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A Brief Ode to Shorts

A “brief” ode to shorts! Get it? “Brief” shorts? Hahaha, okay… Nevermind.

Today it is 91 degrees, with a perceived temperature of 107 (according to the weather station). A little higher than normal, but it’s a scorcher. In honor of this summer’s weather, I present a personally crafted haiku:

Lost shorts of freedom
Heavy weighs my pant prison
Oh forbidden dream

Shorts are heavily frowned upon in public here, so it’s pants for me! I have never been so appreciative of belonging to a culture where I can wear what I want, when I want, where I want. Wearing shorts here increases the amount of harassment a woman faces public and is just “not done.” It’s been interesting to see what from the fashion world is permissible and what is not. For example, shorts are indecent but it is not uncommon to wear sheer tops that you can see bras through.

In a desperate attempt to beat the heat, I recently tried to go capri/skirt shopping. I have to admit that I was expecting to have some trouble finding clothes that would fit– I am a bit differently shaped than the majority of women here and was not sure I could find a size small enough to work. The surprise was all mine when I realized I couldn’t find anything big enough– the largest pant size I could find was a 6/7 (US size). In three stores. I was shocked. And then curious.

Dominicans dress up to go everywhere: to school, the store, across the street to Tia Maria’s, everywhere. But one of the things I have noticed is the variety of styles sported by each social group. In the more affluent and middle-class neighborhoods, many people wear clothes that fit the same way they do in the States– no stuffing, no rolling, etc. Most of these clothes come from the mall and have American labels. The next level in the fashion hierarchy wears flashier clothes that fit a bit more tightly across areas that clothes perhaps ought not fit too tightly across (and accordingly also seem to restrict breathing and a few other vital bodily functions). I truly admire the confidence required to wear such colors, buttons and patterns but wonder how in the world they fit such fashions on. Ideas surrounding physical beauty here are much different– one host mom recently complimented her departing American daughter on finally filling out her derriere and while my mother has never said such a thing, we usually eat more in one sitting than I eat in an entire day back home (and I can eat an entire pizza by myself, if that tells you anything). After I mentioned my adventures in clothes-hunting to a friend today, he pondered if Dominicans might not also have a different sense of how clothes fit on the body. It is an interesting question: Do clothes fit tightly here because they are supposed to or because larger sizes are only more readily available from the pricier American brands? Food for thought.

In the meanwhile- so long shorts, see you in back in Colorado!

Two Victories in Two Days!

1. EEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEeeeeeee!!!!!!!
I did a circle in class yesterday and it totally worked!!! I’m too excited to even try to be clever with this post, so please bear with me, dear reader! *beams*

For those of you that don’t know, I use a Restorative Practice strategy in my classroom that involves circle work in order to promote a sense of community, encouragement and belonging. But just what is a circle, you ask? It is the  single most amazing classroom strategy since hand-raising, is what. Harry Wong’s got nothin’ on this shhhh…. short yet effective activity for getting every single kid in the classroom involved. Every. Single. One.

You begin by having students move into a circle and then explain that cultures around the world use circles as a safe way to listen, practice and learn new things in a safe space with other people. Then you ask a goofy question– kids learn to speak and share information about themselves with the class in a fun way, such as “What’s your favorite candy bar?,” “Would you choose to go backward or forward through time?,” or even as simple as, “What did you do this weekend?” Students can choose to pass, but we always return to them for their answer.

Next, you introduce a content questions, such as “How many brothers or sisters do you have?” Kids respond with “I have one sister,” or “I have two brothers,” (ect.,ect.) and practice the material they’ve been learning in front of an patient and willing audience (we are working with “I have” and family vocabulary). In a core classroom, you might ask something like “What were the causes of…,” “What do you predict…,” and so on. It gives kids ownership over the content, their learning and the classroom. I do a circle a week with my kids back home and woe befall me if I forget to schedule one by Thursday– they panic that we’re going to skip and pester non-stop for a circle. It’s great! I’ve also used it to address bullying in my classroom and have structured Student Council around this concept, too.

AND IT TOTALLY WORKED IN MY CLASSROOM HERE!!! Kids I had never heard speak to me were sharing aloud and participating in the activities! YEEEEEESSSSS!!!!!

Thank you for teaching me this, MOM!

2. I have also begun dance classes! I know! I’m just as shocked as you are, believe you me. Friday I learned how to Meringue and the basic steps of the Bachata (the two national dances of the Dominican Republic). More updates to follow, but I had an absolute blast at my first lesson!

