Sunday, March 20, 2011

So this is why we are here.

The entryway and offices to the school. 

The 2nd grade classroom is the first door on the left.
We're several weeks into the school year now and during this time we've learned quite a bit about what it looks like to teach here.
1. We seem to find out things on a need-to-know basis.
2. If we need copies or materials, we have to go to a copy shop and print whatever we've created on our computer and make copies for our students. If we ever received a receipt, I suppose we could turn it into the secretary to get reimbursed.
3. The students (and parents) need 8 school days to prepare for coming tests. Therefore, study outlines must be given according to this time guideline, lest the parents complain that their children didn't have adequate study time.
4. If we need scissors, glue, paper, etc, the student is responsible for buying it and bringing it to school. This also requires several days notice.
5. Teachers here are called "niña/niño" which actually means "child," but in our classes we pretend we're in the United States and the students call us Mr. and Mrs. Savage. (I'm getting more used to being called a "Mr." however, primarily and randomly by the 1st graders, who have a hard time distinguishing between the two words).
6. They are just so cute in their little uniforms! :)
Shiwai, our little perfectionist
As for what our roles look like at the school, here's an overview. We teach English and Science in English (they have Science in Spanish too) three days a week at the Centro Educativo Bautista del Caribe aka the Baptist School. The school is a ministry of the
New Hope Baptist Church here, and the Pastor of the church is also the Director at the school. (Director is the equivalent to principal.) It's a growing ministry still, with about 60 students from pre-kinder to 6th grade. We get to spend our time with three of the grades: 1st, 2nd, and 6th. We spend most of our time with the 7 2nd graders (Argelyn, Denskel, Riggionnie, Aaliyah, Yuliana, Rieshly, and Shiwai-yes it took time to learn their unique names), since we teach them over the course of all 3 days. I only get to see the 11 adorable 1st graders once a week, while Chris is molding the minds of the 4 6th graders for the same amount of time.
2nd Grade English: "Today is sunny. Yesterday was cloudy."

The schedule is as follows:
Monday- 3 periods of 2nd grade English (Jenn)
Tuesday- 3 periods 2nd grade English (Jenn)
Thursday- 2 periods of 2nd grade English (Jenn)
2 periods of 2nd grade Science (Chris)
2 periods of 1st grade Science (Jenn)
2 periods of 6th grade Science (Chris)
Planting seeds during Science
Thursday is obviously our longest day and the only day we're there during lunch. Sometimes we eat there to experience the local food. Just to help you picture the situation, the cafeteria is different than in the States and is more like a Canteen. In fact, it's like a mix between a typical restaurant here and a snack stand. They serve breakfast and lunch to those students and teachers who buy it and don't bring food from home. They also are open during the morning and afternoon recess to sell chips, drinks, green mangoes in vinegar and salt (a common snack here), and other random munchies. They eat in their classrooms
at their desks unless their parent comes to eat with them at one of the 2 tables in front.
La Soda aka Cafeteria & Snack Shop
So, now that you have a general idea of the school situation, why exactly are we here doing this?? How is God using us at the school? Why do the students here need to learn English? Why isn't someone else teaching it to them if it's so necessary?  One question at a time.

