December 1, 2009

Help us create a libary at A.V. Bukani!


YES!! This August we will be creating a fully-equipped library for the eager students at A.V.Bukani Primary in Nomasamsanqa Township in South Africa.

Here are the details:

We are teaming with an international shipping company to send a 40-foot shipping container that will leave the U.S. in late June, filled with 18,000 – 20,000 books. The container will arrive on the grounds of A.V. Bukani School a few weeks later, where it will become the school’s library! Want to help? Here is what is needed to make this project a reality:

  • Book drives for new and gently-used books
  • Monetary donations to offset at-cost shipping expenses and purchase new books needed to support the curriculum
  • Volunteer time to help sort the books and prepare them for the library
  • Donations of book cases, flooring or carpeting
  • As shipping space permits, as much donated classroom supplies as we can ship

Your donation will play a pivotal role in the education and future employment potential of THOUSANDS of students over the coming years. You or your organization will receive a charitable tax donation receipt from South Africa Partners, a 501 (c) 3 US-based charity.

BOOK DRIVES: First book drive at Cinema Arts Theatre, Fairfax, Virginia was a great success!! More than 1000 quality children's books were donated in conjuction with the showing of the movie INVICTUS about Nelson Mandela.

Telegraph Self Storage in Lorton, Virginia, not only donated storage space for the collected books, but is hosting their own book drive! Drop off a book at 8935 Telegraph Road in Lorton.

Contact Eileen and Larry to find out more

August 24, 2009

Far More Than the Sum of Its Parts

What’s bright with color, created with love, and filled with the hopes and dreams of an entire community? The A.V. Bukani school quilt!

Words cannot describe the significance that this quilt took on for the community. The Herald newspaper in Port Elizabeth (S.A.’s 5th largest city, which is an hour away) wrote about the project, including photos and audio on their website. Mothers and grandmothers poured their hearts onto their squares, appreciating the opportunity to send a message to the school and to their children about their hopes for the future. The quilt-making model developed by Teaching for Change in Washington was the perfect way to engage families and give them the tools to be supportive advocates for their chidren

Each family member described their special square at the final meeting. What might have appeared like simple shapes or cut-outs took on deep meaning as they explained their creations. There was the stately grandmother who said she no longer had children at the school, but her home is always filled with the children who live nearby, as she encourages and helps them. Her square included the cut out of a cow: “Just as a cow gives milk to nourish all, I ‘give milk’ to nourish all the children nearby,” she explained. There was the mother who wanted her daughter to be a social worker. Her square included the word, “Friendly,” surrounded by a hand “because she needs to help others,” and a heart, “because she must have a big heart.” This incredible mother, whose own education had been stopped and restarted multiple times because of the apartheid struggle and the lack of money for advanced courses, sewed a zig-zag path in small green beads leading up a mountain, “because the path to the mountain top is never straight and easy. She must work hard to stay on her path so she can reach her goal.” Then there was the young mother who had sewn a large sun at the center of her square, with the moon and the stars nearby. “My son is like the strong sun. He will always shine. Even when the stars and moon are out, my son will still be shining.”

An increasing number of teachers became involved with the quilt project. Listening to the parents and grandparents was truly enlightening on many levels. The principal came to speak to the last meeting. In a lively dialogue, he talked with the parents about how to continue the work started by this quilt, to partner to strengthen the education of all the children of the township. The parents agreed they would stay involved, working with the teachers, and keeping a watch over all children, not just their own. The principal promised to continue to involve families in their children’s education. Family story time at the school, in collaboration with the municipal library, is one project now in the planning stages. The quilt will hang in the entrance to the school as a reminder to all of the power of dreams.

