Saturday, November 26, 2011

Friday, Nov 25

Again no time for relaxed breakfast.  We had peanut butter and jelly fajitas  (the peanut butter was excellent, by the way, and that’s something that matters to me), then headed down to the middle school to bring stuff to Magda, the English teacher.  She had asked us for supplies to help her in her quest to engage and motivate her middle school students to work hard in learning English. We found a lot of flash cards with pictures and the words in both English and Spanish. The cards had vocations, antonyms, animals, numbers, etc. We talked with her about games the kids could play with the cards that would be fun and enrich their vocabulary.
We also visited with the headmaster of the school, a man I had met last year and at that time discussed the possibility of pairing a USA school with their school. We talked again about that and hopefully we can make it happen this year.
After that, we had to make a plan to deliver our last single library. We needed to find a one-room school so that one library  would fit well. We decided to drive off in a new direction to an area we had not previously visited. We got to the town, found the school, but discovered that it was closed!  I wasn’t panicked, because sometimes the school will close if the teacher is sick, since there is no such thing as a substitute teacher in those areas. The next school we found was open. The teacher was outside the school in a large garden, hoeing a row of vegetables. That seemed odd, but I told him that we had books and he invited us in. The students gathered in one room and I looked at them, a dozen of so, and realized that there were no little ones. It turns out that this was a middle school, and that the primary school we had just left was closed, as were all of the primary schools in the area – the teachers were off to a teacher conference. What to do??
After a short discussion, we decided to leave the library with the middle school teacher to give to the primary school on Monday. In the meantime, of course, I was sitting in front of a dozen students who were clearly salivating over the possibility of BOOKS. We opened the bin and invited them to have a look.  It was so sweet. They dove in with all the gusto of the little ones, but they took it really seriously. They each picked a book quickly, then went immediately back to their desks and started reading. The room was silent, but for the sound of pages turning. I looked at those kids and realized we weren’t looking at kids who were happy to have books in their hands, we were looking at kids who were starved for books in their hands. Knowing that the books would leave in a few days, they didn’t want to waste a moment. It made my heart hurt. I promised them a middle school library on my next visit.
A cool thing about this school was that garden we saw at the beginning. The older teacher was a master gardener, and had taken it on himself to add horticulture to the curriculum. The garden was the responsibility of the students, along with all the learning necessary to be successful – using math to calculate area and planting dates, science to evaluate best methods, pests, pesticides, etc., economics to decide about marketing and price, along with all the little pieces of wisdom that are necessary to be a successful grower.  The kids ran to the garden to give us lemons, red grapefruit and a huge, knobby, green, sticky plant they called gava. We accepted a large bag of fruit and headed back.
It’s sad to leave. The people here are polite and generous, cheerful and musical, friendly and reasonable. We will miss them when we fly out on Saturday. 

