Innovative Educational Solutions
Dr. Sheri's Blog
Dr. Sheri's Blog
|Posted on June 18, 2015 at 11:25 PM||comments (87)|
|Posted on March 29, 2015 at 4:42 AM||comments (355)|
|Posted on February 17, 2015 at 10:46 PM||comments (55)|
|Posted on February 12, 2015 at 5:10 AM||comments (54)|
Well, I'm in Darwin for the night, after flying on a single engine plane in and out of a very small town in the Australian bush. I've spent two days there in the school, flying back each evening to a larger town (large, as in, over 100 residents). I hardly slept the night before my first flight, but I soon found that I'm not frightened and, in fact, the views are amazing!
My new school is small (around 25 students, K-7th grade) and in a community sheltered by an amazing escarpment, with picturesque waterfalls and rough-hewn walls. The town is made up of one extended family, which causes some problems with the students at school who bring their arguments and disagreements with them.
The students at this school speak English quite well (in fact, they are very adept at producing some very common English swear words), and their literacy skills are a little bit higher than what I experienced last week. However, their behavior is unbelievable. They kick, hit, bite, throw things at each other, scream, yell, and call each other names. They do not hesitate in the least if there is an adult around (a kindergarten student actually hit the substitute teacher this afternoon). Getting them to sit, focus, and work is exhausting!
Luckily, this community has been blessed with an amazing principal, who could be working at Stanford University, but who has, instead, chosen to spend the last years before retirement in making a difference in these children's lives. She has taught in Australia, Hong Kong, the UK, and the US. She is Montessori trained and is open to trying new techniques to help the students learn. She and her husband, a retired chemist, live in a small flat attached to the school. She has only been there six months, but her influence is already being felt. She expects a lot out of the students, and, for the most part, they do what she asks. I'm enjoying working with her immensely; although she has such a wealth of experience, she is still incredibly humble and willing to learn and try new things.
Tomorrow morning I'm back in my charter plan and off to my little town to spend another day supporting the students and educators there. However, tonight I'm enjoying a comfy hotel room, having thoroughly appreciated a nice salad and glass of wine, while waiting for all my clothing to run through the laundry facilities in the hotel. It's amazing how little things take on so much more meaning when one experiences live with so much less!
As the Aussies say, "Cheers and G'day!"
Buffalo and horses on the way out of town
The school and school children on the approach to the airstrip
|Posted on February 9, 2015 at 1:56 AM||comments (47)|
I'm rounding out my first week at my biggest school (approximately 125 students, preschool through grade 10) and so I thought I'd take a few moments to sum up my experiences here.
On Saturday night I had a terrific time at a potluck featuring Australian dishes. Everyone brought something to share and we had some really terrific tucker (aka food). There was chicken parma, Australian lamb, quiche, coleslaw, Australian meatballs, cheesymite rolls (cheese and Vegemite on homemade Australian bread), berry and apple crisp, anzac biscuits, and pavlova (I brought cheesy potatoes - kind of a French/American thing). It was really nice relaxing and getting to know the teachers and their spouses away from school.
On Sunday afternoon I was to one of the teacher's houses for tea (I'll call her Joanie), and Sunday evening I was invited, along with Joanie, to another teacher's house for dinner (I'll call her Martha). Joanie borrowed the "ute" (aka: utility vehicle) from the principal for the short drive to Martha's house. I wondered why we would need the ute when Martha's house is just down the street and around the corner. However, when we almost got run down by a spooked wild horse being chased by dogs, I understood why we might not want to walk outside after dark in the Australian bush. First of all, it's dark! I mean, it's completely black outside - which is, of itself, quite scary. Even more importantly, Joanie shared with me a short list of the kind of creatures you might run into if you decide to take a walk in the Australian bush after dark (even if you walk on the road in the town):
Here are a few funny stories before I sign off for the day. On Friday I was teaching a lesson which had me demonstrating smiling. At the end of the lesson, one of the girls came to me, pointed to my mouth and said, "What that? Open you mouth." I opened my mouth and her eyes got big, "What that? You have gold in you mouth?" She was mesmerized by my gold and silver fillings. She quickly called the other children over and my dental work was examined very closely. She then asked me if she could touch my fillings, which I explained was unwise because she would get my germs. When she asked how I got the metal in my mouth, I answered by saying I got it because I didn't do a good job of brushing my teeth as a girl. In hindsight, I'm not sure that was the right answer to give. I hope she doesn't stop brushing her teeth in the hope that she'll discover gold one day!
