Sunday, June 19, 2016

A Typical School Day

One of my fellow Eastern Caribbean Peace Corps Volunteers on St. Vincent recently published an interesting story on her blog. It was entitled “A Day in the Life of a Peace Corps Volunteer - Typical Work Day.”

As she mentions, every day is different so it is impossible to perfectly describe a typical weekday (weekends are even harder to describe in general terms). Rather than telling about one specific day as she did, I decided to just present a generic version that I think gives a decent representation of my life. Obviously, every day does not follow this pattern, but I perform these activities frequently enough that they can give a sense of a typical day for me. I hope you find it interesting.

I generally wake up as it begins to get light outside (the neighborhood "free range" chickens assist my waking process). The first thing I usually do is stay in bed while checking overnight emails and social media. I switch from whatever I listened to overnight to NPR's “Morning Edition.” Once I'm caught up on messages from overnight, I crawl out of bed.

Several mornings each week require listening for the horn-blowing of the two bread vendors who drive through our village each morning, selling fresh-from-the-bakery baguette style bread from their vehicles. You must be out at the road to buy bread from them (my house sits back a good ways from the road).

I need to walk up to the spring at least once or twice a week to draw fresh water into two five liter jugs, which I then take home and run through my ceramic/charcoal water filter provided by the Peace Corps. The trash dump is also located up the hill near the spring, so I also empty any trash I've accumulated on these walks. These tasks help get me out along the road where I can buy bread.

If I'm inside at 6:30, I switch from “Morning Edition” to Kairi FM for their local news. Then at 6:45, I switch to DBS radio, for more Dominican news. I fix breakfast and my lunch, plus take care of other chores. By 7:30, I'm taking my shower. I dress and leave for school by 8:00. School doesn't start until 9:00, but I like to get there early.

Occasionally, I need to stop by our credit union on the way to school to do some banking. It opens at 8:00 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (the days when mail is delivered), I will sometimes stop by the village post office on my way home after school to see if I have any mail.

My school days vary widely, and I usually don't know in advance how my day will pan out. I am frequently called upon to serve as a substitute teacher, which I enjoy very much (although the Peace Corps would prefer for me to just focus on literacy). I like teaching more than just literacy—math, science, social studies, health, and art are all subjects that are lots of fun for me. I've always been more of a generalist than a specialist, so I am grateful that I'm not forced to only perform reading activities.

If I am not substituting (or just temporarily covering for a busy teacher), I usually sit in the 2nd/3rd grade classroom helping struggling students (rather than a “pull out” program, I do more “push in” work). That is not to say that I haven't done “pull out” work to focus on literacy skills, it is just that I don't end up doing as much of it as my colleagues in larger schools have done. It isn't technically co-teaching, but I certainly add my “two cents worth” whenever I can to help the teacher. In addition, I handle all the responsibilities related to our library (the view from my library window is shown below). The bottom line is that I am addressing the pressing needs at my small school, doing whatever I can to improve education.

When school ends at 3:30, I work on math with the four girls in our upper grade classrooms. Our “Girls Math Club” gives them some extra practice (plus with girls overwhelmingly outnumbered by boys in our school, they deserve some exclusive time for themselves). Here is a picture from our end-of-the-year session this past week, because next week starts final exams. The ice cream truck just happened to pass by our village as we met (which had never happened before), so I bought them each a cup of ice cream to celebrate. [I had been sitting on the bench with the white board while they were at each corner, giving them three digit numbers that they needed to round off to the nearest tens and nearest hundreds. The numbers at the top are upside down, because those two girls were facing me while we worked.]
It is always after 4:00 before I leave school. Some days I bring my swim trunks and swim shoes and change in the school bathroom, and then head across the road to the beach for an after-school swim in the ocean. Many of the students join me when I go, and we all have a good time. The photo below was taken at one of those swims recently. Notice that the kids recently have been using an old abandoned refrigerator (with the doors removed) as a boat. Also, large pieces of driftwood or pieces of plywood are used as floats. I try to discourage these risky activities, but to no avail.
After the sweat from a hot day in the school has been washed off in the ocean, I generally walk through the village and up the hill to La Soose (the spring that is described in this story). There I take a cold water outdoor shower in my swimsuit to get all the salt off of me. Then, I head part way down the hill, cross the two footbridges over the creeks, and climb the steep sidewalk to finally reach my home.

I change clothes and sit on my porch (with a view of the Atlantic), listening to NPR's “All Things Considered” and catching up on social media and email. I also fix some dinner during this “decompression” time when I finally get home. Sometimes I switch over to DBS at 6:00 to listen to local evening news. Being at home is nice, but I feel it is important not to isolate myself in my cottage for the night (unless there is something important that I must work on), and so after eating I frequently head back down into the village to socialize.

Often I will traipse through the village all the way down to the shoreline to watch for the nightly exodus of bats from our bat cave. Thousands of bats form undulating black strings across the sky as they head out in different directions for their nightly foraging. I find it fascinating!

Usually a few students will follow me down there to watch and play around (sometimes I feel like the Pied Piper when I walk through the village, because of the way the students will run out to follow me wherever I'm going). Lately, the bats have been leaving at about 6:30, but I don't mind if they are late, because a big part of watching the bats for me is really just the “wave therapy” of sitting along the shore, watching the waves roll in while awaiting the exodus. The pelicans are usually making their kamikaze dives into the water as well, providing yet another form of natural entertainment.

After the bats depart, I walk back up the main street through out village, visiting with folks as we pass. Sometimes I will purchase produce or other food items that a few folks sell from their porches. Other times students will ask that I help with homework—there have been several nights spent under one of the street lights where the students can read their textbooks outside.

Sometimes I will stop at my host family's house, where I lived during my first month on this island. Their support is still very important to me, and I learn a lot about Dominica and issues facing our village from my discussions there.

There are some nights, however, when I need to head straight home after school because I have a meeting related to my work with the Village Council. I'm very glad that I have the Village Council as my secondary Peace Corps activity, because I enjoy local government. It has really helped me to better integrate into the community. It gives me something to talk about with villagers.

Once I am finally back in my little cottage for the night, I might end up doing chores, chatting with friends, writing blog posts, working on Peace Corps stuff, or reading the interesting links I've saved while perusing social media. I'm grateful to have both liberal and conservative friends, because I enjoy reading what each side is saying. I don't have a couch, so my internet reading is generally done while reclining in my hammock that runs between the windows in my front room.

Finally, when I start getting tired, I take yet another shower to get rid of the sweat and mosquito repellent before bedtime (I'm fortunate that Dominica doesn't have the water shortages that some islands experience). I turn on the big oscillating fan at the foot of the bed and crawl under the mosquito netting for the night. Another amazing day in paradise with the Peace Corps has ended! It sure beats the typical workdays I used to endure.

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