Teaching with Patience

Story and photos by Group 87 Education Volunteer Deborah Miller
Students working hard in literacy class
“Little Jevaughn* in the grade 2 class at my school is a handful. Standing at just about 2 feet tall, he is known by teachers and students alike as the most unruly child in the school. He steals from students and causes confusion in the classroom daily. Jevaughn always has cuts and bruises on his face and body from fighting. He will fight just about anyone, big or small. To top it all off, Jevaughn’s mother recently passed away and it was apparent to everyone that he took the news very hard.
 
Since his mother’s passing, the community has banded together to embrace him as their son. It has really been a beautiful thing to see and the love he has been shown has had positive effects on his school behavior. In my own pullouts with him, I have seen a tremendous change in his focus, ability and desire to learn. When I first started attempting to get to know and teach Jevaughn, it was an impossible task. He was very rude and unwillingly to do anything. On a few occasions he hit me and tried to spit on me. This is a small child. I would ask myself, “Why is he so angry all the time?” When I asked him any sort of question, about himself or in reference to learning his alphabet sounds, he would look me in the eye and say “No!” and run away. It went on like this for the first couple months and I thought about giving up on him like all the rest of the teachers but if I did that it would not help him or the school community.

My classroom, where I conduct small group literacy pull-out classes
 
I’m not sure what exactly triggered the change in Jevaughn, but he began to enjoy our reading sessions and participates. He sits engaged the entire 45 minutes that I see him and is excited about learning new things. He greets me with “Hey Miss!” in the morning and gives me a hug, when just months prior he was trying to fight me. I think this goes to show that patience in education and child development is more than necessary. This story also shows that love has the power to change the most difficult people. Jevaughn sensed that people care for him and his whole disposition changed. I’m really excited to see his personal and academic growth throughout the rest of my service.”
 
*Student’s name has been changed

Folk Dance Superstars go for Gold

I was born with a baton in my hand. My mom started her baton and dance studio the year I was born and I have been dancing and twirling since I could walk. I twirled competitively my entire childhood, I twirled at my university, and when I was done twirling and dancing I began coaching. It’s easy to say that baton twirling and dancing is a major part of who I am. I wasn’t entirely sure if I was ready to give it up completely when I decided to join the Peace Corps, but I soon learned that I wouldn’t have to.

Me twirling for the school

My mom came to visit me in Jamaica in October and brought with her lots of old batons donated by some of my former students and even some of the girls I used to compete against. My mom taught a few after-school baton classes during her visit and we were surprised at how much the students enjoyed it. My fellow teachers were surprised to see what I can do. This sparked a conversation about my background before joining Peace Corps. I knew that I wanted to bring something that I love to my service, but I didn’t think for a second that baton and dance was something that I would be able to. You can imagine my delight when my counterpart suggested that we attend a JCDC (Jamaica Cultural Development Commission) workshop for dance!

We spent hours laughing and learning all kinds of moves with other dance teachers from our parish. After the workshop, we were eager to get started on forming our own dance team for the upcoming season.

We quickly hosted after-school auditions and had over 70 students show up. We chose 20 students, boys and girls, and began rehearsals right away. We had less than three months to learn a creative Jamaican folk dance and perfect it before auditioning for the competition. Endless hours were spent watching online videos of Jamaican Folk dances until I finally felt ready to begin choreographing the dance. My counterpart and the students had a lot of great ideas for moves that helped shape the routine. Their knowledge of Jamaican-style dancing paired with my background in choreographing and coaching – and my online research – seemed to be the perfect combination.

Tryouts

For over two months, our students attended after-school practices 2-3 times per week and even during their Christmas break. My counterpart worked hard on all of the logistical aspects for the team: permission slips, collecting money, and securing the bus to carry us to the competition. Competition day quickly crept up on us and all of the students were excited to show off their dancing skills. We loaded up in a bus and made our way to the competition in our school uniforms because we did not have costumes to dance in. The team got on the staged and shined! With a lot of hard work and a little luck, they passed the audition! However, it was clear to all of us that their routine was very different than the others. We had a lot of work to do.

Practice during Christmas break
After the parish-level auditions

Shortly after the auditions, I had a trip scheduled to visit home for, you guessed it, a baton and dance competition. I was lucky enough to get to visit my former studio and teach the Jamaican folk dance to the students there. It was such a fun experience to teach them something that they had never seen before and see their faces light up when I told them that it was the same dance that my students in Jamaica learned. We created a wonderful partnership and now both teams are called “Superstars,” named after my former studio in Florida.

Teaching the Jamaican folk dance to students at my old dance studio at home in Florida
They loved learning Jamaican dance moves!

When I returned to Jamaica, we spent the next few weeks making changes to our routine, practicing, fundraising, and preparing for the Parish finals. The teachers hosted “Crazy Hat Day” and “Crazy Sock Day” to raise the money that we needed. With a few donations and our school fundraisers, we were able to purchase material and have costumes made.

Crazy Sock Day fundraiser

By the time finals came around, they were ready to show the judges how much they had improved. As they dressed in their new costumes and we began decorating their faces with rhinestones and eye shadow, you could see the excitement welling up inside of them. It was almost time.

Right before the competition

As they stepped on the stage, I was holding back a few tears as I watched this team come to life right before my eyes. And they crushed it! They performed with confidence and smiles on their faces. It was one of the best moments of my Peace Corps service so far. Most of these students had never taken a dance class before and here they were performing their hearts out on stage. Our likl but tallawah (small but mighty) dance team was rewarded with a SILVER MEDAL! They even received special recognition for the improvements that they had made over the last month since the auditions. The head judge took the time to big them up for taking the comments from the audition and what they had seen and turn it into a great performance.

After winning a SILVER MEDAL!
Me with one of our dancers and our prize

Next year, we are hoping to start earlier and have weekly dance classes in which the students can learn all kind of dance skills, ranging from folk to contemporary, from hip hop to baton twirling. We plan on having a community member begin choreographing and coaching to ensure that the program is poised to continue for many years after my service.

Celebrating their victory with more dancing

This post was written by Leah Stoffel, Education Volunteer, Group 87, ’16-’18.