Sunday, February 5, 2012

High School "Study Skills" Sessions

Now that school is back in session and everyone is registered, uniforms are bought, and school fees are paid, the real fun begins. Since arriving in August, I’ve been having Friday tutoring sessions with a handful of high school students where, together, we work on homework and chat about what is going on at school and home. I had consistently had about 6 students coming and it was a great group to be working with in a small setting. Now that the new year has started, we are revamping the entire program. During the kid’s summer break, I took down all of the boring medical posters that were on the walls and painted the room so that is it much more vibrant and contemporary. It now looks like a high school room. The students all have added their handprints to the wall and, thanks to a generous donation from a few folks at Saint Dunstan’s, we now have a large dry erase board to work math problems on together! The program has jumped from one day a week with around 6 students to three days a week and about 25 students! We’ve split up according to grade so that we can work on the problems all together as a group and so that the group size stays small enough for them to still get individual attention. This means much longer hours at Itipini for me, but I never fail to find myself feeling enlivened and exuberant after every session. In other words, it doesn’t feel like work at all. These kids are really great kids and they all have such a drive for learning (not to mention great senses of humor). Another new addition is starting this week, we are going to have one of the ladies make sandwiches, fruit, and juice for the students to eat while we have our study sessions, which is GREAT. Most of these kids do not get to eat lunch at school. This is a wonderful addition in that we will have some social time while we eat before diving into school work and they will also study better when they are happy and fed. It’s also a great incentive for them to keep coming, although so far they have all been there every week without the presence of food.

What kinds of things do we work on, do you say?

Last week, my matriculates (high school seniors) and I worked on Shakespeare – something that is daunting when English is your first language, much less your second. We spent lots of time sifting through the irregular grammar, rearranging sentences, and learning lots of new vocabulary words. “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment,” was the opening line of the sonnet and took us the longest to get through. With Grade 11, we’re working on math and accounting. Last week, we set up a fictional business and discussed all of the things it would take to open and maintain a guest house successfully. My tenth graders and I are immersed deeply in basic algebra and last week, while working through a set of problems together (and doing pretty terribly at it), there came a point where they all collectively had this “Aha” moment. They all kind of went, “yooooooo,” at the same time and then proceeded to work the last two problems perfectly!  It was a really rewarding moment for everyone. Oh! And here’s the icing on the cake for school work so far. Two weeks ago, the 11th graders had to write an essay about the saying, “True love conquers all.” We had an open discussion about what true love is and what kinds of things it might help you “conquer” and how which, I have to say, was an absolutely gripping conversation. After that, they set off to work on them over the weekend and I told them to bring them back this week so I could see how they’d done. My favorite line of all of the essays was from Baliswa’s paper, in which she stated, “True love conquers all things except poverty and toothaches.”

This may be something that can go without saying, but I really enjoy working with high school students. This is something I knew about myself before coming because I’ve done a lot of work with youth and high school students though the Diocese of Oklahoma, but these study sessions really drive that point home to me. It is incredible to have to opportunity to organize and structure this whole program in a way that is fitting for the students and myself.  It’s a really freeing feeling to have a blank canvas and room to make this program whatever we want it to be/whatever it needs to be. We have an awesome dynamic going and I’m really looking forward to this school year. I will keep you all updated with amusing high school tales throughout the year!

Some of the crew, kicking off the year on the veranda!

In the High School "room" (ie. a shipping storage container) with abahlobo (friends)!


Another Itipini Invention

This is the best use of free government condoms ever! The South African government would be proud. Haha!