At the end of the day Friday I was walking to the teacher's lounge when a boy around 10 asked me if I was from welfare. He even checked my name tag to check it out. I assured him I was here to help the teachers, which he found acceptable.
In one of the younger groups, students are asked to identify a picture of a shoe. The children, unfamiliar with shoes, have begun to call them "shoots." It appears to be a cross between shoe and boots, which the are familiar with because boots are worn by men who muster the cattle.
Finally, one of the most disturbing things I've learned is how hungry these children are. When I was at Joanie's on Sunday three of the children knocked on her door. They explained that their mother was hungry and wanted meat. They had brought a bucket and had walked through an intense thunder storm to see if they could get something to eat. The government checks had arrived on Thursday, which means that the family had used all the money in under three days, leaving the children with no food until the next check in two weeks. In fact, it's not uncommon to find mothers with their toddlers at the school eating breakfast and lunch because there is nothing to eat at home.
Once again I'm humbled and impressed by the educators who choose to serve this needy population. What amazing work they are doing!
|Posted on February 7, 2015 at 1:28 AM||comments (66)|
Well, I've completed the first week of supporting educators in a remote community in the Australian bush. I honestly didn't really know what to expect and I'm not sure I could have ever understood the experience of teaching in a remote indigenous community school unless I had had the opportunity to come here.
I have found the teachers who choose to live and teach out here in this remote community to be dedicated and practical. In my experience, they seem to complain very little and, instead of complaining, do what it takes to get things done. We began teaching Direct Instruction before our order of materials arrived because the teachers and the principal were committed to making the implementation work. Teachers copied lessons, studied, and presented their first lessons on the second day of school. When the materials did arrive (on the third day), teachers stayed late to unload the pallets at 5:00 in 100° temperatures (with 80% humidity). When it was discovered that we were short materials, teachers came up with solutions so that the teaching would go on.
In some ways the students are very much the same as American students (see my last post in which I describe students singing, "Let it Go"); in other ways they are very unique. Almost all of the students (probably 98%) are English Language Learners, and most of them have very low English skills. They also have very low literacy skills. One of the main problems is attendance. Many students don't attend school regularly, which certainly contributes to their low skills. When they do come to school, they are often sluggish and some fall asleep at school. From what I understand, it is not common in homes for students to have a regular bedtime. In fact, students are often awake most of the night, coming to school the next day sleepy and unresponsive. They finish school and go home to sleep during the evening, waking up after dark to stay awake for most of the night. This contributes to the instructional challenges for teachers, as they struggle to engage students and teach them academics, despite the sleepy response they receive.
The community consists of the school, a store, a health center, and an airstrip. In some ways the school is a central component of the community. Many parents spend time at the school because it is centrally located and provides shade and a place for little ones to play. Many of the people in the community are related and they all know each other well, having grown up together and lived in rather close quarters for many generations. I had the opportunity to ride with one of the school workers as he drove students home the day the bus was stuck in mud. The state of the homes reminded me of some of the places I've visited in the US; places marked by abject poverty and neglect. There were many dilapidated cars, tires, and other types of trash littering the fronts and sides of houses. It is my understanding that several families may live in one house, with many children and adults sharing the living space. It helped me to understand why the children might come to school tired and unmotivated to learn. On the other hand, it also showed me why both children and adults might want to come to the school, with it's painted doors and brightly colored walls and displays. The school must seem like an incredible place to be, when compared with the realities of the living spaces.
The local school - complete with one of the large puddles that is a constant during the rainy season.
Next week I'm off to a new school. Due to the fact that the roads are impassable and that the community is so tiny that there is no place for me to stay there, I'll be commuting from one town to another via a single-engine plane. I'll have a pilot and an aircraft assigned to me and I'll fly in and out of the school in the morning and afternoon. As I'm rather terrified of flying in small planes, this plan does not thrill me! Oh well! It will be an interesting adventure and another opportunity to experience the realities of life in this world.
|Posted on February 2, 2015 at 3:07 AM||comments (37)|
|Posted on January 31, 2015 at 7:07 PM||comments (31)|
I thought I'd take a chance to jot down my thoughts throughout this amazing experience of working in Australian remote community schools. I was given the opportunity to work in these schools through the National Institute for Direct Instruction (NIFDI). When I first thought about working in Australia, I pictured working in a somewhat populated area, investigating restaurants in the evening, and staying in Australian hotels. As I learned more about what I'd be doing, I soon realized that the experience would be quite different. So...here's a short recap of what has happened so far.
