Meryl Ironson is visiting with several schools this summer… follow her as she connects students across two continents!
Whoever said that teenagers were lazy did not meet the crew of teenagers that came to South Africa! It was so impressive how these kids painted, taped, scraped, washed our rollers and brushes, and rags, tarped and cleaned. They unloaded books, sorted and stacked, dragged, pulled and lugged twice their weight, shifted and arranged.
They tackled unknown waters like teaching lessons for Zuurbekon students and speaking in front of crowds of people. They stretched their own levels of patience and responsive stamina as they listened to lengthy speeches, listened to more lengthy speeches and experienced a 3 hour church service. They met South African children and; read to them, hugged them, twirled them, listened to them and fell in love with them. They met South African teenagers and sang with them, spoke to them, played “pattern” with them, gave them books and discovered a commonality that I don’t think any of them knew existed. They developed empathy for those who have less, for those who work for what we take for granted and, after speaking to each one of them, I learned that they developed an appreciation for education!! Yahoo!!
In addition to working hard, we were able to tour areas of South Africa. Being able to stand on the steps of government buildings where Mandela once stood, and being able to look over the treetops of Pretoria was incredible exciting—we felt that just by being there, we were able to peek into the county’s history.
We were incredibly lucky to have built in tour guides as well; Henry and Shedrock, our drivers, provided a wealth of information about the areas that we visited from a historic standpoint as well as a current one. Even though I had visited some of these places before, I was able to take a breath and see the sites with a new, more experienced pair of eyes. I have a feeling that even if I went back to some of these historic towns ten times, I would learn something new each time.
After we presented the 2nd annual Poetry Anthology; Teaching Minds, Reaching Hearts, at our Bragg School/Randfontein Primary Celebratory Assembly, we distributed the books to those children who participated by submitting poetry. Two of the boys in my grade 7 class were so incredible thrilled to have become “published authors” that they spent the whole day carrying their anthologies around, showing their printed poems to anyone who would stand still long enough to read them. I asked them to autograph my copy as well!!
It was such a joy for me to see how excited the children were to have their thoughts and feelings, expressed through poetry, highlighted for all to see. Once more, I am reminded of how similar the South African students are to the United States students substantiating that; “kids are kids” wherever they live. My students in the United States responded in the same fashion. Running around, showing their names and poems to their friends, carrying their anthologies around all day in the hopes that someone would ask to see it! Just the thought of it, makes me smile because what we were witnessing was pure and simple, pride.
I feel as though Randfontein Primary School is now my “second” home…actually, my school away from school! It was such a thrill to be able walk into the classrooms and to be greeted so warmly by the learners and the teachers I truly felt at home. I was lucky enough teach grades 4-7 during my stay.
We focused on poetry, writing, heart mapping and the reading of some of my favorite short stories for the enhancement of reading comprehension. In addition, the teachers and I shared many a cup of “red bush” tea as we discussed the challenges and joys of teaching. We found that although there are many differences in our methodology, there are more similarities than even we could have imagined….the frustration of simultaneously working with multiple levels is often offset by the joys of inspiring and being inspired by our students.
Unfortunately, the teacher strike had just begun during our visit and the key issues are still not resolved as of the writing of this blog. When we arrived, strategically late, the gates were locked, the doors were shut and there was a quiet calm hovering about a school that is usually alive with the laughing and scurrying of happy voices. The scary part of this strike is that there are threats and violence associated with the negotiations between the teachers and the 5 unions that represent them. Kendall and I felt as though we did our part by teaching so that the teachers could confer with Bernadette during the tense times of the day.
Despite a short week, because of National Women’s Day on Monday and a teacher’s strike on Tuesday, we had quite a busy few days.
On Wednesday, the large GLP group held an assembly at Randfontein Primary School. RPS students read their original poems from the anthology that was created last year in a partnership with the Bragg School, and we recognized the student winners of the first writing contest. Meryl, a veteran teacher from the Bragg school, also presented Randfontein Primary with a banner created by students from her classes. There was also a slideshow of the students at Randfontein Primary, and the assembly closed with students singing a variety of songs.
