Fulbright TGC Reflection: Day 3-4 at COAR Ica

Shown are two Peruvian children who won a leisure book at our literacy celebration disguised as board gam night.

The past few days have been a chaotic blue – in a good way. I have been teaching multiple classes in grades 4 and 5 (ages 15 and 16), given celebrity status as students continually ask to take pictures with us, and feel like an ambassador of the English language and United States culture. My knowledge of the Spanish language continues to grow as my previous course work has been invaluable as I navigate small conversation with students, eat unfamiliar dishes, and participate in numerous school wide activities. Needless to say, I am ecstatic to be working here, but you can imagine the exhaustion of being in such an intense program.

One student is shown writing her summary to “Thank You, M am” by Langston Hughes.

One student is shown writing her summary to “The Gold Coin” by Alma Flor Ada.

The past three days I taught short stories to two sections of fifth grade and two sections of fourth grade. The way the school is set up students stay in the room all day and teachers rotate around carrying their supplies, laptops, and sometimes projectors. Each child has two hours of English class per day. I have been doing close reading strategies in my instruction and teaching children to talk to the text using annotation symbols and Think-Pair-Share for speaking and listening. What students lack in vocabulary and colloquialisms, though, they made up in enthusiasm and questions.

Teacher, teacher they would say to have me come over to them. Many times I would have to act out a word or use my Spanish translator. I was often met with ahhhhhh and ohhhhh. I would try to pronounce the Spanish word getting giggles and odd looks. Showing the Spanish word, students took pride in trying to teach me the proper pronunciation of their words.

Everyday when we enter the school children are excited to see us. Being in a COAR (gifted) school where one must test into enrollment, it gives off a very different vibe. Students are very high achieving and have extraordinary work ethics. One one the oddest quirks is when a teacher enters all students stand and waits for the instructor to be seated, and when using the restroom they wait outside the door to be let back in the room. One child told me they wait at the door as a sign of respect since they are using the restroom during the teacher’s time.

Yesterday, a young male student came up to my host teacher asking questions about girls in America (in a polite way). She deferred him to Mr. Brian because she was uncomfortable with the topic. He wanted to know about children his age having sexual relationships in the United States because his mother was a teenage mother and it was very difficult for her to raise him with no father around. I shared with him about conservative values and my belief in the Bible and Jesus. He shared with me he knew the commandments and only went to church once a month when he was home with his family, but he was a believer. He said he would begin reading more to learn further about the Bible because he wanted the chance to go to the University to study and have a different life; I encouraged him to find that different life through following the teachings of Jesus in the Bible.

Later that day, I was fortunate to teach this same young man in one of my classes using our discussion chips. Like his classmates, they were struggling with the formal discussion groups because the instruction here at COAR is read, practice verbally aloud, and write in notebooks. I haven’t observed much formal instruction that pushed student voice and analysis in the classroom. When asking students why the activity was a struggle, many admitted it was different and they didn’t want me to hear them using their English incorrectly. If one has ever taught gifted students before, they know gifted students sometimes struggle with failure because they want to get it right all the time.

Students playing Headbanz.

Students playing Bananagrams.

In the evening tonight, students gathered for a literacy celebration disguised as game night. The English department set up tables where students could rotate through Bananagrams, Uno, Headbanz, Mystery Clue, and more. One of the games broke and we made it into a reading station of picture books. My colleague and I rotated on the station and had children read to us and discuss the themes in many great books. Upon playing all the games, we brought prizes of pens, pencils, soccer swag, notebooks, and the most coveted prize of all — leisure books from the Eastern Shore Literacy Association. Secretly, the games were meant for students to informally practice their English and allow the teachers time to build and strengthen relationships with the students.

Many students earned books during our literacy night at COAR Ica tonight!

I think many students feel honored to have us at their schools, and it truly is an honor to have this experience and to have such an inside view into the Peruvian education system and a COAR school. I’ll admit there have been moments of being overwhelmed and exhausted. There have been many surprises — like seeing the amount of students sitting on steps working on project or students waiting outside the teacher work area on laptops waiting for that special moment to work one-on-one with their teacher. For me, it is heart warming to see a love for education so deeply ingrained in the fabric of these students.

But, it makes me feel disappointed too because I realize the privilege I have living in the United States. Living in a well developed country with endless opportunities, the United States infrastructure allows for so many opportunities I cannot even express it into words. I am struggling with the realization many of these children (and teacher) may not reach their maximum potential due to poor funding and limited opportunities that I often take for granted.

As I complete my final teaching day tomorrow, I hope my adventure to COAR Ica leads into even bigger opportunities for my students back home to understand the world we live in today.

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Fulbright TGC Reflection: Welcome to COAR Ica

Colegio de Alto Rendimiento de Ica (COAR) school rolled out the welcome mat in amazing fashion as it welcome Deb Covey and Brian Cook, two Fulbright Teachers for Global Classroom recipients, into its school located in Nasca, Peru.

El primer día ingresé al Colegio de Alto Rendimiento de Ica (COAR) y … Okay, the my exhausted “bilingual mind” is too exhausted, so I’ll get to it.

Today, I woke up excited and ready to jump all in. It was the first day of school all over again. I was looking forward to the conversations with children and watching great instruction from my Peruvian colleagues. I hopped out of the taxi and was stopped dead in my tracks.

Students had signs and music ready to welcome Deb Covey and Brian Cook, two Fulbright Teachers for Global Classroom recipients, on their first day in the classroom.

