Saturday, February 25, 2012


Before I actually start talking about Thursday, I want to mention Tuesday, since that comes before Thursday – ask the Kindergarteners, they are currently learning the days of the week.

Tuesday was Valentine’s Day so naturally the day got kicked off in eighth-grade homeroom by eating cupcakes, coca-cola, some kind of cheese-filled arepas, quesitos, and receiving valentines and candy from the eighth-graders. In Kindergarten, we were greeted, well, more like bombarded, by a sea of red-wearing, and sugar-loaded Kindergarteners. All of them were pushing their way to us, saying “MISSES, TOMA!” and shoving a mountain of valentines, candy, and presents at us. I remember receiving a ton of candy from my classmates in elementary school for Valentine’s Day – I used to put it all in a box and stash it in the fort we built where we waited for the bus in the morning. That way we could eat candy right before school and right after school, something that would not be allowed in the house. Anyway, the amount of candy that I received this year is much bigger than any amount I remember getting when I was elementary school! The Sisters enjoyed the extra chocolate!

Valentine's Day treats!

Okay, now for Thursday. It started pretty normal… I fumbled out of bed, ate some cereal, missed my ride with Sister Carmen, and waited for a ride from S. MarĂ­a and S. Vivian. I rushed to the gym just in time for the start of the girl’s basketball tournament where I would be coaching Colegio San Benito’s elementary team! Yes, meet one of your new basketball coaches – ME! Well, Sarah is the main coach, since she actually knows a thing or two about basketball. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a total soccer player. I like sports, but if I had to rank them in order of the ones I have the most experience with or enjoy playing the most, basketball would probably be near the bottom. Regardless, Sarah and I have been coaching the girls’ basketball teams at CSB (I’ll explain more later), and since Sarah was not in school on Thursday, I was the one who would be coaching the girls during the tournament.

I chose the starting line-up, and the game began! Although I don’t have much experience with basketball, I do know that #1, you cannot walk/run with the ball – you are supposed to dribble, #2, the ball is usually being dribbled or passed between teammates, not rolling out of control around the court, #3, the team spreads out in order to cover the court, not everybody clumps together and follows the ball like a swarm of bees, and #4, when you shoot, you typically aim for the box on the backboard, or somewhere in the vicinity of the net, you don’t throw it as high or hard as possible and hope for a basket. Again, I’m no basketball expert, but this game didn’t quite look like the typical basketball games I have viewed in my lifetime. However, it was awesome because we didn’t lose by that much (6-12), everyone played, everyone had fun, and I’m almost positive we can only go up from here! After the game I was in quite a few pictures with the players and their families as Coach Jana. Go basketball! And thank God we have Sarah to help us improve!

So, the girls were out of the tournament after one game, and my day continued as “normal”. I arrived to Kindergarten where the plan was to show a YouTube video of The Very Hungry Caterpillar (we wanted to read the book, but we didn’t have it yet). We had the video set-up in our office upstairs. I arranged the Kindergarteners in two lines, told them to be very quite, and marched them up to our office. Surprise – the Internet was not working! I led them in a few songs while I dinked around on my computer at the same time, but it was just not going to work. I lined up the Kindergarteners again, and we marched back down to the classroom. I had to alter the lesson a bit, but we got through it. When it came time to switch to the other Kindergarten classroom, I couldn’t leave, because nobody else was in the room to stay with the students! Finally, I saw Sister Esther in the hall and I waved her down. She graciously stayed with the students while I went up to the other Kindergarten classroom. I was completely alone during this class too – Mrs. Valezquez must have been watching the tournament. I started the lesson, and all of a sudden I noticed a big wet puddle spreading towards me. I followed the wetness to its source and realized what I thought was someone’s leaking water bottle, was actually someone’s leaking bladder. AHHH! What was I supposed to do with the biggest urine-puddle I had ever seen and 23 Kindergartners? I ended up sending the student with a friend to the nurse, Sister Esther, hoping she was back from the other Kindergarten classroom by that point, and I kept blabbering about the letter sounds while throwing paper towels over the mess on the floor.

Probably about the same time I was dealing with the chaos of Kindergarten, there was a bit of crime happening in Humacao that had upset a few parents of students at the school. I spent the rest of the afternoon locating students whose parents were there early to pick them up – what a day!

This was a crazy day in many regards, but at the same time, I’d say it’s a pretty average school day at Colegio San Benito. It’s not uncommon to answer an interrupting knock at the door and be greeted by a fully dressed and painted clown ready to start a birthday party in Kindergarten that you were totally unaware would be happening, or to burst out laughing/crying in front of the class because one of your students belts out, “EL CIIIIEEELLOOOOOOO” in a deep and vibrato-y voice, while you’re trying to read a story about counting turtles. I’m realizing these unexpected and silly interruptions are not going to stop, so bring it on CSB! Give me some more incidents to journal about!

