Planting seeds

This week, Yvrose took the children outside to plant seeds in the school’s new vegetable patch. First hand experiences like this are part of her vision for learning at Hope House and part of the reason why she invited me to spend a term teaching at the school. Yes, between all the trips to the beach, playing football and messing about with the kids at the house, I’ve found time to do some teaching, and a bit more besides.

The majority of my time at school is spent teaching English, and I have to say it has been great fun. Starting from scratch in many cases, and with large classes, it’s been a case of lots of games, singing and physical activity to get the children engaged and speaking the language as much as possible. Their enthusiasm has bowled me over at times and the results have been really encouraging too; I can not take 10 steps around the school now without a child wishing me ‘good morning’, or asking ‘how are you?’

Having originally trained as a TEFL teacher, it’s also been rewarding to return to the role armed with so much more experience of working with children, gained through my time as a Primary School teacher in the UK. I remember working in Italy, as a newly qualified teacher, when my weekly class with the under 10s frequently ended up with them literally running rings around me. How I would like to have another crack at that little bunch of monsters, but I guess they are not so little any more!

So, three months in Haiti has given me the opportunity to introduce the children to English in a fun and active way. But of course it won’t be for much if the lessons stop once I’ve gone. To address this, I’ve spent many of my free periods developing an English curriculum for the school, which maps out what the teachers should teach the children each week. It includes all the topics you might expect for young learners like Animals, Food and Family, as well as identifying games, songs and other activities the teachers can use to bring these topics to life.

Of course, documents like this can quickly gather dust if people don’t feel confident using them so last week, when school was closed, we held a staff workshop where I took everyone through the curriculum and we tried out many of the activities and games. It was a lively session and the teachers who attended all proved that they were well capable of giving it a go. The momentum from that session has carried on into this week as I have started ‘team teaching’ sessions with the class teachers in preparation for handing over the reins. Despite a few nerves about speaking in English in front of their classes, the lessons so far have been a great success for teachers and pupils alike.

Along similar lines, we also held a Science workshop where I took the staff through a series of simple, fun and practical activities they can do with their classes, proving that a shortage of resources is no impediment. Highlights of the day included measuring the path of shadows with a piece of chalk, filtering water with an old sock, investigating the reproductive parts of a flower, and placing blocks of ice in the shade and in the sunlight to see which would melt faster.   Once again, it was an enjoyable day, and I challenged every teacher to take just one of the activities from the day and try it with their classes.

I’ve also helped start up Music lessons with help of the fantastic Mr.Elyse who is brimming with enthusiasm. Thanks to funds raised by Bolney school, we have been able to buy a set of instruments, enough for an entire class. It has been extremely rewarding seeing children pick up a triangle or a tambourine for the first time and give it a twang! Hopefully it won’t be long before they are belting out a few familiar tunes which we can record and broadcast. This, added to the recruitment of Mr.d’Haiti, a talented artist, is hopefully another step towards a more ‘creative’ curriculum here.

Finally, Yvrose and I have been trying to develop a culture in the school based on positive values such as kindness, tolerance, happiness and politeness. Children from Bolney may recognize these words because they appear on the school’s Values Tree. Well, here at Hope House we have been creating an ‘Arbre de Valuers’ of our own, painted by a talented missionary called Lisa, from Burgess Hill.  We’ve also introduced another ingredient of the Bolney success story: a Celebration Assembly every other Friday where we have encouraged the staff to pick out children for special praise. Part of my role has been to explain all these changes to the staff and encourage them to model these values. In that sense, I’ve also acted as a role model, showing staff how it is possible to build a positive relationship with students based on respect, praise, and encouragement instead of the traditional authoritarian approach.

Of course, changing the culture of a school doesn’t happen overnight, especially when it is rooted in the traditions of a country’s education system. Teachers are viewed as the ‘sage on the stage’ in Haiti, while the students are empty vessels whose job it is to copy down from the board unquestioningly and learn by rote. However, with Yvrose’s support and encouragement, I think I have planted a few seeds here too. What they need now is nurturing, both by the staff who work here and by those who will me here from the UK, the US and elsewhere. So perhaps I should end this particular post by saying that if you are interested in coming and working at Hope House, please get in touch! It’s been a privilege to work here at Hope House during this exciting time in its development and I look forward to seeing more and more green shoots emerge in the months and years ahead.

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