Sunday, April 29, 2012

WeCycle (and so should you...)

Wow, where has 2nd semester gone?!

For months, Sarah, Nicole Paizy (the art teacher), and I, have been planning the Art and Science Gala at Colegio San Benito. The purpose of the Gala is to showcase all of the art and science projects the intermediate students have worked on throughout the year. This year, however, there was an additional goal of raising awareness about the WeCycle program to the CSB students, their families, and the administration (as well as fund raising). One of the most precious moments I have had during my time in Puerto Rico happened during the premier of the WeCycle video that I put together about the process of this project. As soon as the video started, I instantly thought back to one of the first weeks of school when I barely knew the students. I had assigned them to research five interesting facts or reasons about the importance of recycling to share with the class. Nobody knew, including myself, that from that small assignment, a recycling project would be born that would consume a large part of our class, and lives… It was rewarding to show the WeCycle video in front a large audience. It made me proud to see the eighth graders be proud of something they had worked hard on, and something they were excited to show their friends and families.  It was also fun to look around and see the other teachers, students, and administration realize why the two foreign blond girls made their classes dig stuff out of the trash, store all the smelly junk in their office, take over the weekly announcements with recycling facts, yell (friendly-ish-ly) at people who almost threw recyclables in the TRASH, taped “WeCycle” posters all over the school, and were overall obsessed with recycling. The biggest reaction we received from parents about the project was happiness about our enthusiasm. It was good to hear this, because even if my students forget the names of the chambers of the heart, at least they’ve had motivation to initiate a small change. This eighth grade class has, unfortunately, been stamped as a little bit unintelligent and very lethargic. It’s true that they can be lazy, if you let them be, but they are far from unintelligent. And as far as being lethargic goes, I partly blame the heat. Anyway, the eighth graders need people to motivate them and get them excited about something. They need goals, people to believe in them, and high expectations. I think it was evident to the parents that that’s what we have provided them with, and they are happy. It was definitely one of my most proud moments ever, because the eighth graders were proud of the impact they were having on the school, and to stir up that emotion in them is a big deal. Eighth graders are usually too cool for anything.

Please check out the WeCycle video:
At the Gala

Entrance to the Gala
Entering the Gala...
Inside the Gala
The WeCycle Table

1st Graders in Recycled Dresses!

My most proud moment in Kindergarten was at the conclusion of the diagnostic exams Sarah and I have been giving for the past few weeks. During the exam there were a few students who really surprised me – students who literally seemed like their heads were in the clouds everyday during English class, but somehow pulled off a 94%!. My reaction was something like, “WHOA, where did that come from?!” I guess within the chaos that is Kindergarten English class, in between the regurgitated chewed-up erasers, the frenzied singing, and the disordered distribution of papers, the kindergarteners actually learned some English! What a phenomenon! The proudest moment throughout the Kindergarten English experience though, was spreading out all of the diagnostic exams and looking at them together. Before administering the exams we put together a group of 15 exceptional students who are ready to go on to the bilingual program without even taking the exam. They would undoubtedly score 95% or above. That left 10 open spots in the bilingual program for us to fill, hence, the diagnostic exam. Twenty-one students took the exam, and 18 of them scored above a 70%, with 12 of them above an 80%. Our problem is that we would love to be able to admit at least 15 more of them into the program, but there is not enough space. It’s a pretty good problem to have, and it’s pretty awesome that we somehow had SO many students learn such an exceptional amount of English. Proud moment!

There have been some definite highs points throughout this teaching experience, and naturally, low points as well. Low-points were the result of frustrations with unruly children, miscommunication between the administration and faculty, lack of support/materials, and other issues. However, I have realized that at the foundation of this frustration is care. Low points happen because I care about the students – I want to give them as much as I can in 45 minutes. High-points also stem from care. I love seeing students impress me on exams, get really excited about the WeCycle program, and ask lots of questions about a topic that interests them, because I care.

I love teaching and how it’s impossible to lose my imagination while spending time with kids. I also feel the happiest, most empowered, free, and at peace when I am outside. I love sharing adventures, lessons, peace, and happiness that is found in nature, with other people. Being a teacher has been a rewarding experience, but I think I could succeed even more in an outdoor classroom. I think children are becoming too programmed as a result of electronic communication and tight schedules/routines. I’ve seen magic happen when students enter the natural word of unstructured exploration, where they have a space to think and learn. Students need the opportunity to interact physically with nature, to turn on their imagination and curiosity. Environmental education allows students that may not strive in the formal classroom, a place to do so. Children need the chance to unplug from the technology controlling their lives, discover how they can strive in their own way, and open their eyes to the beautiful world around them.

For these reasons, I couldn’t be happier that I found the Wolf-Ridge graduate naturalist program. For 10 months I will be living in the northern woods of Minnesota, teaching 40ish classes based on environmental education, team-building, and natural history, as well as earning my Certificate in Environmental Education and 18 credits towards my Masters of Environmental Education. I am really excited to be starting this program at the end of August, and it would be a dream come true to someday be a director of an EE program.  

For more information, check out the Wolf-Ridge website:

Sarah and I will be headed to Minnesota in a few weeks, continuing the adventure there. It’s been an…um….exhausting experience. We’ve had to adjust to monastic life, learn how to be teachers (and learn a lot, we did), build a friendship, and live in a new culture. I feel so lucky that I had such a hands-on teaching experience, and I couldn’t be happier with the new (as of 10 months ago) life-long friendship that I have with Sarah. I am unbelievably excited to be reunited with the rest of my friends and family soon!! I now completely understand that no matter where you end up in the world, being surrounded by those who love you is the most important thing ever. I wouldn’t still be in Puerto Rico now if it weren’t for the loving words and support sent from those who love me. Thanks!!

Sarah and I and the basketball team at our last second and last tournament

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