Sunday, August 19, 2012

In Closing....

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?” The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they will die.” “Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and thousands and thousands of starfish? You are wasting your time. You cannot possibly make a difference!” After listening politely to the man, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said… “I made a difference to that one.”

Thank you to everyone who has helped to make our work with the SHCJ School possible. Thank you to the staff of SHCJ for welcoming us so warmly and for working so hard to implement our teachings. We know that you will be tremendously successful and we look forward to a seeing the transformation continue as we work together in the coming years. Thank you to our wonderful Parents' Association for wholeheartedly supporting this project and for raising the funds for our travel to the Dominican Republic. Thank you to all of the MSM parents and staff for your generous donations to SHCJ. Every penny donated goes directly to the children of the Batey Lecheria and it was a privilege for all of us to witness that happening first hand. Thank you to all friends of MSM who donated your goods and services, or your time and talents to helping us put this project together. Thank you to Lilian for bringing Sister Mary Alice and her wonderful team to our attention in the first place, and finally, thank you to everyone who has taken the time to follow this blog. 

Though you may never personally walk the streets of the Batey Lecheria, be rest assured that every last one of you is making a difference.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Getting Ready to Get Going!

This morning we arrived for our last day in the Batey Lecheria and found the staff of SHCJ already hard at work.

With all of our philosophy and materials workshops complete, it was time to help the teachers of SHCJ get ready to get their school year under way. The most complex and time-consuming part of a Montessori teacher’s life is setting up the Montessori Prepared Environment. Hence, we decided the best use of our final day together would be to pair off and actually help the teachers of SHCJ to set up their physical classrooms for the school year. First, we met with the entire faculty to review the past two days and answer any questions. We were very impressed by their feedback and questions. They are very eager and clearly are not only paying attention to what we have been presenting, but also carefully considering how to apply what they are learning.

We provided the teachers with a list of required classroom items and worked our way through each area of the classroom, discussing which materials are appropriate for the beginning of the school year, where they are placed on the shelves, how they are used, and how they could be modified in the future.

The teachers of SHCJ must have thought we were all al little crazy when the first thing each of us did was to get down on our knees in the middle of the classroom! When creating a Montessori Prepared Environment, everything must be done from the point of view of the child and soon they were down on their knees right next to us looking at their classrooms the way the children see them. We also showed the teachers how Montessori materials must be placed on the shelves in order of complexity from the top left, to the bottom right. Several of them commented on how much sense that makes but that they would never have thought of it until it was pointed out. They were fascinated to hear how every activity is so carefully prepared, planned for, and presented. The Staff of SHCJ were very eager to begin practical application, so we divided into small groups and headed to the classrooms.

While we worked with the teachers to set up their individual rooms, Mike and Malcolm continued painting and moving furniture for Sister Mary Alice.

By the end of the day everyone was drenched, exhausted, and very proud of our results! The staff of SHCJ truly demonstrated how much they had learned from us this week and their classrooms turned out beautifully. Gone was the illogical clutter and in its place purposeful, age-appropriate materials created by the teachers with thoughtfulness and foresight. We could not have been more pleased with what we saw!



Thursday, August 16, 2012

Building Classroom Materials

This morning we arrived early to SHCJ and began gathering all of their Montessori materials into the common room. We decided that we would spend the first half of the morning inventorying what they already have and presenting lessons on those materials that the teachers do not yet know how to use, or would like clarification on how to present.

After our morning inventory and presentations we took a short break and then began preparing for phase two: materials building. First each MSM staff member took a turn demonstrating how to create a Montessori material from the things that were already available at SHCJ, including explaining the philosophy behind the material and how to modify it throughout the year to increase difficulty and work towards abstraction (when the concrete material is no longer necessary for the child to carry out the activity).

The heat today was absolutely murderous, and yet while we were demonstrating how to build Montessori works, Mike and Malcolm volunteered to paint the school for Sister Mary Alice.

After lunch we were invited by the staff of SHCJ on a tour of the Batey. It was a pleasure to see many familiar faces as we walked through the village.

After our tour, we assigned the staff of SHCJ to work in groups to build their own Montessori works. They were charged with presenting the material to the group, explaining its direct and indirect aims, as well as explaining how they could modify the material throughout the year to increase its complexity. We were thrilled to see how much the staff of SHCJ had internalized from the work we had done with them so far!

After a very long hard day, we were treated to hand-picked coconut water, complete with a VERY unnerving demonstration of how the young coconuts are picked!

Afterwards we were invited back to the mission house where Mary Alice, her fellow Sisters and volunteers live. We were treated to a pizza party on their roof top. Pizza in the Dominican Republic is very different from New York City. The sauce is very sweet (from all the added sugar!) and almost tastes like ketchup. The pizza toppings are also very different. We were quite surprised to see corn!

We all had a lovely time socializing with Mary Alice and her staff. After a very long and VERY hot day, we all needed a shower and some rest, so we bid everyone farewell and headed back for an early night's sleep. Tomorrow we begin classroom set up!