For more information on Restorative Practices, check out this link (specifically, please scroll down to the section about circles!):   http://www.iirp.edu/what-is-restorative-practices.php

So, What Exactly Do You Teach?

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Checking background knowledge on the first day of class

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The school has very limited resources and utilizes a text book geared for first or second graders. This is advantageous for the little ones but means the older students are often left unchallenged, so I wrote a short story to practice reading in English. Right now, we are working with the verbs “to have” and “to need.” Student volunteers read the different roles aloud for the class and we decode the sentences together, assigning Total Physical Response (TPR) motions to new words or phrases. The older kids like the challenge of reading in front of the class and practicing more advanced skills and the younger students really seem to get a kick out of the funny voices and actions we use in TPR.

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Yesterday we began learning the parts of the body. I did this monster project last year with my Spanish One students and decided to try it again here– we got to review numbers and practice both “I have” and the parts of the body. We’re not all the way there yet, but not bad progress for just a few tries!

While the little kids miss some of the coloring, the older students have really risen to the level I have been trying to encourage them to reach. A few have told me they’re glad that I’m not letting them color as much, even though it means class is a little harder– it’s really encouraging me to keep trying new strategies and activities. It’s been very surprising to see which activities are successful and which ones flop. The students love TPR, reading as a class and activities that use both writing and coloring (like the monster) but hate activities where they have to move around the classroom or practice talking to each other in English in small groups or one-on-one (which was really surprising because they love to talk and moving around the room is part of how these classrooms function).

There’s a circle strategy that I use in my classroom back home that I’d be really interested to try here (it builds the classroom as a community and helps encourage students to speak in front of the others, amongst a plethora of other things), but alas, I am too chicken to try and introduce it yet. Maybe next week?

Here Fishy Fishy Fishy

Today we swam out to a reef in Sosua and saw more fish then I could count (here’s a snapshot borrowed from the fabulous Sarah). While the reef is sadly dying, the aquatic life is fearlessly flourishing– the fish swam … Continue reading

In Which I Get Horrifically Lost, Make Some Startling Discoveries and Conquer My Afternoon Class

ImageHint: This is where I get lost… 

First and foremost, before I dive into the tantalizing stories teased above—mad props to my parents. They were so glad when I finally chose to visit a country without a raging drug war, widely publicized tourist kidnappings or frequent terrorist activities; I can still hear my mom’s sigh of relief. That being said, I must admit to finding a little guilty humor in the fact that halfway through my first week here a hurricane was predicted to hit the island (sorry, guys!). Fortunately, the only effect we saw of the storm in the northern part of the country was a temporary influx of violent rain. Also, I apologize in advance for this post. I tried my hardest to be safe, I honestly did.

But I digress, for there are adventures to be told! In order to best understand the following stories, I feel the need to preface this next part of my story with some background information:

  1. Yes, I am terrible with directions. I once crossed through five cities trying to navigate a 10 minute journey from downtown Denver to… Well, somewhere else in downtown Denver. And don’t even get me *started* on the peril of asking students to drive to their own SATs. I can either try and remember the formula for derivates or I can drive safely. You pick.
  2. I teach in a lovely school in Cienfuegos called La Escuela de Nuestra Senora de la Luz. My lovely school is located in not the lovliest of neighborhoods. Cienfuegos is a barrio originally founded in 1975 when a nearby town burned to the ground and the refugees were resettled in a makeshift area on the edge of Santiago’s landfill. Cienfuegos literally translates to “100 fires,” making the first settlers “refugees of 100 fires.”
  3. Cienfuegos is now the largest barrio in Santiago, with 80,000 residents. Although the school I work at is a better part of the barrio, I have been absolutely verboten from wearing any jewelry or bringing large amounts of materials for class. Originally there was some concern about bringing my small purse with me, but that has abated somewhat now that people have established a connection between the Americana and the escuela.
  4. In the Dominican, we use conchos as our major form of transportation. Conchos are essentially (usually) trained drivers who ferry people across the city on established routes. They may or may not have a license and they may or may not be operating a completely functioning vehicle. But in the end, they’re a very patient group of individuals who do their best to ignore all traffic signs and deliver you safely and securely to your destination (though one does usually feel they’ve left a roller coaster upon disembarkment). But they’re super easy for the directionally challenged to use as long as you know the letter of the route you need. Theoretically.