Why exactly are we here doing this and how is God using us here?
The school doesn't have sufficient funds to even break even currently, and hiring another teacher to teach English and Science in English is out of the question. Last year the Director taught both of these subjects, but confessed that he simply does not have the time or experience needed for the position. By volunteering here, we're saving the school money and providing the students with the opportunity to learn English from native speakers and a certified teacher, and Biology from a Biologist. It's truly amazing how God brought this opportunity to us, matching our skills and desires with a definite need. Not only are we in Costa Rica learning all about the culture and, honestly, gaining a better appreciation of the many opportunities and privileges we left in the States, but we're also able to serve with our time, resources, experiences, knowledge, and even our presence. I'm getting to teach while using Spanish and Chris is getting field experience in teaching Biology before he completes his Master's Degree in teaching back in the States.
Bring technology to them: Watching a video of a seed growing.
Why do the students here need to learn English?
We were wondering the same thing until a conversation we had yesterday shed some more light on the subject. It started our with a question about tourists and how the locals view them. We found out that people here really like tourists because they recognize that tourism is currently their #1 income. Based on this they are figuring out how to bring income into their homes, and one way to do that is selling things on the streets and being able to converse with tourists, which often requires English. By teaching the children English they are learning a skill that will help them open doors all throughout their lives. The skill of being bilingual is very valuable and the school is striving to provide their students with a bilingual education.
Denskel- "Give a hug, sugar love." :D
Why isn't someone else teaching it to them if it's so necessary? 
If we weren't the ones teaching English, it would be the Director or another volunteer that came to them to serve. The students do know some English already, although it is very limited. They have memorized some phrases, such as when you ask them how they are, they respond with, "Fine, thanks, and you?" in the cutest accent ever. However, I found out that even if I asked them what their name was I got the same, "Fine, thanks, and you?" response. :) Needless to say, they have a lot to learn. I'm attempting to teach them more conversational English because they struggle the most with speaking and won't respond verbally even if they know the answer. I'm also focusing on practical words and conversation pieces that will be most helpful to them in real life outside the classroom. Furthermore, they are hearing English spoken by a native speaker, that is when I'm not re-explaining things in Spanish, which is quite different than listening to English spoken with a Jamaican accent. Like we've mentioned, we even have a tough time understanding that dialect of English. Hopefully their listening and comprehension will improve as well as their level of proficiency in speaking.
Learning shapes in English-showing off the "circle."
In English class we're progressing with parts of the body, commands, commons words that start with A, B, or C, family members, shapes, and so much more. In Science we've been learning the five senses and I think we've said "We see with our eyes, we taste with our tongues, we smell with our nose, etc." more times in the last two weeks than in our entire lives. It's okay though, because the whole time we're slowly saying this, I'm being intently stared at by the cutest 11 grinning faces of the concentrating 1st graders. Chris is teaching the scientific method and the characteristics that constitute life to the 4 6th graders. If anyone can email Chris and tell him why fire is not alive, you'll win a prize (he claims).

Saturday, March 5, 2011

We Have Friends! (and a maid)

It had to happen. 

We're on our own. We were protected for a while with the Baits around, but now things have changed. We're vulnerable.  Story time.
Playa Negra, 10 min walk from our future home in Cahuita

Roy, our landlord and friend, took us for a walk down the beach a bit to the south of Limon. It's a dirty beach, but still quite nice and, obviously, still a beach with waters of 85 degrees.  A few days later, Jenn and I decided to go for a nice walk along that same beach. So, we packed up our new beach towels and water bottles, donned our swimming suits and headed out.  We soon turn off the main drag and onto the road along the water front.  I quickly notice something that I hadn't noticed the time Roy took us; the houses along that area were very shabby, and I would expect much nicer ones along the beach.  We also noticed the lack of people.  It looked like an abandoned area of town with newspapers and coconuts blowing across the road.  Soon, a number of cat-calls came (yes, for both of us), and one of the cat-callers came our way on his low-rider bike. That was our cue to be on our way-forget a walk on the beach, we'd head to the water downtown.  We made a bee-line for the main road and found plenty of people.  The next day Roy came up to us and said, "WHAT in the WORLD were you doing down there?"  His sister, whom we'd met once, had seen us there and reported back to him.  Only then did he inform us that we had taken an evening stroll into a well- known drug dealing and trading part of town.  He said, "If you want drugs or to get mugged, feel free to go by yourselves, if not, wait for me to go with you next time. I grew up in that area so they know I don't do drugs. Glad you're okay."

A similar story took place one day when Jenn suggested we explore on our way home so we could find a shorter walking route.  We ended up down some dirt road in the hills above Limon.  Once again, our cue to get out of there was a guy heading us off with his bike. We decided to change our route going the opposite way he thought we were headed.  Man, how are we still alive? (just joking parents)

We just stand out here a lot since we're two of the ten (rough estimate) North Americans in this city.  It just isn't a tourist destination, but that's how we like it.
Our favorite baby girl three-toed sloth, Lola