Creating the quilt – we believe the first such school quilt in South Africa – was an extraordinary activity. There were many times during the three weeks when Eileen wasn’t sure how to get to the next step, because it had to be uniquely relevant to these families in this community, and then people and events just moved it forward. There were the three mothers who spent hours cooking full meals for 35 – 50 people at each meeting, serving and washing each dish afterwards. These meals became a highlight of the program. There was the teacher who mentioned she knew how to make a quilt like this and then spent a Saturday morning driving Eileen to the fabric store and picking up all the materials (She happened to be one of the few teachers with a car!). There was the teacher who suggested that Eileen tell the families about adult education classes nearby. Of course, Eileen quickly talked him into making a presentation to the families himself, and then the following session, his wife told the families about the library where she worked. There were the three faculty members who lived in the township and came to every meeting, from beginning to end, helping the parents, translating where necessary, supporting Eileen and just making sure that everything worked as it should. There was the day when Eileen worried she would never get all the squares sewed onto the backing, when several teachers who had never been involved in the process appeared in the staff room and began sewing with her. And then, the mothers who showed up to make sure the project was finished properly, quickly picking up needle and thread. The quilt became an intense source of pride to all the families and teachers and will soon be an inspiration to the children as they pass it each day.

And for Eileen, there was Larry – given the Xhosa name of “Tando” or “love” – by the parents and grandparents at the last meeting. At the end of the busy day of working with so many teachers, he would join Eileen at the family meetings, doing everything from helping the parents to serving the food, to sweeping the floor when it was all over.

Teachers Commit to Making Continued Progress

"We promise, we promise, to continue to work on what you have shown us and to use the materials you brought,” said Qamba, one of the teachers who Larry worked with, speaking for the whole group at our final meeting with the faculty and principal. Qamba said that her students had asked her if she would be reading them a story every day, and other teachers agreed that their students looked forward to this each day.

Everyone agreed that the use of the big books and the Making Meaning materials were highly useful and that the teachers had made great strides in using them effectively in the classrooms. The teachers all agreed that their students loved the big books and the stories in the Making Meaning kits. Although Larry worked directly only with teachers who teach English in grades 2, 3 and 4, nearly every teacher in the school (even those in grades K and 1) had either observed Larry do lessons in the classrooms or attended Larry's big book/shared reading training session after school.

All agreed on the following initiatives for the summer of 2010:
  • that we would continue to provide instruction about how to use the big books to teach specific skills.

  • that we would work to purchase more big books, including some in Xhosa for the grade K and 1 teachers. Before we left several orders were placed with publishers that supply South Africa. The teachers agreed to contact publishers within South Africa and Larry would continue the search in the United States.

  • that we would try to find additional quality educational computer programs for the computer lab.

Next year we will be working on a dream that we have had for A.V. Bukani since we began this project – a library for the school. Principal Thambo spoke eloquently about this, noting this is essential if we are to build on the instruction and create a school of readers. There is a small space for a library now, but we always dream big. We hope to secure a shipping container (two containers would provide space for the students to sit and read!) or a mobile classroom to create the library these students need and deserve. We’ll be collecting books this year, and hope to solve our biggest issue – how to ship them. But as they say in the show “South Pacific,” If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna make a dream come true!

We’ve landed back in the U.S., a little jet-lagged and a lot inspired. For those who have contributed moral and financial support, we hope you can see the impact you have made on this school. We could not have imagined the progress that has been made since we first stopped there. More thoughts on this years trip later…

Eileen and Larry (a/k/a Nosango and Tando, and yes, that's really what they started calling us!)

August 16, 2009

What's in a name?

In the Xhosa culture, names are very important. For example, the names of the older grandchildren in our host family are Yanga, “one who doesn’t give up”, and Simantanda, “he is loved.” That’s why it was so meaningful when the mothers and grandmothers at Eileen’s meetings gave her a Xhosa name this week.

The family meetings have been very successful, with about 75 mothers and grandmothers attending at least one of the meetings. Many have been to 3 and 4 meetings, taking time out of their busy lives for sessions that typically run for 2 to 2½ hrs, twice a week. They are thoroughly engaged in creating the school quilt, with many taking their squares home to spend additional hours on their handiwork. At each meeting there are discussions on how to help their children become successful and reach their dreams. Guest speakers have given information on adult education classes the family members can take or the resources available at the nearby library. None had ever been to a library and few knew this one existed.

