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My colleague’s swimming ventures

New-Americans-swimming-YMCA-Bishop-20170612In my first full-time job in Burlington, VT, I was teaching alongside a colleague who taught me much.

Here’s a story about her class and how they are learning about swimming. It’s the same program that brought my YES class to the Y. She’s been bringing little ones to the Y for quite some time, through a program that teaches water safety to 2nd-graders.

I can’t wait to see where this goes… for both of us. Take a chance to listen.

It truly does take a village.

YES Day 9: Time for a show

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On the last regular day of classes, we spent our morning at the Flynn Theater with Stacy Raphael, associate director of school programs. 

The Flynn has been kind to us over the years, and the outreach to my students in particular has been outstanding. We’ve benefited from grant programs, from Flynn artists in residence and from opportunities to attend theatrical events. And this year, Stacy outdid herself in catering to our particular needs. We went first to the gallery, where we spent a few minutes looking at Abenaki clothing on display. One piece she pointed out to us is jewelry made from the bark of trees, with patterns created by biting repeatedly.

We went to the dance classroom to talk about classes that are available at the Flynn. After that, we went on a tour of the main theater, spotting the fiddleheads in the artwork on the walls and in the woodwork. We also hunted for phoenixes in the light fixtures and patterns all around us. We went up to where the spotlights and stage lighting are controlled. She took us on the stage to take the opportunity to look out on the audience seats, as countless others have before. She took us downstairs to the makeup room and showed us the giant fan that runs the heating and cooling for the building.

Finally, students went on a treasure hunt, discovering how to decode where to find a seat: evens on one side, odds on the other, and high numbers down the middle. We were rewarded with chocolate and then went on our way, having had one final glimpse into what Burlington has to offer its residents.

Big, big thank yous go out to Stacy. It was more than I could have ever hoped.

After lunch, we put together our final projects. And later that evening, I put it all together into a video we showed to a small group of students who came to see what we had done. One student who will begin his fourth year with us in the fall lamented that he could not take Welcome to Burlington. “A field trip every day? That sounds like a lot of fun!”

Tune in tomorrow to see our final project.

#YES@BHS #SoGrateful.

YES Day 6: Shelburne Museum

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Shelburne Museum is such a cool place. But it’s really hit-or-miss with our students. They either really dig it, or they think that it’s the most boring thing ever.

And we had a little of both.

The museum, for those of you who’ve not been, is a spot where old buildings have been gathered together to show a bit of the past. There is a carousel that one can ride (now for a fee), a building featuring old-time circuses, an old jail house, a train station, a boat that used to cruise up and down Lake Champlain, a one-room schoolhouse, a sawmill, a collection of toys, a printer, a weaver, a blacksmith, lovely gardens…

It’s a pretty cool place to check out history.

But on a hot day where these things look like just more things, some of our students just wanted to chill under the shade of the trees. The whole Nepali-speaking contingency brought a picnic, as the turkey sandwiches just weren’t cutting it, dietary-wise. They need their hot peppers. Our food tastes like nothing.

But the watermelon I offered up was at least a bit of a bright spot.

After we left a bunch of the girls sitting on picnic tables, we continued to wander around, getting a glimpse of things from the past. For some, it was boring. Walk and look. Walk and look.  But for at least one of our students, it was so interesting. She didn’t want to leave. She was ready to volunteer and stay there the rest of the summer, if we’d let her.

The little rays of sunshine…

As promised, a view of our walk

This video shows the pictures my students captured of field, forest and beach, a short walk outside our building.

I asked them on Monday what their reactions were to this course in general were overwhelmingly positive.

Nobody wanted to fill out the sentence frame that said, “I didn’t like EXCEL this year because…”

And that feels nice.

 

A reunion to facilitate testing

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Testing is never fun.

We are in the midst of a testing window, where we have to test every English Learner in all four domains: reading, writing, speaking and listening.

And for speaking, we can’t do more than 4 or 5 at a time, because otherwise the microphones will pick up the other voices in the room.

It’s a pain for us and a pain for our students.

But last week, Ms. Susan, our Flynn artist, came to play with us while my colleague Kevin was testing his class. He’d send the ones who weren’t testing to me while he grabbed a handful and put them through their paces.

Kevin’s kiddos, with very few exceptions, used to be mine. But their fluency improved and I sent them on to greener pastures.