Lola coming to give me a hug

Lola hugging Jenn

Exiting news.
We've officially made friends.  Randall and Keyla are a dating couple that are really into SCUBA diving, snorkeling, turtle conservation and the like.  They both grew up here and speak very little English, although Keyla is learning. They're about our age, and we get along with them great. We've already spent plenty of time together kayaking, boating, and helping out at the Butterfly Garden of Moin (also a rehabilitation center).  Last night, they randomly stopped by our apartment, and tonight we're all going out for Chinese food.  And, sometime soon we're all going camping on Isla de los Pajaros (Bird Island); of which the best part will be diving for lobster and cooking them over a campfire.  It is such a blessing to have locals here that are good friends (and also to have Jenn so that I can talk to them through her).
On Randall and Keyla's boat (owned by the University).  Also the river we kayaked down for many an hour...with crocodiles.

Another story.
We attended a leather back sea turtle training program with Randall and Keyla.  That evening we were going to go walk on the beach to watch the leather backs (up to 2000 lb sea turtles) come up and lay their eggs.  There is a huge problem here with poaching, and we are going to be helping out protecting the nests over the next couple of  months.  Well, we ended up waiting around for 9 hours before we got to go, in which time we're warned that the poachers typically all carry guns...comforting.  So, the time had arrived (9pm...we had to be up to go teach the next morning at 6am, by the way) to head out to the beach.  Suddenly we learn that we are going to a special location only accessed by a bicycle modified to ride on the railroad tracks, and only about 6 people can go at a time.  Some hop on, we start to walk.  Apparently this is a 3 hours walk, or 30 minutes on the rigged bike train thing.  Oh, and if a train comes, which it did, I have no idea what the plan would be.  We walk for about 45 min, and it starts to rain... really hard.  Then the mosquitoes come out, with a vengeance. We stand there and wait for...who knows what.  Then the powers that be say to turn around and go home.  Arrival at home = 12:45pm.  Did we see turtles, or anything for that matter? NO.  

Oh, the wonders of living abroad.
The hawk-bill turtle at the Butterfly Garden we will be returning to the ocean ASAP.

Teaching is going excellently.  The first week we discovered that the second graders don't know a lick of English, and if the language is hiding somewhere in their brain they don't give a hint that it is there.  And, they are lazy little buggers.  We've got some work ahead of us.  But, the first graders are about the most bright eyed and bushy tailed tykes I have ever seen and I want to keep all of them.  They love speaking English and listening to me telling them why the sky is blue, why cement is hard, and why ants walk in a line.  Jenn has been teaching incredible English.  She has been focusing on greetings, days of the week, months, body parts and simple actions.  They're getting it.  And, my science class was on the 5 senses (tough stuff for 1st graders).  I'm pretty sure I said "We see with our eyes" more times than I've been bit by mosquitoes here.  Jenn teaches 3 days a week (Mon, Tues, and Thurs), and I teach science only on Thurs.  I'm also picking up 6th grade science as well!
Jenn and Keyla heading into the Butterfly Garden

Other random things:
1. Jenn is loving cooking Costa Rican foods.
2. We got a cell phone.
3. Clothes washers here are weird. There are no dryers, if you don't count the clothes lines.
4. We've found we like reading to each other (currently half-way through The Hobbit).
5. We'll be returning to the States in late July for Keith and Nicole's wedding on Aug 5th (Bashies back together)...and then coming back here to finish out teaching for the year.
6. Copo's are an icy, milky, sweet heaven on earth.
7. We're getting quite used to the heat, but we still strip down to swimming suit amounts of clothing once we regresar (return) home.
8. A wonderful rooster friend of mine wakes us at about 5am every morning. I think I understand why roosters aren't legal in cities in the States. 
9. We have a maid that cleans our place every sweet is that?
10. We don't have an oven or stove. We cook with only a plug in skillet and a rice cooker (incredible little contraptions).
11. EVERYTHING can come in bags (as we said before) add to the list: Jam, milk, liquid soap.
12. We've pretty much become vegetarians here...just because meat is so expensive.

We feel that we are in the right place right now and that God has prepared the way for us.  It is harder to see work being done here than it was building a church in Alajualita, but we are content.  May God bless this school and the New Hope Baptist Church that is affiliated with it.

We love you all.  Thank you for your support and prayers.