Workshops and Meetings and Trainings, Oh My! Part 2: Community Awareness Meetings

To give you a perfect example of how the culture works here and how work gets done, I wanted to document these next couple of months of workshops and meetings and trainings.

I have mentioned it once and I will mention it a thousand times: that we, as PCVs, cannot just come and make a change. We need to fulfill the needs. We are here to make slow change, over time. We don't burst in the door and say "HERE IS HOW TO MAKE IT ALL DIFFERENT."

I will start things off by saying that my school is an excellent school. I'm not just saying continually wins awards, and it has a reputation of being a very organized, well-off school with lots of resources. We have staff meetings and school councils. Once, when I spoke to Frances, who is on Erromango, about one of our staff meetings, she said, "ooh, I'm writing that idea down: 'have staff meetings.'" I assume that our school's leg up has to do with being close to a provincial center, therefore getting lots of exposure to the western world as well as resources.

But we have flaws, as any school does. And the teachers here are well aware of them, and willing to make changes, which makes it a great site for a PCV.

Lately, there have been so many workshops and meetings and trainings that I wanted to give you an inside look at what is discussed at these meetings, who attends them, and how they run.

June 5th, 2018
Staff Meeting

These posts don't go in chronological order, hence the first post taking place on June 6th. However, I felt this was a logical order for things.

Today we had a brief staff meeting to cover a few things. Originally, this meeting was scheduled to take place after school (around 2:30pm). However, when meetings take place after school, they often start at 3:30pm, since teachers head home and then return for such meetings.

This meeting took place around lunchtime, which is unusual and I am pretty sure has never been done. The reason is that the headmaster and I had to head to Pele where the Group 30 trainees were stationed, so we could talk to them about a workshop on Friday. I will go into more detail on that workshop in a future post, but this visit to Pele was a last-minute scheduled visit, as the awareness that there was a workshop was last-minute, therefore this staff meeting was pushed to lunchtime last-minute. We had to head to Pele at 2pm, so this staff meeting needed to take place prior.

This was a school staff meeting, which meant all teachers, class 1 through 8, attended, as well as myself and the headmaster. The meeting was brief, as there were just a few bullet points to cover. However, it was not held directly during the lunch hour, resulting in all teachers being absent from their classes for about 40 minutes.

The first point was that there will be a workshop on Friday, June 8th. School is cancelled on Friday so all teachers can attend the workshop, which will be held in a school in northern Efate. In fact, all schools in northern Efate, or schools part of zone 5, will have class cancelled, so that all teachers may attend the workshop. It is a "phonics and assessment workshop." Again, I will write more about this in a future post.

We briefly discuss some main issues that we need to cover in some community awarenesses. Back in the USA, these sorts of topics may be sent home in a newsletter or posted on the school's website. Due to lack of internet connectivity, these topics instead are covered in community awarenesses, in which teachers visit different villages to announce certain issues.

All teachers have lately been growing weary due to tardiness. Every morning, students line up for morning announcements and the flag raising at 7:30am. When stragglers arrive, it's quite obvious, and in these past couple weeks, the duty teacher (who is in charge of announcements, bell ringing, flag raising for the day) notes everyone's names who are late. The list is always long, with at least 20 or 30 students arriving past time (we have over 200 students in our school).

There is no precise policy for latecomers, but they are usually punished in some way, varying each time. It is common for students to do manual labor around the school (one of these posts I will explain "working parties"), so often the punishment is weeding the garden behind the school, fetching water for the headmaster's or my home, or collecting bags of coral for the school to use for paths (like how we would use woodchips in the USA). The punishments are issues mostly during school hours, therefore causing students to miss class, and sometimes are issued after school.

But the punishment isn't enough, as students repeatedly arrive late. Some are from more distant villages, causing them to walk 1.5 hours to get to school in the morning (some, however, opt to stay with a host family in the village during the school year to prevent that long transport). Teachers are fed up with the students not arriving on time, and want to alert the parents that it is unacceptable behavior.