The object of my class is to get students used to school and to bring them to a speaking/listening level where they can actively participate in a beginning class. They know basic directions. They know how to have the beginnings of a conversation with memorized phrases. They don’t look at you with that “deer in headlights” stare. When they are ready to leave my class, I know, because when the teacher says, “close the door,” they get it. When directed to turn to page 52, they know to grab their books. When they are asked to open their Chromebooks and check their email, they know what to do.

When they leave me, they go to Kevin, who begins focusing intensely on getting them to write, whereas my whole goal is speaking and listening.

All I can say is that I am so happy that we had a little time to play, to break through that frustration that comes with testing that is relentless.

We got to giggle a bit because some students (who were not with me, or not with me for long) have not figured out how to be silly in English. It all seems to be more than a little strange to dance and move and repeat words like “smooth” and “rough” or “fast” and “slow.” They get there, but in order to learn a language, you really have to be ready to let go of all those things that make you self-conscious.

And the same is true for drama in the classroom. If you can let yourself do things you normally don’t do, you can be brave.

Laughter lowers what is known in ESL circles as the “affective filter”: that barrier that gets in the way of learning. When the filter is high, it manifests itself in the need to close up your ears and run away. And that’s what we’re fighting.

Be brave, my young friends! Be brave by being silly!

final-bhs-ges-graphicHaving this big group back in my room was so delightful. We supported each other in making shapes, in putting movements with voice, in moving in silly ways. We reviewed the five senses and we talked about our emotions. Sort of.

This is really what the Flynn involvement means to me: It’s a bridge to loosen up the tongue. It’s learning to fail and try again. It’s supporting strangers in a room who quickly become friends as they work to complete silly tasks. It’s being creative. It’s being brave.

When we look at graduation expectations (or GXs), pretty much everything we do helps move this group along the path. I should be sharing these videos with them as artifacts that they can show for meeting expectations:

  • EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION: We all have to talk to each other as we complete dramatic tasks, even if that task is as simple as a handshake or an introduction.
  • CURIOSITY & CREATIVITY: Students try to come up with their own ways to do a handshake or put movements with their names. They have to be different than those that came before. Just like in language learning, we start by copying, just instead of words and phrases, we copy movements. But eventually, we make it our own.
  • PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT: With bravery comes fluency. You just can’t help but be more comfortable after playing with the same people week after week.
  • CRITICAL THINKING & PROBLEM SOLVING: On this day, we had to make groups build shapes. How would your group build a shape? Who would be the leader? Does this really look like the shape we’re trying to make?
  • CROSS-CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING & CIVIC ENGAGEMENT: There are so many languages and cultures going on in that room at any one time. And there is always the issue of us doing some movement or saying some word that means something a little randy in another language… We are building understanding in the classroom so we can carry it over into the cafeteria. What could be more beautiful than that?

Check out the video below. I invite you to look for evidence of the graduation expectations I’ve noted above. The faces will change, but the activities remain the same. And the movements change, even if only slightly. Every change is leading to something that is uniquely their own.

It’s all about the baby steps.

The key to helping students with interrupted or limited formal education (SLIFE) move forward is to take what they know and add to the complexity. And that’s what we do.

The most beautiful part of this whole afternoon is how students resisted going to testing because they didn’t want to stop what they were doing. They really wanted to be there. Even if this doesn’t look like school to them. Even if it seems a little silly a lot of the time.

I’m grateful every time for the opportunity to make this magic happen!

Student Voice in Changing Images

 

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The following is a press release from the International Club at Burlington High School:

The recent national election brought fear to many immigrant families in Vermont. With the increase in anti-immigrant rhetoric, new Americans–refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers–were distressed about their future in Burlington, Vermont, and the United States.

What was going to happen to them? Would they be safe in America? Would they have to leave?

Driven by the real fear she witnessed in her pediatric practice, Dr Andrea
Green reached out to Burlington High School to see if she could support the students in
feeling safe and welcome. The students of the International Club of Burlington High School were also worried and wanted to do something.

The students met together with Dr. Green to talk about these fears and ways to communicate that Vermont is a place where all are welcome. During these meetings and the design process the students strengthened their voice and power to stand up against hurtful rhetoric. They were able to share how Burlington has been a welcoming community. Something they wanted to make visible to all.

—–

The pictures above were taken in downtown Burlington, Vt., on Friday, as students distributed posters to businesses and pins to passersby. The artists took a detour to Senator Bernie Sanders’ office to spread the word.

