Well, after my entry from last week got deleted as I tried to post it, it’s time to sum up the week, day by day!
We arrived in Montego Bay on Saturday the 3rd to the craziness of cab and bus drivers and met Mr. Williams (our dedicated driver/casual tour guide) at his bus. The three to four hour-drive to Kingston was much faster and more aggressive than any drive I’ve ever taken in the states! The welcome dinner was fantastic—our first taste of Jamaica.
Our first full day began with a Sunday church service at Dr. Webster’s community church in Kemps Hill. It was a beautiful service that made me feel at ease and left me reflecting on some powerful messages. Above all, I was incredibly impressed by the congregation. These people had so much pride in their praises to God. The songs were sung with such volume, emotion, and even passion, which made it evident as to how devoted they are to the Lord. In the middle of the service we partook in a meet and greet, shaking hands, giving hugs, and exchanging warm words of welcome and thanks. The authenticity of their kindness was comforting. After the service, we ate lunch with the congregation and then had time to meet some of the kids and play, sing, and dance with them. Next, we immersed ourselves into the community with a walking tour, which involved the delivery of hygiene kits to the most needy of families. This experience was moving and eye-opening as we interacted with the people of Kemps Hill and came to learn about their lifestyle that is so different from our own. We ended the day at Dr. Webster’s family’s house where we explored different fruits from her trees, even coconut juice and coconut meat after her neighbor climbed to the tops of the trees to cut down the coconuts.
Monday was our first day at Race Course Primary. We arrived early enough to engage with the students during their morning assembly, introducing ourselves and presenting the school with the funds we raised (shout out to my family and friends as well as Howe Writing Center)! Next, we split up into our assigned classrooms and became familiar with the teachers, students, and rooms. I applaud the teachers of Race Course for their ability to work in stride with the distractions and setbacks (such as excessive noise, crowded classrooms, and limited resources). Essentially, Race Course classrooms are designed in a horseshoe formation and the principal’s office, guidance office, and teacher’s lounge close the gap of that horseshoe. Classrooms that are back-to-back are connected, as true walls are lacking and chalkboards and wood boards work as dividers. The noise from the partnering classrooms carries over in large volumes, causing difficulty for instruction and learning and occasionally steals the students’ attention. However, despite the challenges, these teachers know how to reach their students. For lunch, we were fortunate enough to eat with Mr. Ray, who cooked for us and welcomed us into his home. We spent the afternoon at the basic school, located next to Race Course Primary. This school had three rooms containing three-year-olds, four-year-olds, and five-year-olds. From the start of the day with my third graders to the end of the day with the little tikes, I felt incredibly loved, appreciated, and needed. I got more than my fair share of hugs, squeezes, and loving comments from child after child.
Tuesday was our second and final day at Race Course Primary. It felt odd knowing we were only there for two days because we had already formed such a strong connection with the students and faculty at the school. Once we got to the school, the students attacked yet again—these kids aren’t shy about showing affection! J I headed back to my classroom (Mrs. Wright’s third grade) and got to experience teaching in a Jamaican classroom. As I previously mentioned, my capstone is focused around teaching the character trait of optimism. Once the children finished their writing review, I stepped in. We began with a definition and explanation of optimism and then a read aloud, “Perfect Square” by Michael Hall. This book reflects the story of a square whose shape is transformed, torn apart, and crumpled, among other things. Throughout every change, the square makes the best of his new shape or form. This opened a window for the presentation and reciting of “The Serenity Prayer.” We then moved into strengths. I had every child write one of their strengths on a piece of paper to share with the class (if they so chose). The results of this activity were interesting, ranging from, “I am a good reader” to “I am honest.” A handful of students chose to write, “I am a good listener” after I had given that as my example. The students then raised their hands to tell me something about optimism to receive some fun, extra gifts. I concluded the lesson with a distribution of pencils, colored pencils, smiley face (optimistic) stickers, and erasers. Mr. Ray invited us back to his home for a second luncheon and then we went back to the basic school to spend some last minute time with the little ones. The day ended with our lessons to whole classes on conflict resolution in the primary school—a prominent issue at Race Course. I felt a fantastic connection with the children of Race Course Primary and appreciate the two days we had to come to know and love them! To conclude the day, we took a tour at the Bob Marley museum, learning all about the life of one of Jamaica’s most admired.
Wednesday morning we made the short trip to VOUCH in Kingston, which stands for “A Voluntary Organization for Uplifting Children.” This organization is full of children ages 2/3months to 5 years. We were given a tour of the grounds and classrooms by their principal. Moving in and out of the nursery and classrooms full of little tots was very difficult, seeing as we are all Early Childhood Education majors and adore being around little ones. They didn’t make it easy to say goodbye as they all ran to the fence to wave while playing outside. The teachers seem to have special regard for the students with special needs. They have a special education classroom, containing a specialist who knows how to work with these children and meet their needs. The classrooms we saw there, were in many ways, similar to those I’ve experienced in America (Ohio). Much of the same tactics and methods we learn to use, such as Word Walls and KWL charts, were also seen in these classrooms. At VOUCH, their goal is to have every child literate by the time they leave to go to primary school. Once we left, we took a walk through the National Heroes Park and saw some of Jamaica’s national monuments and graves of national heroes. From that point, we met back up with the medical group and headed to Port Royal where we were given a tour and eventually took a boat ride to a deserted island to soak up the sun!
Thursday was another early day, as we all boarded the bus and half of us (the education team) said “goodbye” to Kingston as we made our way to Ocho Rios to climb Dunns River Falls. After our incredibly enjoyable morning climbing the falls, we proceeded to Montego Bay to spend one last day as a whole group, enjoying one of the beautiful beaches of Jamaica!
Our final day in Jamaica, Friday, was our free day. A small group of us chose to go on a walking tour with Dr. M, Marty, and a spontaneous “guide” (one of the hotel workers who led their tour the previous year). This 3 and a half hour expedition allowed us to explore the “real” Montego Bay, moving deep into the city and experiencing the lives of the locals, everywhere from the Farmer’s Market to the legitimate transportation center. Our guide informed us that obtaining transportation from the touristy area in which we stayed to Negril costs $60 a person. However, if we were to go to this transportation center in the middle of town that the locals use, it is $5 a person. Most of us ended the tour at the Craft Market where we were swarmed and directed, experiencing a whole new meaning of bargain shopping and the importance of haggling. The rest of the day we laid on the beach and swam in the ocean, still thankful as can be for the beautiful week-long weather.
In reflection, I can undoubtedly say this was one of the best and most educational trips I’ve ever taken. I appreciated every experience and felt appreciated in return (by the children and adults of the community). Also, I feel as though I served a purpose, no matter how small, but I did something I needed to do. I have extreme respect for many residents of Jamaica, making the best of every situation and every card they are dealt.