It’s Spring Break! Our second one this year.
We only had three days of school this week. The kids were very energetic and are definitely enjoying the warm weather. Monday and Tuesday were interesting days, because we ended up almost totally teaching full classes, rather than having a combination of small groups and classes. Given both the week and the class sizes, this was definitely challenging at times, but it was also really good experience.
Wednesday was “Fun Day” at RPS, and also a half-day. The kids didn’t have to wear uniforms or even bring their schoolbags. We were assigned the job of selling “jelly and custard” and “Chelsea buns.” The kids all had coupons to buy a variety of food and/or participate in activities. The most-discussed activity among the kids was the “Ghost House,” which the Grade Sevens set up. A few kids came out in tears, explaining that they had balloons of “blood” thrown at them and saw Michael Jackson’s bones dancing.
Thursday was Heritage Day, a national holiday. We went to the Soweto Festival, which had traditional dancers and musicians, craftsmen selling their products, a “Youth Zone,” and stands advertising local businesses. Thousands of people from the Johannesburg area attended, some in traditional dress. We continued our Heritage Day celebration at a jazz club, where a really talented musician, Siphokazi, sang in a mixture of English, Xhosa, and Zulu.
We’ve spent the last couple days with Ms. Boisvert, who is traveling around Africa as the Director of Global Programs for Pingry. We all met with the principal of Zuurbekom and also spent some time in Joburg. It was really nice to see her!
Early tomorrow morning, we’re heading to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, on a seven-hour bus ride. We’re looking forward to seeing a new country.
In our first class Monday morning, the kids have the opportunity to share their news from the weekend. It broke our hearts to watch as five first graders in a row recounted horrible events—deaths of family or friends, disease, and freak accidents. Every week the news seems to be like this. The teacher asked if anyone had good news and a girl responded by saying, “There is only bad news in this land.” The teacher later informed the class that one student will not be returning for the remainder of the year, because he got third degree burns after a pot of boiling water fell on his head.
A second grade teacher had us teach a reading comprehension lesson using the story “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.” We again realized how difficult it is to make sure that 45 kids stay in their seats, listen, and do their work. This was especially difficult, because there seems to be no stigma against tattle-tailing here. Kids are constantly getting out of their seats to tell on each other. This literally happened at least thirty times over the course of an hour and a half. The next day, another second grade teacher, who had heard about our lesson, asked us to teach it to her class. It was cool to see how two different classes responded to the same lesson.
Spring break starts this Thursday and we are terrified for our last class on Wednesday. One teacher asked if kids in New Jersey get crazy the week before Spring Break. It seems that some things are the same everywhere. As many of you may have been talking about this week, Kanye West stole the mic from Taylor Swift at the VMA’s. On Wednesday one kid asked Emma if she saw what Kanye did in the news last night. People here are very interested in American pop culture.
For the first time in the schools history, a group of students checked out books from the library at Zuurbekom. Every kid that was allowed to do so chose to take home a book. As we were leaving school, we saw that many of them were reading their books as they walked home. We hope that very soon all of the kids will be using this opportunity regularly.
Today we went to Mrs. Kinney’s (a college counselor at Pingry) sister’s house. Abby and her husband were nice enough to make us hamburgers, give us Haagen Daz, and brew us Starbucks coffee. It felt just like being back at home. To make it a little more South African, though, we had warthog (that her husband hunted!) sausages.
One of the highlights from our three days at Randfontein Primary was having some groups of third graders to act out The Three Little Pigs. They started out by reading and discussing the story, then wrote their own scripts for the performances. They were really cute. Working with the slightly older kids is a lot of fun, because we can go beyond the basic reading skills to do more creative assignments. One of the kids in Christina’s group was obsessed with Michael Jackson and wouldn’t sit still for more than a few minutes at a time before getting up to dance–he even tried the moonwalk. He also said he wanted to grow up and be like John Travolta and have a private jet.
We continued to work with groups in the library at Zuurbekom on Thursday. Sadly, our day ended a little bit early, because the school was holding a memorial service for a child who had been hit by a train on the way to school. The schools in the area seem to be far too accustomed to dealing with tragic events like that. In the time we had, we continued to introduce them to the basic set up of the library (i.e., fiction, non-fiction, encyclopedias, etc.) with the hopes of getting them interested in at least one type of resource that the library has to offer. Kids got really excited looking at books on everything from the solar system to animals to superheroes. We talked to the principal and will be setting up a system for the students to check out books, starting next week.
One of the groups we had was a group of 25 third-grade boys. That was challenging, to say the least! They had a lot of fun trying to drive us crazy. A few minutes before the end of the day, we had basically reached our breaking points, and were yelling at the kids to sit down and listen. All of the sudden, they all broke into a song, the lyrics of which go like: “Thank you, well done, keep it up, shine, shine like the sun!” We couldn’t help but to burst out laughing.
On Friday, we visited Thabisile. It was the last day of “Literacy Week,” so there was a school-wide assembly. Kids from each grade presented in some form, with the youngest kids saying the alphabet, slightly older ones reading (both books from class and stories they wrote themselves), and the oldest ones debating if boys or girls were better (there was some very interesting rationale in that one!). But overall, it was really good to see teachers, parents, and students come together to celebrate the kids’ accomplishments.
We also had a good weekend, going to a different part of Joburg after school on Friday, the Lesedi Cultural Village on Saturday (where you learn about South Africa’s tribal history, then finish with a huge buffet of Pan-African food–including crocodile!), and a Thai Festival today (we realize the irony).
We forgot to mention that we are now used to the constant sound of mooing. Sometimes, especially in the middle of the night, the cows sound a little distressed. We don’t really know why.
Hi everyone! It’s hard to believe that we have been here for a month now. We spent Monday through Wednesday working at Randfontein Primary School. Each day we work with first graders in the morning, then second graders, and then finish with third graders. All of the teachers use us somewhat differently. We either teach with guidance from the teacher, take groups of 5-12 students each to work on reading skills, or occasionally we are given a whole class to teach. Some of the teachers give us specific things to work on and others let us plan our own lessons. Normally the small groups consist of either the most advanced or the weakest students. We now understand a lot better what teachers experience—they really do see and hear everything! Although we do occasionally have to discipline, most of the kids seem very eager to learn.
On Thursdays we are at Zuurbekom working with first to third graders. We work with the kids on reading skills and also introduce them to using their new library (the school’s first). Thanks again to all those who donated books! We recognize many of them on the shelves. We spend about an hour and a half working with 25-35 kids. The kids (especially the youngest ones) struggle with English, which at times makes communicating difficult. And we DEFINITELY struggle with Tswana.
We were asked to be judges for Master and Miss Ranfontein Primary, a modeling competition. The kids were judged on their smile/confidence, movement, posture, and overall impression. They were all so cute and had so much attitude, which was funniest with the 7 year old boys. Those who weren’t participating were cheering and dancing the entire day. It was a lot of fun for us and for all of the kids.
This weekend we got the chance to explore Joburg a little more. We wandered around and found some cool places. Its amazing how many different cultures mesh together here.
It’s strange that we won’t be starting Pingry this Wednesday. Good luck to those of you who are!