About 90 days ago I received an email with the names of my remote schools - Nganmarriyanga, Peppimenarti, and Nganambala. I couldn't even pronounce the names and I had no idea where they could possibly be. Thank goodness for Google Earth. I was able to find the first two and, with help from my son Adrien, I was finally able to find Nganambala. I could tell from the map that they are, indeed, remote. Shortly after, I discovered that during the rainy season it is impossible to drive from site to site. As a result, I would need to take a charter flight to travel from Darwin to the first school, in between schools, and then back to Darwin. This was not good news for me. I have said many times in my life that I would never fly in a small plane. Well, you know what they say - "never say never."
Just a note about seasons in northern Australia. There aren't four seasons here - just two. There is the rainy season (which is technically summer - it happens around winter in the US) and the dry season (which is during summer in the US). During the rainy season it is incredibly green, and incredibly muddy. The roads get impassable for several months. My first trip was scheduled during the rainy season (the first of seven in 2015).
Preparation for the trip was interesting. There are limitations regarding weight of luggage on charter flights, so I needed to make sure that my luggage met the criteria. Also, there was no surety that I'd have access to a store in the communities in which I was working, so I needed to bring some food to hold me over in case I couldn't purchase anything. To add to the experience, many people who had never visited the Australian outback had lots of advice. I did my best to pack what I thought was necessary.
My flight to Sydney left at 10:20 pm from LAX. I traveled on an A380, which was wonderful. I had a terrific flight and slept about eight hours. Landing in Sydney was interesting. We had to go through border patrol, get our suitcases, go through customs, check our bags, go through security, then take a bus to a different terminal for our domestic flight. The process took over two hours and was slightly exhausting. However, the flight to Darwin was really good - I had an entire row to myself and I was hypnotized by the lovely geography of the Australian continent.
I stayed one night in Darwin. I shopped at a local mall, which seemed like any mall that you could find in America. I did a little shopping in KMart, and found a few things in Woolworths. All in all, I was disappointed that it didn't seem more different - more Australian.
The next morning I was driven to the charter company to catch my flight to Nganmarriyanga. We were shown to a Cessna, with room for six passengers. I was assigned the front seat, right next to the pilot. At first we had a little bit of a problem getting the left propeller to start, but it eventually started...right at the same time that the sky opened up and began a torrential downpour! In fact, it was raining so hard that the pilot had to open his side window and stick his head out in order to see the runway! I prayed a lot as we taxied and then were airborne. Quickly we flew out of the storm and I became completely mesmerized by the scenery.
We flew along the coastline and then took a turn inland. We were able to see Nganmarriyanga and Peppimenarti from the plane.
The landing was incredibly smooth and we disembarked and unloaded our stuff. Wow - was it hot!! In fact, it was unbelievably hot and humid. I was covered with sweat in exactly 30 seconds. The principal's aunt was there to meet us and we piled the luggage and ourselves into a classic SUV and hit the road. Or, should I say, hit the mud. The dirt roads were a huge mess of terracotta colored mud. I was shown the school and the store, then shown to my temporary quarters (10 days).
I'm incredibly fortunate in that I'm staying in a house that belongs to a couple who are on maternity leave. It is comfortable and right next to the principal's home, and just down the road from the school and the store. I went to the store yesterday with one of the new teachers and was surprised to find a variety of items for sale, including a drum set and a stereo system (on sale for $1500!!). I purchased a few items and returned "home."
Last night I had dinner with the principal and his lovely family. He has a wife who works at the school and who is expecting their third child. Her parents are visiting and I had a wonderful dinner with excellent conversation. Their children are lovely and I feel so blessed to have this opportunity to meet this special family. They are doing incredible work here and are dedicated to making a difference for the indigenous people in this area.
Today is a quiet day; I'm prepping for the first day of school, which is tomorrow! Thanks to the fact I have internet coverage, I've been able to FaceTime and Skype with my family and I feel like I'm not too far away.