Branch Out Alternative Breaks

Creating a community of active & educated individuals dedicated to the pursuit of social justice

Excerpts from a Belize Journal

January 7, 2014

             Today we returned to Double Head. Once again, we started the kids off with their letter writing. John and Carmen are consistently sound in their writing. John is a small boy who seemed to keep to himself at first. I soon discovered what a brilliant, diligent student he was. Aside from his near perfect writing and beautiful cursive, he always had the answer to the problems written down in his notebook. He brought in a completed project days before it was due. According tohis teacher, his entire family is well educated. I believe she had taught one of his brothers, who performed equally as well in the classroom. This highlights the role background and family play in the classroom. Carmen was also quite shy at first, but soon opened up to Leland and I. By the time we had finished our time at Double Head, she was one of the most talkative and inquisitive, picking our brains as much as she could. She too was a very strong student. The main concern I had for John and Carmen regarding their writing was that they never would proofread their work. I would read their passages, give them a stern look, and tell them to re-read what was on the page. They would go back through, find their mistake, smile sheepishly, and fix it on their own. That’s what was important to me; their ability to recognize their own mistakes and fix them accordingly.

I was frequently pleasantly surprised by the efforts of the student who weren’t quite as strong. Samuel was perhaps the most entertaining of my students. He has one passion, and it is evident in everything about him. Kobe Bryant. His love for Kobe was infectious, though proved to be a bit of a distraction at times. Some of the kids were utterly clueless about the geography of the world, current events, and things of that nature, yet they could tell you the score of the Lakers game the night before.

Samuel talked endlessly about Kobe Bryant. He scribbled Kobe’s name onto the surface of his desk with permanent marker, prompting the wrath of Miss Flora. Today, the students were told to write a letter, a formal letter, to anyone of their choosing. They were supposed to give context, provide consolation for something they had heard had happened, and provide encouragement and advice. Of course Samuel chose to write his letter to Kobe. The letter read something like this:

St. Paul’s Bank

Belize District

Belize C.A.

 

Dear Kobe,

I heard that you had a bad Injury in your leg/foot in the Game vs Memphis. I’m really sorry about that. The pain will go away soon all you need is to be practicing everyday to get healthy because we need you for all star games.

Maybe you can talk to Micheil Jordan about your Injury. Beacease when Michel was your age he had lots of Injury in those game. So you can talk to him about your situation.

I hope you get better for finals and playoff and all the pain will go away soon ok.

 

Sincurly,

 

Samuel.

 

Samuel’s letter, in which he wished Kobe a speedy recovery, was fascinating in many ways. It showed his passion for basketball, as well as his love for his hero. He also had fulfilled the requirements for the assignment, hitting every point on the rubric. Aside from a few misspellings, he had done a great job, and I was very proud of him. Miss Flora, who evidently had become exhausted with the Samuel’s Kobe references, preemptively declared “This better not be about Kobe” before he began reading aloud. As soon as he had read “Dear Kobe,” she clapped her hand to her forehead. However, when he had finished reading, she had nothing but good things to say.

The biggest surprise came from Simon, a boy who sat at the front of the classroom on the right hand side. In his letter, he used various literary devices, including a metaphor and several similes, to tell his story. The phrases “trembling like a leaf,” and “ a noise like a clap of thunder on a hot day” caught me completely off guard, because some of his peers have trouble simply forming sentences. There were a couple others, though I cannot remember the exact words. I was thoroughly impressed.

After the letter writing, the kids got together and gave group presentations on the water cycle. Like any kids their age, they were shy standing at the front of the classroom. Some of them struggled to read what was on their notecards, and Miss Flora had to help them along. Again, the Creole proved to be a barrier while they stumbled over words.

We closed the day with science. I was placed in a small group. We worked through what resembled an environmental science textbook together. I had them take turns reading sections of the page. After each section, I summarized what we had read, and asked them comprehension questions. The reading was on the four levels of organisms (first and secondary level producers, consumers, and bacteria). They seemed to be very engaged in our reading, and I could tell they were thinking hard when I asked them questions. After finishing the reading, they made a poster and answered several questions Miss Flora had written on the board.

After we finished the group work, Miss Flora pulled me aside, and told me she had been observing me, yesterday, as well as today. She thought I would make a great teacher, and had noticed the kids were responding especially well to me. This meant a great deal to me, for obvious reasons. I had made at least some impact on my students. My desire to teach was only heightened through my experience at Double Head.

- Evan Pfeiffer

Author: Melody Porter

Hello blogosphere! While I am a relative newcomer to you, I am a long-time fan of human connection. I used to say that my major in college (above my actual political science & religion double major) was in friendships. Conversations over long meals or late nights on dorm hallway floors have been transformative in my life, and it only makes sense to me to dip my toe into new ways of opening up conversation here. Some details about my life and role at W&M: I have worked at William and Mary since August 2008, and am Associate Director in the Office of Community Engagement. I spend my time fostering student leadership in the broad areas of alternative breaks and local anti-poverty initiatives. Doing so lets me fulfill what I understand my calling to be about: working for social justice in the world, and equipping others to do so with skill, sensitivity and great love. And my pre-W&M life... I earned my Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Religion from Emory University in 1995. After graduating, I decided to get further into the world of community development and service. I served as a long-term volunteer for three years, beginning a job development program in Philadelphia and working with preschool children in Johannesburg, South Africa. I came back to Emory to earn a Master of Divinity from the Candler School of Theology in 2001, with a focus in religious education. I spent a frenetic and exciting year working four jobs - from TA'ing a preaching class with Tom Long, to catering barbecue, to managing a nonprofit family literacy program with immigrant and refugee families. I went on from there to be Associate Minister at First United Methodist Church of Germantown in Philadelphia, working in areas of social justice and community development, and directing an after school program that served more than 100 high school students. Finally, it was one more stop at Emory - where I served for three years as director of Volunteer Emory, a student-led department for community service. Through all of my professional and volunteer experiences, and life in general, I have seen how connected and interdependent people and communities are everywhere I believe in the power of mutual service to transform lives and create social change. I also love cheese fries.

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