Unless, you have to take the F. The F goes two directions- por dentro y al centro (which they swap back and forth depending on which they think will get them the most passengers). Let’s say you are trying to get yourself to your second day of school and you confirm three times the route you need with the driver. You’re still a little shaky about living in Santiago and all the cultural shocks therein, but you feel confident about the day ahead of you. Today is the day… That the driver never passes any of the landmarks you so carefully memorized to make your way to school. Ack! Panic begins to seep in. Surely you remember… Something? No, not a thing. And now the driver is frustrated with you because you don’t know where to turn (you later found out he skipped your route entirely). The environment around you starts to deteriorate and you have left the paved road. There are no more apartments and an increasing amount of crowded lean-tos appear, so close they seem to be elbowing each other for access to the road.

Your driver pulls over to pick up a new passenger. At first the ride is quiet as you panic silently in the front seat; your first class begins in 10 minutes. The back passenger reaches forward and… pats your shoulder gently. ¿Cómo estás, mija?” “How are you, daughter?” A kind and maternal woman asks, genuine concern in her eyes. She barks at the driver, “Where is she going? Why is she scared?” He responds briskly that you’re looking from some sort of school he’s never heard of and she begins to list all the schools she knows nearby. Another passenger enters the car and into the conversation as well—“¿Ella es maestra? Hay una escuela…” “She’s a teacher? There’s a school…” The driver softens and between the three of them, they come up with a school that matches your description. But the driver passed it some time ago and does not want to go back. Handing you back your money, he pulls over and hails another F concho heading in the opposite direction. He yells the agreed upon school to your new driver as you switch vehicles and off you go. Passengers come and go, each trying their best to help. You are brought to four different schools, none of which you belong to. You are now 10 minutes late to class.

Eventually another passenger cheerfully lends you his cell phone to call your director, insisting that the driver use it to coordinate directions with her that will return you to someplace familiar. As they talk, you see the basurera de Santiago pass outside your window—the Santiago landfill. You have driven all the way through Cienfuegos to the heart of poverty. You see smoke climbing out of the landfill from fires no one can put out and trash rolls into the distance—crests and troughs, like huge waves on a turbulent sea. You catch a glimpse of people sifting through those peaks as the concho takes a slow corner on the narrow dirt road. Though the landfill is no longer in view, you can see its influence on the people and houses here. Women sweep dirt floors with salvaged, make-shift brooms, houses are retrofitted with the latest dive’s find. You have read about this area, where the houses push up against the landfill’s fence. Residents here have more health problems than you can count and rely on the dump for food, fuel and shelter. Respiratory illnesses are common due to the smoke from unquenchable fires and children often scrounge barefooted through the waste. You marvel that such kindness for a wayward school teacher can so easily become the primary concern of new passengers from this area—that they would postpone their trips, appointments, jobs to make sure one lost person gets safely delivered to a school. That your measly moment of terror could become a priority in a world like this.

A plan is made! You are returned to an area you recognize and your companions smile when you gasp that you know where you are. You are brought to the foot of your school, where your driver helps you out and gives you a big hug. Your first real hug since you have arrived. He waves goodbye as you climb up the stairs, ¡Cuidate, niña, cuidate mucho!”  “Take care of yourself, child, take very good care of yourself!”

And that was my Thursday morning! Haha! What a morning! I was almost an hour late to school and what is normal a 40 minute concho ride was very nearly two hours! The kids had been hanging around the school building, waiting for me and we all went in together. It was a very wonderful thing to be hugged by so many small and loving arms when you have just had a very large scare. My morning class was wonderful as usual and I felt I more or less drifted through the first half of the day, still flabbergasted at the kindness of others, shocked by what I had seen, and blown away by newly emerging perspectives on respect, poverty, and thankfulness amongst other topics.

After my rather adventuresome morning, I had no fear of navigating my afternoon class. I had a plan. And if I could survive my morning without falling apart, by gum, those kids were going to learn how to conjugate “I have” and “You have” in a sentence. And they did! It will take some reinforcement, but we had a very successful day and I felt very much in control of the class. We’ll see what next week brings, but I was very impressed by today’s progress (academically and behaviorally).

They always say traveling changes your perspectives, but they never say exactly how—I think it’s because the things that challenge us the most are the things we never expected to face. But for now, my friends, I’m tired of writing and if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably pretty tired of reading (haha). Nevertheless, thank you for sticking with me; I’m always glad to have someone to share this adventure with.

ImageImage from:http://www.programasantalucia.org/ayuntamiento/ (All of the burning part is the landfill)

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Image from: http://desdesantiago.wordpress.com/2012/06/16/la-basura-amenaza-salud-de-santiagueros/

Top photo from: http://semdom.50megs.com/cienfuegos.htm