October 25

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John and Dayna in Uganda – “Good Morning Miss Dayna!!”

“Good Morning Miss Dayna!”

This wonderful greeting is what I hear every day when I arrive at school. I’ve been volunteering at a local facility, splitting my time between the Grade 1 (which would be akin to Kindergarten in the U.S.) and Grade 2 classrooms. I either walk the 15+ minutes to the school or John drives me, sending me off with a laugh and saying “Have fun at school today!”

In speaking to some local people it seems that if Ugandans can afford it they send their children to private school. As with other parts of the world, public schools here have large class sizes (80-150 students per), teachers are paid a low salary, and on occasion it seems that the government does not reimburse the staff in a timely manner.

Private options typically consist of a British school, Montessori, Cambridge or religious curriculum.

The school I’m volunteering at uses a British curriculum, and has been open for a year. In that time attendance has grown from 30 children to 110, which shows the level of teaching and the way parents talk to one another. The majority of the students are Ugandan, with a few mixed Ugandan/Muzungus children. Some are kids of NGO workers that will be here for a few years and come from the U.S., the U.K., other parts of Africa, or India. The instructors here (with the exception of the head teacher) are Ugandan. A proposed secondary school will open in September 2014.

Every Monday morning we have “assembly”. I remember assembly from my grammar school as a reason to get out of class but not terribly exciting. Here it’s a lot of fun mixed in with the announcements. Moses, the school’s art and music teacher, starts off with some singing that everyone participates in, including the school’s song. Then one of the grades presents something from their class. We’ve heard poetry, a play (a story about the owls waiting for their Mommy’s return from Grade 1- as cute as you can imagine!), information about the school’s on-line newsletter and the after school clubs.

During one assembly Mark, the head teacher, had to caution the children for being a bit mean to the school’s resident bunny and chickens in the play yard. I’m sure the bunny and chickens are still being chased when no one is looking!

One of my many duties is to assist the teacher to make sure that the children remain focused during a lesson and that they understand how to accomplish the work afterwards. We have a few chatter boxes that can disrupt the class, and before their breaks, the children are literally bouncing off the walls!

The other day it was raining during their play time break, so instead of yard time we had the children play in the classroom. The sound was deafening, and I had to try to keep them from running and jumping on the chairs and tables. I am very appreciative of the play ground time outside so they can get that energy out when it’s sunny!

The teachers I work with are amazing; patient, commanding a room of 20 plus kids, and keeping their sense of humor. The amount of material they must teach, grade, and assess even in these lower grades is astounding. There is also a disparity in age, maturity, and level of reading and comprehension in each grade. For example, in grade 1 there are children that range in age from 4 to 6 and a half. This means that there are a few children that do not yet comprehend some of the basics (math and reading), a few that are performing at grade 2 level or above, and those in between.

I recently assisted with reading and math assessments in both grades, an arduous but necessary process. This will help the teachers to identify the students that require more assistance to catch up and those students that can learn higher level skills.

Many times I assist with administrative work, ranging from assembling notebooks for each child and subject, organizing future assignments, and grading students work. I am a master cut and paste expert! Not rocket science, to be sure, but not stressful like medical capital equipment sales! Yet without my volunteering, the teachers would be doing this type of work at night or on the weekends, and more importantly, the children might struggle more.

The teachers are very thankful for my extra hand, whether helping the children with their reading and math, or grading assignments, or simply maintaining classroom order. I do have a sense of accomplishment every day that I helped these kids along their learning path and did something to make these amazing educator’s job a bit easier.

Most importantly, I get hugs from the children every day, and they regularly ask me, “Teacher, can you help me with…”

(As you can see, Dayna was the author of this week’s post. I am so proud of her contributions to this school and these kids. Way to go Dayna!!)