Burlington is a fairly welcoming community for refugees. Many businesses have a “Refugees are Welcome Here” poster that was distributed by Jewish Voice for Peace.

I’m so excited about this movement with student voice at the center.

It’s what is supposed to happen. I’m so proud of them.

Nepalis on my mind…

img_995920rations20distribution20wfpThe last couple of days while I’ve been walking my dog, I’ve been listening to some NPR.

Lately, the Syrians have been in the news. We are all waiting with bated breath to see whether the new administration will let the scheduled resettlements continue, even as they threaten “calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on. We have no choice… we have no choice.

But in the past couple of days, I’ve listened to two stories from Beldangi 2, a refugee camp in Nepal. It focuses on Teacher Day, which is really in the fall, but the reason the stories are coming now is because the camps are scheduled to close.

There was a deadline in November for people to apply to leave:

The Bhutanese refugees were given until Nov. 15 of this year to apply to go abroad. By the end of the year, UNHCR will stop forwarding applications for resettlement.

The reporter says there are predictions of 10,000 people who will be left behind in the end. Most of my students are from this camp. Most were born there. I wonder how many of their relatives or neighbors will be among those left behind?

When things wind down in a camp, it causes a little havoc; this PRI story profiles a woman who is teaching math, even though she is not a math teacher. For her $7 a month, she studies at home so she can bring the knowledge back to her students. Those with the most education leave camps first. Those left now, according to a Nepali friend I was talking to last year, are there because they are old and sick and don’t want to leave or there is an issue with intermarrying which hangs up paperwork.

The stories this reporter tells are heart-rending. How do you leave when a parent says that they will not make a change to a new language and climate? They don’t want to leave truly everything they ever knew behind. At least when these refugees moved from Bhutan to Nepal, the language and climate stayed the same. But leaving to the United States is something completely different.

One story is of a man who is refusing to go, whose family has been waiting to apply, hoping he’d change his mind, but to no avail. He knows that his illiteracy, age and lack of marketable skills will hold him back. But staying also is not a great option. Nepal does not allow integration at this point, although UNHCR is working with both Nepal and Bhutan to try to come to an equitable solution.

What happens to the children when the camps close? Will they be allowed to matriculate into Nepali schools? What happens to health care? What happens to those who are old or sick? Addicted to alcohol or drugs?

The high rate of suicides in the camps are well-documented. As the camps empty out in this last push, as rations are cut and friends, neighbors and family leave, will those numbers jump even higher?

For men, stressors related to employment and providing for their families were related to feeling burdensome and/or alienated from family and friends, whereas for women, stressors such as illiteracy, family conflict, and being separated from family members were more associated.

It’s difficult to forecast positive change for these stressors that were documented among former refugees resettled in the United States. They surely will intensify for those left in the camps.

I see more and more uneducated families settling here. And it takes a lot of hutzpah to tackle those huge barriers when one loses everything one knows.

What has life been like for these people for the past quarter century, having lost everything they had in Bhutan: land, property, stability, jobs, and a sense of home? They will most assuredly lose all these things again, or any semblance they had of “home”, by coming to the United States. These families may gain indoor plumbing and free education for their children, but what kind of jobs await illiterate adults who don’t speak English? And yet the bills continue to mount. They must repay their travel expenses. A person has to eat.

Even more difficult to imagine is how my students, who grew up in the tropics, in a place where elephants knocking down your house was part of reality, are coping with suddenly living in snow. It may not seem like much, but it’s huge going from wearing shorts and flip-flops every day to dressing for the cold. My high schoolers fight wearing hats (they mess up their hair) and gloves (they get in the way and are itchy); the little ones try to slip in line without putting on snow pants to keep them warm on the icy playground. And in a state where the windchill has been known to slip into dangerous territory more than a few times in an average winter, the battle never ends.

So I open 2017 with my eye on trying to stand in another’s shoes. It’s only by doing the research that teachers can have a tiny inkling of where students came from and maybe glean an idea of where to go from here.

One of the best stories I found was one from a couple of years ago from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Video, photos and stories make this a powerful place to start: http://newsinteractive.post-gazette.com/longform/stories/refugees/   I encourage everyone to take even a passing glance at this, just to imagine where your new students and neighbors come from.

And this travelogue from 2015 gives an unflinching look at attitudes prevailing in the camp at that time.

And thanks for listening.

 

 

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