This week at RPS we handed out the books and colored pencils from the book drive. The kids were all so excited and everyone kept comparing it to Christmas.
So many of the kids could not believe that they actually got to keep the book. They asked over and over when they had to bring the book back. Once they understood that the book really was theirs, one boy said that he would keep the book for a few years and then give it to his little brother, another girl said that she would give the book to her kids when she grows up, and one kid planned to keep the book until he was 100 years old. They were all so grateful and wanted us to thank those of you who donated books.
The library at Zuurbekom is finally finished. We put up signs and finished dotting all the books. From the minute we opened the library doors until it was time to leave, the library was full of students. Kids from every grade came whenever they had the chance. One group of ninth grade girls even offered to sweep the library just so that they would get to be the first ones there in the morning. The third grade boys continue to drive us crazy, but even they are so eager to learn and get their hands on a book. At both RPS and Zuurbekom we were reminded how happy and excited these kids are to have access to books, especially when they can bring them home.
Because this was our last weekend in South Africa, we visited all of our favorite spots. We also saw a Kwasa Kwasa (music from central Africa) band. We can’t believe that we have less than one week left. It’s going to be so hard to say goodbye to the kids. See you soon!
Last week, the shipment of books and colored pencils arrived! Thank you to everyone who donated, with a special thanks to the Pingry and Christ the King communities. We especially want to thank Anna Wood, a fourth grader from the Pingry lower school, who requested GLP book donations in lieu of gifts for her birthday. We really appreciate this support and plan to start handing out the books to classes tomorrow. The kids are going to be so excited, especially given the great quality of the books!
The vice-principal of RPS asked us if we would work to create a yearbook with one of the grade 7 teachers. RPS has not published a yearbook in over twenty years, so we’ve been trying to help with suggestions and pictures. We also totaled the votes of the grade 7’s surveys, which included a “favorites” section and a superlative section, and got some very funny responses–one boy, for example, wrote that his worst nightmare is “being kissed by a girl who doesn’t know how to kiss.” It was also interesting how many of the kids’ choices were similar to those in the U.S.: the favorite food was pizza; their favorite song was “Knock You Down” by Keri Hilson; their favorite actors were Will Smith and Angelina Jolie.
We had some entertaining moments while starting to read a few of the donated book with the kids. A few grade boys spontaneously broke into rapping and beatboxing “The Lorax” (and it actually sounded good!), and a few groups very elaborately acted out “The Rainbow Fish.” With one grade 3 class, we hosted a competition between the boys and the girls. Each group had to read the full book and plan out a performance. The difference between the boys’ group and the girls’ group was hilarious: while the girls quietly sat in a circle and passed the book amongst themselves, the boys pushed each other and argued about how best to read the book. Given this, it was unsurprising that the girls’ performance won by a landslide–even the boys admitted that.
On Wednesday afternoon, we left for Durban, which is in the KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa. It was great to explore a new city, enjoy the sunny weather, and eat delicious Indian food! We cannot believe that we are leaving South Africa in less than two weeks!
On Monday, four of the foundation phase (grade 1- grade 3) teachers were absent so there were over 150 subs (students distributed into other classes). Because some classes then had more than 60 kids of various ages, the teachers were really struggling to figure out what to do. In the morning, we tried to help out by taking about 60 of the subs kids outside. They were given the choice of playing or reading. Although some of the kids of course chose to play, it was refreshing to see how many kids wanted to spend the time reading. For the last two hours, the teachers decided to show a movie to all of the foundation phase kids. Everyone was glad to have made it through the day.
Olubayi Olubayi, the president of GLP, was in South Africa for a few days. We saw him after school on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. We met with Madame Speaker Caroline Setsiba and two people from the Social Development Department in Randfontein. It was great to touch base with both Olubayi and members of the local government. We were reminded of how much is being done to improve the school systems as well as how much is still left to do.
The finals for Master and Miss Randfontein Primary were held this Thursday. It was so much fun to see the kids perform the dances they’ve worked so hard on and model in the dresses and suits donated by local businesses for the night. The kids were so cute and did such an amazing job! So many of the parents and other students were there to cheer on the contestants and dancers. The teachers put so much effort into making the night possible. It was great to see everyone in the community come together and show their school spirit.
At Zuurbekom we have continued dotting the books and more kids have had the chance to check them out. This week we got to meet with some of the older students (grade 8), who have been repeatedly asking their teachers why only the younger kids got the chance to check out books. Although it was strange to teach kids closer to our age, it was nice to not have to worry about the language barrier. They took out books ranging from The Princess Diaries to a world atlas to AP Physics Homework Help to easy picture books. It was clear that although they were all so enthusiastic, their reading level did not necessarily match up with their desire for information. The second and third graders, who have almost all brought their books back on time, also checked out books again. It finally feels like the library seems to be functioning smoothly.
We went with Abby (Mrs. Kinney’s sister) and her family to the American Society Halloween Party. We helped set up and ran different activities like pumpkin golf, find an eyeball, and pin the nose on the pumpkin. We hope you had an amazing Halloween and are enjoying the World Series. Go Yankees!
On Wednesday at RPS, there was a school-wide fund-raising wheelbarrow race. It was so fun to see the kids get excited and cheer for their friends. The kids had to push the wheelbarrow back and forth as many times as possible in a set period of time (and for the third graders and older, a classmate was in the wheelbarrow). It was a competition between classes, and some of the teachers and kids got so into it.
