Where I’ve Been (October)
October was packed in a wonderful way. I started the month by speaking to the lower school at Friends Seminary in Manhattan. My subject was “being a bridge,” and I spoke for about forty minutes on bridging cultures and on education as a bridge. I showed the kids some of the work that I did in a classroom in Samburu, Kenya, where the students are eager but the materials are few. We also talked about engineering and how two pieces leaning against one another are stronger than one piece stretching over a big gap—so, who do you lean on?
The next day, I headed for New Jersey to be part of a group building a strategic plan for outreach in New York Yearly Meeting. The weekend planning session was the end of two years of background work on the part of many Friends, and it was really exciting to see everything come together. The group developed a strategy by which we could do research, build resources, work directly with meetings to connect them to the resources, and tell inspiring stories all at the same time.
A quick trip to Texas meant spending some time with my aunt and uncle (and another aunt, and another aunt, and a handful of assorted cousins), and my dad met me there too, which was a bonus. Then up to Indiana for a Friends United Meeting board meeting. We heard some really extraordinary stories about work happening around the world.
FUM’s advancement committee (of which I am a member) also got plans in place for me to do some storytelling/fundraising work for FUM in the month of February—woohoo! I look forward to traveling through Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa in that month and would love to stop at your church or meeting if yours is somewhere in that area.
I also connected with the FUM Press about a new common core-aligned workbook (sixth grade) to accompany the middle school book Luke’s Summer Secret. Coming soon!
Then I hopped a plane to Chicago, then Amman, then Tel Aviv, all followed by a taxi to Ramallah. The trip wasn’t flawless but wasn’t as tricky as it might have been. I spent my first couple of weeks in Palestine going from disorientation (I’m sorry, I’m supposed to do what to cross the street?) to basic competence (pretty sure I can find the grocery store…) to comfort (one o’clock pita time!)
Ramallah Friends School is an extraordinary place. The community is welcoming, and the teachers are passionate and highly competent. There are fourteen grades, from lower kindergarten through twelfth, and the lower, middle, and high schools are all International Baccalaureate curriculum. In kindergarten and lower school, the language of instruction is Arabic, with English as an additional course, but in the upper school, the language of instruction is primarily English, and kids graduate fully bilingual. The school is also inclusive of children with special needs.
I’m still keeping a number of plates spinning at home—three cheers for the Internet—and I’ve signed on to do some consulting work (mostly writing-related) for New England Yearly Meeting over the next year.
Where I’m Going (November)
In November, I’ll have a full month to spend at Ramallah Friends School. I have a pretty regular routine going—get up, do some work on at-home projects online, eat breakfast, spend a day teaching, buy pita, come home, eat lunch, do some more work on at-home projects, go to the corner and buy a fancy juice or some ice cream, read, sleep, rinse, repeat. It’s a surprisingly spacious schedule.
Mondays I’m at the upper school. I work with two tenth grade students early in the morning, both in special education, but very different from one another. One is vision impaired but has excellent conversational English, and the other has very little English. After that, I visit two middle school English classes and assist a few kids who are having a hard time, and then I work one-on-one with a twelfth grader, also in special education.
Tuesdays are lower school days, and there I have four children, each one-on-one, over the course of the morning and afternoon. These are two second-graders, one fourth-grader, and one-fifth grader, and they’re dealing with various combinations of ADHD, dyslexia, and developmental delays. One is still working on letter recognition; the most advanced of them is working on writing complete sentences.
Wednesdays, it’s off to kindergarten! I spend most of the day in English classes, where my focus is support for kids who are having a particularly hard time, mostly behaviorally. Kindergarteners are young enough that no matter what the neurological or psychological condition might be, it tends to manifest as behavior problems, so it takes careful observation to figure out which ones are having sensory integration problems and which aren’t processing language well and which might be on the autism spectrum…once you’ve figured out the cause of the trouble, you can often intervene in a helpful way. The school does have experts in this field—and they are more experienced than I am—but an extra pair of eyes comes in handy, or at least I hope so.
Thursdays are back to the upper school, where I have one-on-ones or one-on-twos all day. My youngest on Thursday is sixth grade, and my oldest is tenth grade. Again, it’s a wide range of exceptionalities, everything from “still learning English phonics” to “needs help organizing essays.”
Friday, NO SCHOOL! Or as we say in kindergarten—and you have to imagine this in a sing-song voice like nanny-nanny-poo-poo—“Friday is a day off, Friday is a day off, no school on Fridays!” Friday, of course, is the Muslim holy day, and Sunday is the Christian holy day, and some of the students are Muslim and some Christians, so . . .
Saturday is a school day, which sort of means that I feel like a hobbit here, with “first weekend” and “second weekend.” It’s another day of kindergarten, very similar to Wednesdays, except I also pull some kids out of class for a few minutes at a time to work on fine or gross motor control. Up the stairs…down the stairs…hop on one foot…catch the ball…up the stairs…down the stairs…seriously, though, did I mention these kids are really cute?