Thursday, Nov 24

What a Thanksgiving! We awoke at 6 AM, knowing we had to be on the road early. That meant no coffee! We got to Boca de Tolmatlan before 8:00 and carried two libraries down to the dock. The plan was to hop on a water taxi to get to two villages that were not accessible by car, Quimixto and Yelapa. The boat was almost ready to leave when we arrived, except the pilot was waiting for…. the teacher! She would be on the same boat. What luck. When she arrived and boarded, I introduced myself. She said, ‘I know who you are. I was the teacher at the school in Corrales last year when you came.” 
Berenice was her name, and she had been transferred this year to Quimixto, because it was closer to her home in Puerto Vallarta. We talked on the boat trip about the schools and the village, and then I asked how big her school was. I expected it to be a small school with a couple of dozen students. Surprise, she had 51 students and 3 teachers. Cool.  Except that meant that one library wasn’t enough, which was OK because we had two with us.
When we arrived at Quimixto, a beautiful fishing village, Berenice found a local fellow to bring a wheelbarrow and tote the books.  The kids were just arriving when we came, so we all sat in the courtyard in front of the school and talked about the books. Meanwhile, Berenice, Juan and Juanila, the three teachers huddled to talk about plans for using the books. By the time I was done talking to the kids, they had already figured out how much reading to expect, how to assess the children’s comprehension and how to hold them accountable for their reading. During this entire visit, I’ve been impressed with the excitement of the teachers during my visits. It reminds me again that teachers love when their kids get it, and what usually stands in their way is lack of materials.
We had to leave in order to make it to the next town. Of course, we had used both of our libraries in Quimixto, so we had to take the boat back to the car, pick up two more libraries (the next school had about 75 kids) and catch another water taxi to Yelapa. The school at Yelapa was almost a kilometer from the beach where we unloaded, but on this trip, we met the owner of a local restaurant who was bringing beef back from PV to serve in his restaurant. He asked one of his workers, Ramon, to wheel the libraries for us. We went down a charming footpath that we shared with an occasional man on horseback.
The school at Yelapa had five teachers. We caught them during recess, so we used their courtyard, too. The kids were very particular about picking their books. I realized that they were worried that this would be their only chance to pick a book, so I had to keep reminding them that all the books were staying and that they could read them all. The little ones got themselves into a tizzy, trading, reading a page,  trading, talking to their friends, trading again. The fifth grade girls wanted to know about all the Judy Moody books, especially what order they should read them. One of the girls brought me a stack of books and asked which one she should start with. I picked Charlotte’s Web. That will get her hooked!
The oldest girls were less interested in the books than they were in my handsome son. They asked me how to say “casada” in English. I told them, “married.” They went over to Patrick and asked if he would marry all of them!
We took the last boat back to Boca de Tolmatlan to get the car, drove to El Tuito and found out that Ignacio Palomera planned for us to stay at his house Thursday night. He gave us a small wing of his rustic ranch, where we passed a wonderful evening. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tuesday, Nov 22

     Our goal today was to get to at least two schools before the end of the school day. We rose early and had to skip breakfast so that we could get to the first school early. The village of Las Juntas del Sur is off the main highway by 2 kilometers. The single lane road is deeply rutted. Patrick was driving and was sure that we were headed to a dead end. We asked some men how to find the school and they pointed us another 100 meters down the road where there was a concrete bridge without sides. Crossing it, we drove up a small hill to find the school.
     In the school were 12 children, spanning each grade from first to sixth.  The teacher, Lupita, was immediately suspicious. She treated us like telemarketers! She kept asking if the books were free, whether the government knew about our project, why we were doing this, etc. I finally remembered that I had kept the Recognition Certificate that the district governor gave me two years ago. I showed her that and she relaxed.
     The kids were unsure about what to think, as always. The funniest thing for me is to watch their faces as I speak. My Spanish is adequate for meaning, but is pretty ridiculous to them. I can see them wanting to laugh, but knowing it would be rude, so they cover their mouths and grin at each other with their eyes.  We explained the levels of the books, how to pick “just right” books, how to check them put and how important it was to always bring them back.  I acted out taking a first grade book to my house and reading it. I tried to go over the top with my playacting so they would know it was OK to laugh. We couldn’t spend a lot of time with the kids because we wanted to get to the next school in enough time.
       The school at El Columpio had two rooms and two teachers. In one room were the first and second grades, with grades 3-6 in the other room. The kids were at lunch/recess when we arrived, so we visited with the teacher, Eduardo, for a while. He was the kind of teacher you hope your kids will have – engaged, smart, creative and a great manager of kids. The kids were having a wonderful time and followed all of his instructions respectfully. I’ve been to two room schools that were out of control, so I know that he had done a lot of ground work in rules and procedures.  We gathered all of the kids in one room after lunch and presented the libraries to them, with the same spiel. This time we could relax and enjoy our visit. I sat and read aloud a few books to a group of first graders; Joan and Patrick played Spanish/English games with the kids using picture books;  Mike has some fun math apps on his  phone which he used to teach and engage the math wizards in the room.
     Eduardo had a couple of surprises for me. Surprise number one – he has just started a reading log for the students. They were required to read an hour every night at home with parent signature. He had been working since September to sell the parents on the importance of reading at home and had just begun the log the day before we arrived. He was thrilled that the kids would have something more than schoolbooks to read. The second surprise was that he belonged to a group of teachers in Puerto Vallarta that made music. He gave me a CD of music from the Revolution. I haven’t listened to it yet, but I’m thinking it might make the next lunchroom CD.
     We were exhausted, but had promised to visit with my Uncle Mel and Aunt Barb. We stopped for lunch, our first meal of the day, and then returned to P.V. for a visit with the family. We will be leaving for Cabo early Thursday morning and have an exciting time planned – we will be taking a boat to our next two schools, because they aren’t accessible by road! Tune in for more stories.