It was the end of the fourth meeting when one of the grandmothers, a leader in the class, said that they must give Eileen a Xhosa name. “Your name is Nosango,” she said and all the family members nodded and clapped. “Nosango means ‘gate.’ You have opened the gates of freedom to us. You have opened the gates of learning.” Truly a moment.

The local librarian speaks to the families as they create their quilt squares.
The teachers are increasingly interested in the family project.

Professional development

The teachers continue to amaze us, soaking up new knowledge and constantly eager for more. After demonstrating how to use Big Books in a lesson during the first week, Larry worked with the teachers on co-teaching this week. Their planning session the Friday before was serious and thoughtful. And their lessons this week were impressive. Some have made enormous strides in their teaching from last year. All are committed to serving their students better. Larry continues to provide feedback and mentoring.

The teachers have also presented engaging lessons using the quality read-alouds donated by the Developmental Studies Center. Larry modeled the use of the excellent teacher's manuals that come with these materials and the teachers have found them easy to follow. They include just enough directions and suggestions to provide the support needed when Larry is no longer here. This week the teachers included the creative use of props to add meaning to their dramatic and expressive readings of "If You Give A Mouse a Cookie" and "When I Was Little." The students loved seeing their teachers act out these stories!
Larry also contacted a publisher in Cape Town, Literacy for All, who shipped samples of readers and big books in English and Xhosa that the staff will review this coming week. And Mr. Thambo arranged for another publisher to visit the school this past week with even more big books and readers in both languages. The staff is excited about these materials and will use the funds from all our generous donors to purchase additional materials.

It All Starts Coming Together
We’ve added a new element to our work in the school this year, renting a guitar so Larry could sing with the students. The kids and teachers love “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain,” and even corrected Larry when he mixed up the order of the verses. “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” resonates with both students and teachers as well. Singing reinforces their English and helps them see that it can also be a language of fun, not just serious study.

There has also been some new computer training. The computers are loaded with Encarta encyclopedia, but the teachers had received no training on it. Eileen offered training after school at 1:30. Last year, training like that would end up starting at 1:45 as the teachers wandered in. This year, she arrived in the computer lab at 1:32 and the entire room was packed with teachers who had already opened Encarta on their computers. Eileen started by telling them to put in “South Africa” in the search box. Their eyes were open in amazement as they clicked to video of Mandela speaking at his inauguration or maps of the area near their school. Many were quickly trying new searches. As the teachers understood a “hot link” for the first time, Eileen could appreciate what “seeing the light” in a learner’s eyes is all about. They left begrudgingly when their transport was there to take them home and many can be found on the computers during lunch or after school.

The following day, Eileen happened to be in the computer lab when one of the newly trained teachers was showing her 4th grade class Encarta, opening the South Africa section. The students could barely contain themselves as they watched Mandela speak or listened to the national anthem when they clicked on the nation’s flag. They ignored the bell that rang for lunch and finally had to be encouraged to leave.

That afternoon, one of the grandmothers walked into the family meetings and handed Eileen a piece of paper with a “story” for her. The grandmother had written down what her granddaughter had told her about school that day. “We went to the computers. We were seeing a picture of Nelson Mandela in jail… We heard many things, like Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika (the national anthem). Mama Nosango is teaching us how to click the computers.” There it was. Eileen had been working with the teachers to broaden the horizons of the students and encouraging the family members to talk to their children. In this note, it had come full circle.

August 9, 2009

The School Has Made So Much Progress!

We returned to A.V. Bukani Monday morning, just in time to see the students singing some of our favorite songs. The teachers each gave us warm hugs. But beyond the deep friendships formed last year, we wondered what lasting impact our visit had on the school. How would the second visit be different and would there be a motivation for future visits? We soon saw that the school had made progress beyond our expectations. Larry had hoped that the teachers he and Sara worked with last year continued to read aloud to the students and use the Think-Pair-Share technique. He hoped to see the books we left for them and the additional books we purchased from South Africa Partners, with the generous donations of our many donors, being used in the classrooms.