The clown that showed up at the door

There have been a few moments when it has become clear to me why I am here in Puerto Rico, even though there are countless other places I could be, or other jobs I could be doing. Many of the moments happened throughout the process of setting up the recycling program, and others happened through the basketball team. Sarah and I were asked to coach the girls basketball team, so we decided to go for it – why not? When we asked our team what they did last year, they said they didn’t play because they didn’t have a coach! WHAT? How can that be that the girls just didn’t have the opportunity to play last year? It is so outrageous to me that they weren’t able to play because nobody wanted to coach them – I don’t know the first thing about basketball (well I’m learning, thanks to Sarah), but I do know that I can be a good role model for these girls, learn to play, and that I don’t mind spending a little extra time after school to have some fun with these girls and try my best (with Sarah) to put together a good team. The next moment happened when a young girl from the team informed us that she was going to miss practice – she asked what she should do to make it up and Sarah told her to practice passing with someone. The girl said she didn’t have anyone because she does not have siblings, her dad is in Iraq, her mom had died, and her Grandmother works too much. Yes, they definitely need us. I may not be a basketball star, but I can make a pretty good target, I’ll try to catch passes, and I’ll learn to return passes, dribble, and shoot.

Recycling program update: We are officially called WeCycle now, and we have a cute little logo to go with it! Starting last semester, we spent a lot of time researching the importance of recycling, especially in relation to the health of ourselves, and our earth, but the most exciting part of the project happened about a month ago when we got our hands dirty with some actual recycling research at Colegio San Benito. We spent a week collecting data (in our office) on how much recyclable material the school is throwing in the trash during an average week. For an entire week we collected the trash, brought it to our office, sorted it, and counted it. However, 45 minutes at the end of each school day to dig through 3 large trashcans, 11 classroom trashcans, a few miscellaneous trashcans from the teacher lounge and office, and 1 large dumpster, separate and count the recyclables, and dispose of the trash again, is not a lot of time. The week was hectic, smelly (our office still has flies in it – that’s a problem), but extremely important and eye opening – I think everyone was amazed to see the enormous portion of recyclable material that ends up in the trash during an average week at CSB. Dirty, necessary, and kind of fun :) 


Inside of a trash

Pile of cardboard
Tons of plastic bottles, aluminum cans, paper, and cardboard
Keeping track of recyclable material pulled from the trash
The WeCycle Team!
Enjoying some pizza after a week of digging through trash
Sarah and I made worms in dirt dessert to share on Friday! It was an appropriate dessert choice after a week of digging in garbage

The eighth graders think I am as crazy as ever… I think they appreciate it though, kind of like the students from the Magic School Bus appreciate Ms. Frizzle for making them go on strange adventures in order to understand how things work. I haven’t led them through anymore fire-ant hills or rain puddles, but I did make them dig through trash, actually watch the Magic School Bus (the episode where they get eaten and digested by a human), turn a game of baseball into a review (they had to answer questions correctly in order to “run the bases” and not get a “strike”), take walks around the school property (we have to stand in the burning sun unless they answer questions correctly which allows us to keep walking in the shade), and make them act out various conflicts and resolution tactics, work as a community, and make collages of various topics, such as what makes a good friend. I am a big advocate of active learning.

Something fun that Sarah and I did was go kayaking in Humacao – we basically got dumped in the river in a kayak and we were given a map that got soaked within the first 100 feet of our journey. Maps are fun to use sometimes, but I also like just “going with the flow” (pun intended). Along the way, we saw a lot of iguanas, heard a very loud and strange noise, almost got stuck in a massive amount of mud, watched a bird catch and eat its fish dinner, and relaxed out in the middle of a lagoon, away from the loudness and busyness of Humacao Centro. Being able to spend time with a really great friend, Sarah, in a kayak, away from school and the monastery, was really peaceful. It made me cherish our friendship for more than just supporting each other at school and during our crazy life at the monastery. It reminded me of something I would be doing with my friends at home in Minnesota, and for the first time in a while I felt completely at peace.

By the way, I wrote this while hanging in my Christmas gift from Yvonne and Cezar – a hammock I hung on the porch of the monastery! Maybe I’ve found my new blogging spot, so I can stop apologizing for keeping everyone hanging (yes, I know, I’m punny today!).

Hammock on the porch

Until then,