Monday, Nov 21

We arrived in the government offices in El Tuito around noon. It was a federal holiday since Revolution Day fell on Sunday, but Ignacio Palomera had been willing to meet with us anyway. Ignacio was the only one in his office, but gave us almost three hours of his time! He is a jack-of-all –trades in government. His title is Director of Culture but his previous, longer experience is in public service, especially in the welfare department. He told stories of gathering information about the needs of underprivileged families by personally going door to door and interviewing them.
We talked about some new successes with the schools, especially improved communication among the teachers and more frequent seminars and classes.  All newly employed teachers are college graduates, with two years of teacher training in college. This is a big improvement from a decade ago.
A middle school English teacher, Magda Ortega, joined us later. She had sixth, seventh and eighth grade classes and was frustrated with classroom management problems. The students had very little background in English and were reluctant to put in the work.  Like any middle school teacher, she was coping with their emotions – embarrassment over looking dumb and the need to look cool. Even more, they don’t see the value in learning English. We talked a lot about games and about selling the kids on the value of learning English. It reminded me of a truism of education – teaching is first and foremost a sales position. Learning is a behavior that students must do willingly. The more they buy in, the more they learn.  The same challenge exists for teachers planet-wide. We promised to come back Friday with games, charts and materials that might help her do her job better.
In the afternoon, we drove the 50 kilometers to the ocean. The drive was entirely on dirt roads, in many areas one lane. The common native vehicle is the pickup truck, usually with a few or a dozen men standing up in the truck bed. We also shared the road with grazing cows and horses. Pasture fences seemed to be largely ignored by the livestock. Men on horseback were engaged in various ranch jobs, some carried ropes for gathering animals, others had tools – post hole diggers, shovels, even chainsaws, strapped to their saddles. Miles of the drive are entirely isolated, with no sign of humans. Patrick noticed, “I think this is the farthest I’ve ever been from civilization.”
At the end of the road, though, are two gems – the town of Tehuamixtle and the Mayto Hotel. Tehua is a fishing village of 50 families or so. Set in a gorgeous bay, their boats are tied to anchors away from the shore. There is a cafĂ© at the edge of the bay managed by a family that we knew well from several previous visits. We celebrated a new baby in the family and got a chance to see 14 year old Daniel. Daniel is the boy reading Beauty and the Beast in the photo that is on the first page of the Libros for Learning website ( .  He still reads every day and wants to become a teacher one day.
Hotel Mayto is a surprise to anyone who stays there – gorgeous manicured lawn and flowers, a beautiful swimming pool and a view of a treacherous bay that will lock your eyes and hold them.  The Milky Way shone in the dark sky before we went to bed.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Dia de la Revolucion in Puerto Vallarta