The first day he went into classes to do shared reading using the”big books” we brought. As he was about to ask the children to tell him what part of the book they liked, the teacher said, "OK. pair.... now share,” and the students immediately starting talking to each other! We mean all the students and immediately. It was amazing. This happened in all eight classes that Sara and Larry worked in last year. When Larry asked the students to share, some hands went up and the students talked. Their English at 2nd and 3rd grades is still really limited, but these are very beginning English learners and just a word in English sometimes is all they are capable of, given the very limited exposure they get to English during the day. Some of the grade 4 learners speak in phrases and sometimes full simple sentences. It's definitely something we can continue to build on.Some of the teachers in K (their R) and first grade have been coming to the classes to observe Larry teaching, even though they don’t teach in English. After taking part in some professional development Larry presented on the many uses of “big books,” the head teacher in 1st grade said she wanted to order some big books in Xhosa that she saw in a catalogue from one of the publishers. Mr. Thambo, the principal, has the Heinemann rep coming on Tuesday with samples of big books. Hopefully they have some good titles and we can use some of the $1,000 we have remaining from the donations to buy many more English and Xhosa titles.

In addition to the big books, Larry has been using the materials generously donated by Developmental Studies Center. The children loved “Quick as a Cricket” and had great fun comparing themselves to animals in the book.

Larry planned with all the teachers on Friday of this first week so that he can co-teach with the teachers next week (this week he did all the teaching). The teachers took it very seriously and asked some really good questions while they planned. The last week the teachers will take over and Larry will observe and provide feedback. We hope these three weeks give them enough demonstration, information, and confidence to continue after we leave.

Computer lab

Words cannot describe what it felt like to see the students in the computer lab, completely comfortable with the keyboard and mouse after only three months! We thought this day would not come for a few more years, but through amazing Mr. Thambo, the school had a donation of new computers and every class gets to work in the lab.

We didn’t get to meet the computer teacher who is out on maternity leave; however, Eileen met with the IT Committee from the faculty and heard their ideas for improving instruction on the computers. Right now the students are using donated educational software that is several years old. Some of the games are great and some are terrible (don’t even ask about the “puzzles”!) But the teachers are committed to aligning the students’ work in the computer lab to the curriculum in the classroom. Having the computer teacher there full-time, thanks to the donation from Burness Communications, will make a great difference. It is hard without the dedicated computer teacher now, because many of the teachers are not computer literate. Similar to what we saw in the early days of computers in U.S. schools, some teachers feel there is enough on their plates already and they just leave computer teaching to that teacher. But the teachers are starting to realize they must improve their own skills because very soon the students will surpass them.

Parent Engagement

The parent engagement project has been an extraordinary experience. Although we know how the school works this year, it has been a new challenge to try to work with a community that has its own culture, its own language and its own way of doing things. Eileen has worked to connect with key parents, which again is another challenge.

On Monday, Eileen met with a parent leader who spoke at the farewell party last year. Pindewe is an amazing women – smart, knowledgeable about the community, and committed to serving the community. She has excellent English skills. We set the first parent meeting for 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday. The school sent home a note and Pindewe contacted the parents. The school expected about 20 parents, and assuming they would be late, the note home said the meeting started at 4:30. At 4:45 there were 50 mothers and grandmothers in the room!

Addressing 50 caregivers who speak only limited English was quite a daunting experience. Through a translator, Eileen explained that we would be creating a quilt together. Each mother or grandmother would get to create a square describing their hopes and dreams for their child. Eileen asked them to share their dreams and about half of the family members stood up and talked about their dreams of their child becoming a doctor, or a social worker (because so many were helped by social workers), or bank manager, etc. One of the mothers noted that it is not enough to have your own dreams, but they must also be the dreams of the child, which led to a great discussion about talking with their children.

The second meeting was set for Thursday. Despite another important meeting in the community, 25 family members came (and on time!). Eileen and the parents discussed the importance of talking with tyour children when they come home from school and asking questions about what they are learning. Eileen shared with them what Principal Thambo had told her about his own family. Although his own parents could not read or write, his older sister would read to the younger siblings as soon as she learned to read. When Mr. Thambo was studying at the secondary level, he mentored all his younger siblings and cousins. “Make your home a center of learning,” Eileen urged. Each parent was given a piece of paper and a new pencil (“homework!” one of the parents proudly said), with instructions to talk with their children about their dreams, so they could design their square together.

