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.