Many classes had cheers, painted their faces, and dressed up in theme colors. For example, one class was the cheetahs, another was the lions, and another was the frogs. Our personal favorite, though, was the class of Zulus. We really enjoyed watching, but given that it was in the middle of a day on a Wednesday, it probably could have been scheduled a little better–most of the teachers had lost all hope of actually continuing their lessons after the festivities.
There were some other funny moments this week. We recently started reading a version of “The Princess and the Pea” with the kids, and each group, without fail, has found the word “pea” to be excessively amusing. A few third grade boys were laughing about it for about five minutes!
At Zuurbekom, we moved onto organizing the nonfiction section. We are using a slightly amended version of the Dewey Decimal system, which we now both love and hate. (We also have a lot of respect for librarians.) Some of the books, which had been donated from other libraries, were already labeled with their Dewey Decimal number, which was a pleasant surprise. For the others, we just tried our best to guess… We’re also using colored dots to make the system more kid-friendly and accessible. (Thanks to Mrs. D’Innocenzo for her advice!) We also are pleased to report that all of the books that were checked out have been returned, and that the second-graders have now been able to check out books twice.
Today, we decided to go to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. We went to it three summers ago on our first GLP trip, but we now feel like we have a much better understanding of the country’s history and culture. It was interesting to revisit South Africa’s complex, fascinating past. We also went to the house of the Thabisile principal for a family party. It was very nice to be included and to meet some new people here.
Hope all’s well with everyone!
After school one day last week we visited an after school/day care program that is run by one of the RPS teacher’s parents. We plan on going to work and play with the kids a few times in the upcoming weeks. We played soccer and net ball, had the kids race, and learned a few hand games from the girls. They taught us a new version of “Ring Around the Rosie.” The words to their version were “ringa ringa rosie, pocket full a rosie, tissue, tissue, we all fall down.” Another game involved having one person dance in the middle of a circle while everyone else chanted “so-and-so is in the house, is in the house, jump, shake your body”. Because some of the kids were from RPS, they referred to Christina as ma’am and Emma as teacher. Unfortunately, our dance moves were not up to par. They also asked us some very funny questions about America and ourselves. They couldn’t believe that we weren’t twins, didn’t personally know the Jonas Brothers, and didn’t speak Afrikaans.
On Thursday we visited the grade R (kindergarden) classroom at Zuurbekom that Chloe Carver and Meghan Barry were in charge of redoing last year. It was fun to play with the kids and see them using all the supplies that GLP donated last year. We also spent a day dotting and organizing the books in the library. All the fiction books are now finished and we hope to meet with teachers next week to set up a more permanent system for checking out books.
We had a pretty laid back weekend, the highlight of which was attending a Diwali festival on Saturday night. There were singers, Bhangra dancers, and a light show. To those celebrated, we hope you had a great Diwali!
If you would like to see pictures from the trip we both put up albums. Thank you to all of you who donated books and colored pencils! We can’t wait to distribute them to our kids at RPS.
Our first week back to school was pretty good. While outside with one group of first graders, Christina was reading a story called “Worm Watches.” According to the story, Worm watches a movie about kissing. Upon hearing this, the first graders erupted into laughter and disgust–the girls starting squirming around and hiding, and two of the boys literally spit onto the ground. It was so funny. In general, it was nice to see everyone back at school.
At Zuurbekom, we have decided to organize their new library using the “dot system” that Mrs. D’Innocenzo, the Pingry lower school librarian, designed during our trip two years ago. We chose dot colors to represent books at different reading levels, and spent a lot of time Thursday and the school day on Friday labeling and shelving the books. Upon doing this, we noticed again how few books–only about thirty–there are for the first and second grade readers. We were happy to see that, despite the break, almost all of the second graders who checked out books last time returned them. We’re hoping it will soon be a fully-functioning library.
While the break was refreshing for everyone, we have definitely had some trying moments because of the lack of direction from some teachers. We often find ourselves leading classes with no knowledge of if (or when) the teacher will show up or what exactly the class is working on. We do become frustrated with these teachers, but we try to remember that we have only been here for two months, while many of the teachers have been working for many years. In most cases, they started working as teachers before apartheid ended (in 1994), or at least experienced it as students. It’s fascinating to us that this is such a crucial, dynamic time for the South African educational system, but we have also seen that the constant changes have made these teachers’ jobs more difficult.
One challenge that we were unaware of before this trip was that there are no substitute teachers here, so if a teacher is absent for the day, the kids are dispersed among classes of different grade levels. We have yet to be in a classroom that does not have these kids, who are called “subs.” The subs usually become either bored or overwhelmed, and the teacher, who already must deal with a very full class, has to try to find something for these kids to do. Despite all this, there are many people who work hard and genuinely care, and it’s begun to pay off–given what we’ve heard, schools are drastically different than they used to be.
Spring Break is over and we actually can’t wait to go back to school. We miss all the kids so much!
Although getting to Mozambique was a little stressful (the trip took about thirteen hours and we had to run across the border), we had a lot of fun. We explored Maputo and also spent time in a small town called Bilene. The beaches were beautiful and the food was amazing.
One night, we suspected that we had some mice friends in the room with us. Emma, at about 4 am, used her phone as a flashlight and tried to find them. She then, forgetting there was a malaria net around the bed, was not very graceful and almost bounced into Christina’s bed. Christina bursts out laughing every time she pictures this. Emma does not.
Despite the animal presence, we enjoyed our time in Bilene and even had an entire beach to ourselves after making a long trek through the sand uphill both ways—but actually. It was great to see another African country, but it feels great to be back home in South Africa!
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.