The family members were very engaged with the discussion. One of the grandmothers gave a long speech in Xhosa and Eileen waited eagerly to hear what she said. “On behalf of all the mothers and grandmothers here,” she said, “I want to tell you how much we appreciate being here. We do have hopes and dreams for our children, but no one has ever asked us, and we do not know how to help them. You are telling us how we can help our children. Thank you.” What a moment!

Then Pindewe and some other mothers came in with the refreshments. Pindewe had said that the food should not be catered from the outside, but prepared by mothers in the community who could earn some funds that way. They cooked an amazing dinner of chicken and dumplings, serving a full plate to each caregiver (probably more than they had eaten all week). Eileen told the parents that they are always serving everyone else and this would be a day that they were served a full dinner themselves. The mothers and grandmothers broke into song and dance. The translator explained this was a song that expressed how happy and excited they were to be there. The meeting, planned for an hour, went on for 2-1/2. Next week, we work on the quilt itself, with the help of one of the teachers who is a good seamstress.

Our homestay

We are thrilled to be back with the Mofu family. In addition to their grandson Yanga, who is turning 8 this week, we are joined by two other grandchildren. Their daughter Pam (Yanga’s mother) has moved back and is working nearby. Her older sister Yolanda is also back in the township, with her 2 adorable boys, ages 5 and 2. They are staying in a nearby home while we are there, but we get to see the boys every day and they never fail to entertain us. They are bright, full of life, and totally charming.

WHAT A WEEK. We are totally exhausted, yet exhilarated with the possibilities. Can there only be 2 weeks more???

Larry and Eileen

August 1, 2009

It feels like we never left

We arrived safety in South Africa, and equally important, our luggage did too! After a night in Johannesburg, we flew into Port Elizabeth this morning and it feels like we never left. Met at the airport by Nelson, one of our favorite staff members at Calabash Tours. Nelson grew up in a nearby township and chooses to live there now because he would miss the special culture if he lived in the city. I'm looking forward to talking with him about the parent involvement project to gain his insights.

We're staying for the weekend at 5th Avenue Beach house, a few blocks from the beatiful beach. This is where many of the volunteers placed by Calabash Tours stay. Those who work in schools in Port Elizabeth stay here for 3-4 weeks. For us, it is our weekend retreat. We enjoy spending time with Anthea, the owner, who not only helps the volunteers who stay here, she is also supporting another school in Port Elizabeth. Nelson is picking us early Monday morning to take us out to the school before the first bell rings. "It will be quite a reunion," he notes.

July 30, 2009

Returning to South Africa!

Larry and Eileen are returning to South Africa for the first 3 weeks of August. Although Sara cannot return this year because of work commitments, she's been instrumental in planning. So much has happened since we were there:

* A new computer lab was donated by a local business. Students as well as teachers are getting computer training, thanks to donations which are supporting a teacher. A big thank you to Burness Communications for helping the part-time teacher become full time.

* We're returning with two large duffel bags full of materials to help with English instruction! Educational publisher Developmental Studies Center in California donated multiple kits for literacy instruction -- complete with books for the students and teachers' manuals with lesson plans for an entire year! Other donations enabled us to purchase "big books" for "read aloud" instruction and accompanying smaller books for the students. Larry will be using the materials to demonstrate new strategies for the teachers.

* The students should now be enjoying the set of picture books we sent. With wonderful donations from friends and colleagues we were able to order a complete set of books for South African students by South African authors through South Africa partners.

* Eileen will be bringing a new parent engagement strategy to the school, based on "Tellin' Stories" developed by Teaching for Change. The families will create a quilt together, with each family showing their hopes and dreams for their children on their own square. During the quilt making sessions, families and teachers will gain new insights from each other, enabling them to partner in student success.

We're off!!! We'll update each weekend.