words? I had no clue.

Through 8 months of trial and error accompanied by a compilation of ideas from the blessed internet and other volunteers, I finally have a grip on how to teach literacy (somewhat) effectively. At least, I have a small bag of tricks to convince myself and everyone else that I know what I'm doing.

For starters:

 Each potential student needs to be assessed. 
Jamaica's Ministry of Education equipped us with a sufficient assessment and guide.
To give you an idea of the students I'm (and most volunteers) are working with,
all of the grade 4 students I assessed last week are reading at about a grade 1 level.
If they do not know all (or most) of the letter names and sounds, I know that's where we have to start. The assessment promptly ends there.

 If the student can successfully read me both lower and upper case letters as well as tell me what "noise" or sound they make, I have them read basic sentences. Based on the sentence, I skip over to a sight words list. 

The sight words list helps me determine which level comprehension test to administer.
I have found--without fail--that students' listening comprehension is at least one or two levels above their reading comprehension.

Finally, I have the student draw a triangle, a circle, and a square. I don't know all the science behind this, but another volunteer's mother passed on tips to use this activity as a means to assess fine motor skills. Fine motor skills affects their ability to form letters, and ultimately affects their ability to recognize words and read. I think. At least it's interesting.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

New Year, New Site

Tomorrow marks my group's 8-month anniversary of being sworn-in volunteers. In another 18 months I'll be giggling at how big a deal this date seemed.

As implied by the previous post, I spent a splendid three weeks at home in California with my beautiful family. The cold weather, freedom to go out & about, and church family were the highlights.

About week before leaving for my Christmas leave, PC removed me from my community. They concurred with various safety and security concerns I've been having over the past 6 months, and being a relatively high-risk post, staff takes these issues very seriously. Going through a site change means lots of waiting time and very little "knowns."

Since I have been in "limbo," I've been crashing near the PC office and reporting for work here daily. I've accomplished a few things such a spring cleaning (since there's no seasons here, it's spring cleaning time year-round), curriculum writing/review, and being a second opinion on many other matters. Here is my temporary taking over of our PC Volunteer Leader's desk. They are kind to let me join them.

In the evenings I've been helping coach and train the Jamaican National Youth Water Polo team. My, what a blast that's been! Another volunteer kindly put me in contact with the head coach, who was more than thrilled to have me come out.

The team is comprised of newly-recruited junior high and high school-aged girls and boys. Their ages range from 11-17 or 18. I have been practicing in the water with them, pulling individuals who may need help at a given time. Last night I watched them scrimage each other for the first time, and I equate their skill level to that of my high school freshman team.

Every muscle in my body aches, as I have not practiced this sport for at least 3-4 years now! The coaches, athletes, and parents are all kind and thank me for coming out. I do plan to keep in contact to be able to work with them in the future.

Tomorrow I move to my new site, about an hour from my first placement. I'll be doing the same sort of work: working with elementary-aged children in the school setting. I'm ready to be settled again, to be in a (somewhat) familiar environment, and to continue doing what I came here to do: impact the lives of Jamaican children through teaching and positive reinforcement.

Look for posts and pictures to come!

Monday, January 7, 2013


Everyone has holiday traditions.
When I taught fourth grade, my students wrote about their traditions at Thanksgiving time.

The most cherished Christmas tradition in my family is all about the Christmas tree.
My father has been going to the same tree farm since he was a wee 6 years old.
We go up every first weekend in October to reserve our future Christmas tree.
When we were little, our house had vaulted ceilings and we attempted to pick the tallest tree possible.
Until mom & dad put a 9-foot limit on all our Christmas tree dreams.
The annual family Christmas photograph took place on the same 200-yr old tree stump.
(Apologies for no exhibit.)
In October, the tree farm was usually dry and dusty, sometimes accompanied by warm weather.
Some years, snow crunched under our feet by the time we went back in December
to cut the tree down and haul it home.
As frugal finance-conscience parents, mom always prepared a picnic lunch and we sat around the 
campfire eating PB&J's and sipping complimentary hot cocoa or grape juice.
We remember our years there by the yard dogs that we played with. 
Amy, Sneakers, and Oreo are among the deceased but fondly remembered.
It always seemed like an ordeal (from my small, limited perspective of a child) to get the tree home,
off the top of the car, stump cut, and firmly placed in a stand full of fresh water.
It was like the mountain had to be conquered before the tree could be decorated.
 Alas, as soon as mom strung the (always colored) lights, we girls were allowed to garnish
with ornaments galore, however and wherever we wanted!
But the tradition doesn't stop there.
My parents are affectionately known for their eclectics.  Not weird eclectics. Just eclectic eclectics.
So it is with Christmas ornaments.
I won't go into detail, but no two ornaments are the same. 
Some are gifts from my dad's students while others are from my parents early days of dating.
But each one has a story.
And the three most beloved ones are the most "worthless," but their sentimental value 
earns them a position of honor among the top branches.

Points in case: an egg-carton-glitter-glue-pipe-cleaner bell I made in preschool,
Seed-pod-dipped-in-green-paint-and-covered-in-glitter from neighbor boy many years ago,
and a hand-made-paper-die-cut-decorated-with-stickers 
from an American soldier my parents had adopted last year.

A more recently developed Christmas tradition is the annual counting of the holiday mailers.
Each October 1 my mother begins collecting all the seasonal catalogs that come in the mail.
Each family member estimates of how many will inundate the mailbox by Christmas Eve.
Then we count (usually 2 or 3 times) the final amount on Christmas Day.
The winner has the privilege of treating the losers to Leatherby's Ice Cream.
[Translated: M&D always treat; it's just another excuse to go to Leatherby's.]
 I couldn't help but giggle when I passed by as David & mom sat on the floor counting
and Sarah & Megan sat on the couch pouring over the contents of
what our family refers to as "goodie books." 

Megan (top, right) won the contest this year only one count shy of the actual total of 97.
97 goodie books, people. I suppose it's a reflection of our depth of holiday consumerism.
But at least they're keeping the postal system in business.

 And finally, we have the holiday socks tradition.
It's probably not a unique tradition, and it's definitely not original.
But my mom has this fascination with holiday/decorative socks.
And she attempts to pass it on to her daughters.
Thus, we receive at least one pair of holiday socks with each holiday.
At least we're not to the point of wearing them with our Mary Jane shoes, yet.

And as clearly displayed in the final exhibit, dad has not fallen victim of this tradition.
Maybe because no one makes holiday socks for men.

Maybe he should start an "Occupy Holiday Socks" movement among the male persuasion. Or not.

And there you have it, folks. Two weeks after Christmas and you now know 
the Wright family Christmas traditions. 
Hope your Christmas is as special as ours!