Other issues the teachers want to note in these awarenesses are the use of mobile phones (not allowed) and drugs (there was a recent incident of two class 8 students smoking weed behind the classroom buildings). Our school has also signed on as a "healthy kakae" school, which means that we have banned candy, juice and soft drinks from school grounds. Students are not allowed to bring any of those things, and they are also encouraged to have healthy lunches (which often, sadly, are taro on rice or manioc on rice or other starches on rice). The school already cleaned up its act with the canteen's snacktime offering, changing from kato (fried dough) to regular bread with tuna. The teachers want the students to follow suit.

There will be three community awarenesses, on Tuesday June 12th, Wednesday June 13th, and Thursday June 14th, one in each of the nearby villages. They will only be an hour each, and we will discuss these awarenesses in more depth in a staff meeting on Monday, June 11th.

June 11th, 2018
Staff Meeting

As mentioned above, this meeting was scheduled for the school staff, myself, and the headmaster to discuss the community awarenesses that we will host three days in a row this week. Plans have changed to host them starting on Wednesday.

Earlier this morning, the school council (the headmaster, assistant principal, council chairman/elder and other elders in the community) met to cover a few points brought up by the SCA meeting last week. The headmaster informed us in our staff meeting that the ESC agreed that moving forward, a new policy is in place for any death in the village: school will not be cancelled, and instead, only immediate family will be permitted to miss school. During morning announcements, the death will be honored with a prayer or moment of silence, but class will take place as usual. 

Our first community awareness is in the neighboring village beside the school. All the awarenesses will be the same, so we discussed what points need to be covered in our brief 1-hour awareness time slot. 

The first point is that we will share the school council's new rule regarding deaths in the community, and how students cannot miss school unless they are immediate family.

The second point is to discuss class status. Each teacher will prepare a simple progress report of "outstanding, very good, satisfactory...etc" for each student of their class that is from this village. The teacher will print it all the information on all students on one page, and pass those out to each parent. As I have created reading assessments for students, I will also share that information with the parents, explaining their reading level and what that means. Report cards were supposed to be sent out at the end of Term 1, and we are now in week 5 of term 2 with some teachers not having distributed report cards. This is to give parents an idea of how their kid is doing.

The next point of discussion is that our school will be hosting a workshop in a couple weeks, with guests arriving on Sunday, June 17th. The workshop is for teachers and class 1 and 2 teachers for northern Efate, regarding a new "add-em-up" English language program. Currently, students learn in Bislama for class 1-3, and in class 4 learn in English. With the new "add-em-up" program, there will be an hour a week for classes 1-3 in which they learn English phrases and grammar to better prepare them for the transition in class 4. Our school offered to host (we get paid for the use of our venue). 

The headmaster stresses that workshops at other schools (such as on Efate and Moso) are very nice. He wants ours to be just as nice, if not better. The teachers discuss how we should have a shelter outside for the attendees' snacks and lunches. We need to buy dishes, pitchers, trays and thermoses for tea. We need to get fabric to make uniform tablecloths in the conference room, and we need to decorate the place nicely for guests. There should be small bowls of candy on the tables, fresh flowers in vases, and hot tea at all times. There needs to be designated dishes and tea towels for events such as this, and the school holds onto them so that it has them for future events. 

The headmaster delegates one teacher to make a list of items to be purchased in Vila. 

Next, a fundraiser is discussed for the school. I try to pipe in as I'd already discussed it with a couple teachers, seeing as that July is just around the corner and I have some Fourth of July festivities planned. When I get a chance to speak, my suggestion of selling popcorn at American Movie Night and offering American foods at the school's Open Day (a day in which parents visit the classrooms and chat with teachers) on July 20th are met with a resounding approval. I am very excited about both. The headmaster agrees that offering American foods may increase sales due to it simply being something new and exciting. 

The meeting concludes after about 90 minutes, with plans to host the first awareness on June 13th. 

June 13th, 2018
First Community Awareness

The first community awareness is scheduled for today from 3-4pm. At 2pm, I ask teachers what time we plan to depart. Oh, they say, didn't you hear? It's cancelled. I ask if the one for tomorrow is still happening. All three awarenesses are cancelled, due to the headmaster being absent yesterday (he was in Vila) and today two teachers were sick/absent. Instead, we will make all necessary announcements on Open Day, to be held on July 20th. 

Now, the plans for Open Day are to host community awarenesses, to discuss students' progress, and to have an American food fundraiser. 


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