We were quite fortunate to meet with Meryl, who shared a number of lessons with us before she returned to the states. After discussing our interest in poetry and getting the students to brainstorm ideas for an upcoming writing contest, Meryl gave us the idea of using heart mapping to have students focus in on specific memories and experiences that could easily be turned into poetry. We began working with 6th and 7th grade classes on heart mapping, and later in the week, students started to create their own poetry from experiences and details they wrote about in their heart maps. Next week, we’re going to introduce a poetry contest for 4th-7th grade students, and we’re hoping that our students will be more prepared to enter the contest after our heart mapping lessons.
At Carroll Shaw Memorial School, things have become more regular in terms of how we spend our time. We split the group into threes: Shamayne works with the high school students on drama, Bianca helps middle school readers on improving comprehension and reading-level, and Shivani works with the new readers on developing vocabulary and reading fluency. It’s great to see the progress that the students have made throughout the time we’ve spent at Carroll Shaw.
We are always excited to offer students the opportunity to connect across continents and cultures. Our summer 2010 Global Learning Expedition volunteers from The Pingry School visited South Africa on July 30th. The student volunteers spent the six months leading up to the trip collecting, sorting and packing thousands of books which arrived in late July to South Africa. After their fourteen days in South Africa they had the following reflections…
Yeah, so this trip was really awesome. It was completely different than what I expected. The people of South Africa were very welcoming wherever we went and it was really cool to meet everyone. I will never forget this trip experience and I hope to try it again sometime soon. I wish the trip could have been longer; it beats school. ~Alex
This was an amazing experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. This country is full of the nicest people that really respect us for our mission. I hope to come back again soon to continue spreading literacy to those who don’t have the same opportunities as us! ~Eleni
I think one of the things I’m going to remember most about this trip is the gratitude from the students. It’s one thing to hear the adults or teachers tell us that we are making a difference or helping their school a lot, but it’s so much more rewarding to hear it from the students themselves. ~Kaitlyn
Even though I have gone to South Africa for four years this trip has definitely been different. I was so happy to see the faces on the students when they received their books and saw their redone classroom. The trip was great and I wish the trip could be longer. ~Reeve
The things that I have learned during my time in South Africa are some that I believe will stay with me throughout my entire life. I saw children who owned next to nothing, but possessed some of the strongest wills to learn I have ever seen. South Africa may have the most welcoming environment I have experienced, and I would love to return. -Kit
This has been one of the best and coolest experiences of my life. I’ve seen so much here and have learned a lot just from being around all the children at the schools. Seeing their spirit and eagerness to learn has really inspired me. See you all soon! ~Harlen
This has been such a great two weeks. This is my 4th year here and this has been my favorite trip so far because of the people here with me (but I missed you, Dad lolz). This group has done so much and it’s been a lot of fun to be here with Pingry people who I have gotten to know so much better. I know that I speak for everyone when I say that I have fallen in love with all of the kids at Zuurbekom and want to take them all home. ~Chloe
I love being in South Africa and being able to help so many children at different African schools. The hardest thing I have had to overcome during this trip is that the children I encountered are not getting a very good education. Knowing that they could be getting a much better one but they are not able to is saddening. ~Super Solomon
These past two weeks have been amazing! At Pingry we always have exciting guests from all over the world: speakers, foreign exchange students, student visitors, etc. It was really interesting to finally be a guest in someone else’s school. To be honest, I think the students at Zuurbekom were a lot more welcoming than I have ever been at Pingry. Their questions were so personal, and I felt like they really cared about us. We were like guests in their home, but it wasn’t like we were awkward acquaintances, instead we were more like long lost friends with so many things in common. All in all, I LOVE SOUTH AFRICA (thanks mops and pops for letting me go, lylas!) ☺ ~Tierney
This being my fourth year going to South Africa I knew what it would be like, and what I thought our group would be doing for the two weeks. Except this time we took a main interest in The Zuurbekom School. Unlike the other years when we went to multiple schools and did not have such a strong bond with the students, which this group clearly had with this school. I cannot wait to see you dad in a couple of days, and I am sad you could not go. I think that this group became very close friends in such a short period of time. ~Sean
It’s Sara. We are taking the kids to a soccer game tonight-South Africa vs. Ghana so we will not have a formal email from the kids until tomorrow-our last email day. I am hoping tomorrow’s email will be reflections from all of them on what tomorrow is like. I have a feeling we will have some sad children on our hands. They have really connected with the students at Zuurbekom and as I mentioned before, I have been incredibly impressed by all of their willingness to step out of their comfort zones and make connections with the students and all of the people they have been meeting.
