On this day, we showed up to our scheduled tour of the Y half an hour late. It was my fault. I had 10:30 written on the schedule; we were supposed to be there at 10. But Jess Lucas, youth and family coordinator, was understanding.
Before we went to the Y we were doing productive things. We visited a class. One purpose of our course is to introduce students to what options may be open to them when they sign up for YES program next year. Most students who start at BHS are entered as 9th graders. Grade status sometimes changes for these students later as they request records from their home countries. So we just go on the assumption that they will be with us next year.
The rules for YES are that you have to attend (only one absence allowed), and you can’t take a class more than once. So this is the only opportunity anyone will get to take Welcome to Burlington. And if a student arrives during the first half of the year, s/he may not even get one chance. This class is a very exclusive group.
So we popped in on Smellable Art: An Introduction to Making Natural Fragrances, (something I missed most of because of other distractions) and papier maché, where the class was making lizards. We’re going back at the end to see finished projects. But for this first part, BHS art teacher John Mazuzan took a few minutes to chat up our group and talk to them about the projects.
And then I got a phone call asking where we were…
So we went to the Greater Burlington YMCA and got a tour of the facilities. The students were all pretty excited about the pool and the weight room. Some of them even got in some hoop-shooting practice. And we looked at swimming suits.
I have one student who told me when she first came, using all her English, that she really really really wanted to learn how to swim. But as soon as she saw the pool, she said no. And then her sister said no.
As I was trying to understand what was happening, I got an education about what it means to fast if one is Muslim. Fasting is from dawn to dusk. And dawn isn’t the same everywhere. It’s set at Mecca. So my students need to be finished eating at 2:15 a.m., and then they don’t get to eat again until 8:30 p.m. A devout fasting follower cannot consume anything, including water (which is different from the fasting I grew up with in the Catholic church… at least Mom let me have water) during the whole time. And that also means that water cannot enter your eyes or your mouth. And swimming would throw that whole thing off.
The day before, I was talking to these students and they said they could maybe make up a fasting day later when it fit better into their schedule. Their mother had said it would be OK. But my Somali student, who wanted to swim and was ready to fast a different day, said she couldn’t get into the pool if there were boys. So she sat out. But the other two practice differently. Boys in the pool didn’t matter. They were so excited to go.
Until they saw the water.
So I talked to each one separately. One said she didn’t know why. She just didn’t want to . The other said she was not swimming in solidarity with her sister. I said that she was her own person and could swim if she wanted to, and she said she’d think about it.
They were put off a bit by the Western swimsuits we offered. So were the Nepali girls, for that matter. Everybody wanted a birkini. The Y owns several that they loan out, so that was not a problem. And then finally, the student who originally was really excited about swimming–and then did not want to swim–finally said she would be OK with a birkini.
So it was on: Swimming next week.
Back to the school, and then onward to the afternoon.
A few years ago when I started my ExcEL (Excellence for English Learners) class, my partner teacher Suzy King and I were contacted after I wrote a blog post for the Partnership for Change class. The note came from Karen Freudenberger, who started Pine Island Community Farm:
I had no idea what the farm was. Suzy had heard about it, but she wasn’t so crazy about the idea of building a farm into our curriculum. But I always kept that in the back of my mind. Why would Karen think we should bring our students out there?
So, trying desperately this spring to fill our calendar with new, interesting activities that would not cost any money, I checked out the website and read this:
Betsy Ferries will now offer tours of the farm every week during the growing season! Tours will be about one hour and include a history of the farm, a bit about what it means to be a New American, time with Chuda (goat farmer) and Theogene (chicken farmer) to learn more about their process, and a review of the 7-acre community gardens. Bring a picnic, do some birdwatching, and enjoy your time here!
I was put in touch with Betsy and told her what our YES program was all about, how we wanted a tour to get to know the area and possibly to find out about ways students could get community service. She was more than happy to oblige.
We learned that the farm was started because New Americans were having trouble accessing food sources they needed. They collect male goats which used to be killed and thrown out upon birth to raise for a food source. They collect hops from breweries in the area that normally would be thrown out or composted as a food source for the goats, and they provide a place on site for people to slaughter their own goats according to their religious needs. The goat and chicken farming work together in a sort of symbiotic relationship: the goats eating the fields and the chickens going in afterwards to clean up any parasites that might be hanging out after the goats are done in a certain spot. There are gardens, too, that are provided through AALV. They are specifically provided for new immigrants to grow food that they used to eat in their home countries.
All in all, it was a really chilly and wet yet instructive tour. At the end, Betsy asked if we would be open to painting the tool sheds on the gardens with the help of Bonnie Aker, a community volunteer who does everything from tending the grounds of Integrated Arts Academy at H.O. Wheeler Elementary School to raking and cleaning the curb ways around her Old North End neighborhood.
Of course, we said yes.
So maybe this, too, will blossom into an amazing relationship.
So thank you so much to the teachers who hosted our class, to Jess at the Pomerleau Family Y, and to Betsy at Pine Island Community Farm. Our lives are richer for the experience!