The sounds of Peruvian music hit the air … which is a mixture of Andean, Spanish, and African roots …  as a child strung the chord of a ukulele and children sang to us in English. They spent many hours hitting pitches perfectly and having a balance that was elevated by our smiles. Groups were holding signs welcoming us them to their school community; we were now a part of their family at COAR Ica.

To most of the children, we were the first native English speakers they have ever met since they began their study of their language, and students were excited to practice their language skills. High achieving students, they were very precise in their enunciation wanting to get it right.

Moving into our fifth grade class, 16-year old in their final year of Peruvian schooling, we got to share about the melting pot of the American culture, which was no easy task. We shared about holidays, eating habits, stereotypes, and took questions. Children were very curious about our president and his positions in the world. The Peruvian children read about politics which shocked me because I know my students are not familiar with foreign leaders in other countries unless it’s our border countries (i.e., Canada and Mexico).

The English language skills of the fifth graders was exquisite.

However, any American knows the entire country does not represent our individual community, and I wanted students to know where I am from and where I am doing. I was fortunate to highlight the life of Pocomoke Middle, my home school, and the opportunities we offer to children. They asked many questions about our STEM programming and the drones I fly with students. In my short experience at the school, many Peruvian students aspire to become engineers which is why I believe the drones peeked their interest.

Brian Cook, right, gives a cultural overview about Pocomoke Middle School, where he works in the United States as fellow Fulbrighter Deb Covey, left, looks on.

Other highlights they wanted to know about was the stereotypes in my school as well as the US and whether people were discriminated against. I shared with them bullying does occur, but we are very intentional about identifying and eliminating the practice of students beginning at an early age. Being vulnerable, I shared my passion to have my students become more open to respecting different cultures and being more globally minded, and I hoped to learn from them about their culture to take back to my school.

I again gave the same presentation to a group of third grade students, age 14, was much different. Only beginning their English studies, the boys dominated the conversation, which is common in Peruvian culture as education is pushed more towards that particular sex. However, these students were more animated as we both used hand gestures and translators to share our ideas when the language barrier exceeded our ability. I continually tried to direct questions to the girls in the class, but they were hesitant to respond. I am sure they did not want to be in the spotlight in a large group; I hope to have small group time with this class later in the week.

As the discussion started to dwindle, I was asked about American music. A country and western fan, they were not impressed, but I decided to play music from my daughter’s playlist. Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk and Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off were smash hits to these children. Immediately, the whole class began singing to Uptown Funk and it rekindled the human side of them as smiles illuminated the children; we now shared a common bond through music.

Principal’s Office

It’s never a good sign.

But today was different…a good different too.

We discussed literacy in the school and her vision. The principal has a vision for her teachers to be innovative, take risks in their teaching, and try new strategies to ignite higher level thinking. Whether it’s pitfall or simply a passion, higher level thinking is a common idea theme I have heard many Peruvian educators want for their students. Similar to the United States, all educators want students to work collaboratively at high levels and develop critical thinking skills to support their instruction. I have the same desires with my students. Yes, they must pass the test (i.e., state assessment–USA, Programme for International School Assessment PISA–Peru), but there is so much more to education and the principal understand that sentiment too.

We shared the differences in how reading/language is taught phonetically in elementary school in the USA, and Peruvian students learn through vocabulary memorization. Unsure of our message, we showed examples of word families and taught them our approaches during our meal. It was foreign to her, but she respected the manner we took in teaching our children.

Professional Development Towards Literacy

Brian Cook offered a professional development session to the Peruvian teachers of English at Colegio de Alto Rendimiento de Ica (COAR) school.

Speaking and listening is powerful, especially to those learning a second language.

I shared one tactic to support students in dissecting literature, discussion chips. A Kagan strategy, teachers were familiar with talking about literature, but having a tactile object to support their learners. Often I have found it’s a lot of small group discussions and computer work. One teacher asked if we could model the activity with a group of students later in the week; I hope to use it with “Thank You, M’am” by Langston Hughes.

After Hours

Each teacher must clock in 48-hours per week at the school requiring them to work until 8pm, even though classes ends at 6pm. Working at a COAR school, teachers are aware for the requirement coming into the school, but I have found it is what makes the boarding school special because of the family environment.

During this time, all the classroom doors were left open and children were free to work on their assignments or hangout with one another in an informal environment. Walking around, laptops were left out without fear of being tampered with by other students and an unique, unstructured atmosphere was active. Students self-managed themselves and were mature about how they held themselves; I was impressed.

More importantly, this was the best time ever to build relationships with children. I spent time playing ping pong in the commons area near the student dormitory and sitting with students to practice their language.

DaVinci Code

A young girl named Claudia and I sat and spoke about her love for Dan Brown‘s novel the DaVinci Code. She shared how she loved how the character Robert Langdon was introduced and the many challenges that he endured to solve the mystery of the story. Climax moments in the story rolled off her tongue in excitement as she rattled on. She articulated about her research on Brown’s novels and how she wanted to read other tales of Robert Langdon and was leaning towards reading Deception Point, but truly wanted to follow a story that had Robert Langdon as the protagonist.

When she returns to Lima on break, she would buy her next Dan Brown novel.

As an English teacher, it renewed my faith in seeing a student so passionate about reading (especially an author I truly enjoy myself) too. I hope to spend more time discussion literature and sharing the books I brought with children like Claudia; she will be one of those students that changes the world.


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