I’ve done 38.5 hours of volunteering at Wellstone International High School. 42 if you count lunch breaks, but I’m not counting lunch breaks (although I do get a lot out of listening to the teachers discuss school issues). I’m really enjoying it, even more than I thought I would. But it’s been hard to write about. I guess I generally write about things that bother me as a way to process, so it’s harder to tackle the good stuff.
I helped chaperone a trip to the state poetry competition (you can look at poetryoutloud.org to find out more about the competition in general). Overall, I was so impressed with how well-behaved the students were in general. One even thanked me–thanked me!–for coming along.
As the program went on, I observed some of the students affected by the performances. I’m not saying they were sitting rapt with hands folded the entire time. But they had definite favorites when we talked at lunch and at the ride home, and they didn’t play with their phones nearly as much as I expected.
Cell Phones in Class
Cell phones in class were never a problem when I was in school in the ’80s and ’90s, obviously. But some days it’s like, what are you doing? You know you’re not supposed to have phones in class. Yet there they are, watching a video. They’re supposed to surrender the phone to the teacher, but it’s hard to get them to give it up, and I never quite feel comfortable pushing hard enough. Then the other day, I caught a girl on her phone twice in the space of ten minutes.
To be fair, one kid was translating from Spanish to English with his phone. I still made him put it away, because it’s not like I can tell from a distance. I hauled a Spanish/English dictionary to his desk, but I don’t think he used it.
The Truth about the Moon Landing
A lot of my time is spent helping kids read individually. I was helping an East African boy read a book about the moon that was written at approximately a second- or third-grade level. The book stated that the moon has mountains, and this kid’s mind was blown. “I don’t believe it!” It just completely threw him. I know some of the students have had very little formal education before coming to the US, and I can only assume he is one of them. “Are they big mountains?” I said they were. (Are they? I’m actually not sure.) I showed him the photos in the book and explained that the dark spots you see from the earth are the craters.
The next page talked about humans landing on the moon. This was less surprising to him–maybe he’d heard it before. Remembering the book Packing for Mars, I told him that the first spacecraft carrying humans only had about as much seating area as a love seat and that everything had to be done sitting next to your crewmates, including bathroom activities. That either went over his head or he thought I was being rude and was polite enough to ignore it.