     We arrived on Saturday afternoon. Getting the books was a little slow. As every year, the Customs agent with whom we communicated was not at the airport - off on Saturday. The one in charge never heard of us and didn't know ehere to find the paperwork. Sigh... Mike Leonard brought along all of tyhe original invoices from Ingram books, each of whic was headed "International Shipment." He thought it might look like official paperwork to them. They took those papers, searched all nine crates and eventually let us through.
     The Hertz didn't have our SUV. They offered a mid-sized car, but there was no way to haul the books and all of us. The solution? They gave us one of the Hertz shuttle vans! What fun. We had it for the first day. We could have hauled 15 people around. Parking it was a struggle, but we found a spot. Got the correct vehicle on Sunday.
     I love Revolution Day in Puerto Vallarta. Villages from 20 miles around empty out to come into gtown for the parade. All the schools come to march, every school in thewir uniforms and most with some sort of marching talent to display - drums, music, acrobatics. One school did socccer demonstrations, the kids in pairs heading the ball back in forth. Lots of schools had cheerleading moves - stacked pyramids and heave ho.
     Enough with the relaxation. We're all excited to get on the road today to start the work. We'll go to the provincial capital of Cabo Corrientes called El Tuito. We will meet the director of education for the district and a high school teacher who is trying to find ways to improve the English language education.
     More tomorrow.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Leaving soon for Mexico

     I used the long weekend to get the libraries ready for Mexico. On Friday, seven of my students came to school to help prepare the books. We put labelled cards into each book and then sorted them into the eight libraries. The libraries are the best we have ever taken down, because over the years, Mike Leonard and I have been able to filter out the books that the kids don't like as much.
     My class and I are going to spend some time this week creating some bookmarks that will tell the Mexican students a little bit about us and be fun to keep. We will talk about differences and similarities between us and kids in Mexico.
     I have created a suggestion sheet for the Mexican teachers. This explains more about strategies for using the library every day. It will tell them how important it is for the kids to take home a book every day and talks to them about the value of "just right" books.
     We will spend this week making last minute plans and packing.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thursday and Friday

     Thursday dawned as a dusty, beautiful day in Cabo Corrientes. We spent the night at a hotel on the beach, where we ate fresh caught shrimp and (for the first time in my life) raw oysters. They had a dollop of chipotle sauce on them and gthey were fabulous. We had watched them come off the boat an hour before dinner. Talk about fresh!
     We visited three schools, but I'll always be touched by the visit to Villa del Mar. Bob had suggested we not go to that school because in his visits there, the school had been disorganized, the students unruly and the teacher blase. I decided that the kids shouldn't be punished for a bad teacher, so we went anyway.
     As it turns out, the previous teacher had left and two young women have taken over the school. There were 37 kids in two rooms. Well, not exactly two room. There was one room for the fourth to sixth grades. The  first, second and third grades were outside under a roof but no walls. A true outdoor classroom! When we arrived, the kids all came into the room inside and I presented the books (no Alicia, so I had to do all the Spanish speaking this time). The kids grabbed their choices, checked them out and started reading.
     As I walked around checking to make sure they signed their cards, one of the older kids gave me his card. I asked him to sign his name. He shook his head and asked me to do it, pointing to the back of his soccer jersey where his name was printed. I didn't know what was up, but I didn't argue and I signed his card "Eduardo" and sent him off to give the card to his teacher.
     As always, I grabbed some of the fist and second graders and started a read aloud with them. Soon I had the usual crowd of 10 - 12 scrunched around me, laughing at the book and laughing at my Spanish. I asked a fifth grader to take over a read a page for me. She couldn't. It was Dr. Seuss' Un Pescado, Dos Pescado (One Fish Two Fish)
     Later, I talked to the teacher and found out that when they inherited the school, almost none of the kids could read. They had simply lost whatever years they had been in the school, because the teacher had totally failed. They were starting from the beginning with all of them, treating the 11 year olds like the six year olds.
     Those kids. They were so sweet, so helpful, so good to each other and to their teachers. They deserved to read, but the system had let them down. They hadn't failed, their school had failed. We talked for a long time about how we could help. A second room would be nice, but not the most important. More important were the books. The teachers had been very smart. Every student was required to read each night at home and write a few sentences about what they read.
     Not only that, but the teachers were staying at school two evening a week to teach the parents! Because of course, they couldn't read either. Those two ladies, Elsa and Olivier were giving everything they had and all their time to educate this community. The good news is that it will work. Kids love to learn, parents love for their kids to learn. If they stick with it, the community will succeed. I promised to return next year with more books. And I will.
     I'll show some pictures of Villa del Mar on the website.