I want to thank all of you for being so supportive of this trip and your children as the first official Pingry service trip to South Africa. It has truly been a pleasure to have all of them here and to watch them as they experience life on this continent. I am sure they will all have many stories to tell and photos to share when they get home.
It’s hard to believe we only have two more days in country.
Take care and thanks again for all of your support!
Today we spent nearly all of our day at Zuurberkom. There weren’t as many children in the school today because of a teachers’ strike in South Africa. The strike was held in order to increase the teachers’ wages.
We split the children into groups by grade level, and there were about two Pingry students assigned to each grade. Alex and Reeve were put in charge of grade 6 students, and they read books that the children picked from the library. Kit and Solomon read to grade 3 students, who seemed to like Arthur books. The students also enjoyed reading aloud to the students who were teaching them. While we were around the school, some of the younger children approached us and asked us to read with them. Most of the kids love Dr. Seuss books.
Once we were done teaching, we put up some posters around the grade 5 classroom we had painted for the school. The classroom continues to look better and better as we put on the finishing touches. As we were finishing, we kept track of the last supplies we needed, and took our final trip to the market to get everything we would need to leave them with a fully functioning classroom.
At day’s end we came back to ALA and where we met with a South African social worker who works with the government, named Mr. Itumeleng. He talked about his life growing up as a South African during Apartheid and about the future of his country. We had a question and answer session with him in which we asked questions involving South Africa as a whole, the education system, and the effects of the World Cup on South Africa. We are really excited because we get to go to a soccer (football) game tomorrow! It’s South Africa vs. Ghana, so it should be a very good game. However, we are also sad that we only have one more day at Zuurberkom because it already feels like we have a great connection with the children there.
Catch ya on the flip side -Alex and Kit
Before we start our email we would like to wish the mothers a Happy Women’s Day. Women’s Day is a celebration of the women of South Africa’s involvement in the fight against apartheid. On August 9, 1956 there was a Women’s March, which is commemorated every year on this day. We would also like to say Happy Birthday to Mr. Shangold.
Today we went to Gold Reef City, an amusement park set over a mine. Unfortunately Kit was not feeling well so Mr. Vassall and her had to stay at ALA. Although we spent the bus ride crying because we missed them, we still had a great time the rest of the day. The first thing that we did was take a guided tour of the mine. We went down to the 5th level, which felt like we were really far underground, until we realized that there were 57 levels in the mine. We learned about how the mine worked while walking in the tunnels.
Hi Dad, it’s not Reeve.
After finishing the tour of the mine we spent the rest of the day running around from ride to ride. Shangolds you might want to sit down –Harlen actually went on Anaconda, a rollercoaster that flips upside-down while your feet dangle in the air! He may or may not have been crying (wind in his eyes?), but hey, he did it twice. McFarlands Eleni went on a ride called UFO which spins you around at 50 km per hour while you stand in a box without being strapped in. At one point you are parallel to the ground while still spinning. We went on a bunch of other rides, including a ride called Tower of Terror, which Tierney, Alex, Solomon, Kaitlyn, and Chloe went on. This ride had the highest “fear factor” rating in the park. It takes you straight up and then drops you to the ground face-first. Pictures from the day are priceless, so get excited for those.
We met up with Mr. Vassall and Kit and went to dinner at Tony’s Spaghetti. It was yet another great dinner. It was a great day and we are glad that Kit is feeling a little bit better. We can’t wait to get back to working at the schools tomorrow! Hope everything is going well at home.
Love, Kaitlyn and Chloe