After almost a month at our site, we are both just starting to scratch the surface of our work projects. I (Michelle) have transitioned away from observing classes and started the initial phase of my own literacy pull-out groups. That means, I gathered lists from each teacher of students who are reading below grade level (the total came out to 28% of the school), and now I am in the process of meeting one-on-one with each of those students.

Jamaica’s Ministry of Education has developed its own Reading Diagnostic test to help teachers determine what reading level the student is at as well as to help gain insight into their specific challenges. The most common problem I’m coming across is that the students do not know the letter sounds (A makes ‘ah’, B makes ‘buh’) and in tandem with that, most have very little concept of how to sound out a word.  This problem is consistent from first grade all the way up to some of the fifth graders, who still can’t read the words “me” or “we”. I am also surveying the students during our meeting about their general attitude towards reading, their family dynamics in terms of literacy and getting homework help, and their general interests so I can make future classes relevant to them. When I ask “At home, do you see other people in your family reading books?” most tend to mention a sister or brother first, if the parents come up at all, which I’m guessing means some of their parents are illiterate.

The students I’ve already met with have almost all asked when they can come back. Others often ask me if they can be next on the list. I guess I did a good job of not making it seem like I was giving a test. Plus, I think they crave that one-on-one attention. Except for the one kid who lied to me about leaving for Montego Bay and never coming back, I’ve had no behaviour problems. Contrary to the chaos going on all around us on a daily basis, the students are complete angels when it’s just me and them in the room.

My goal of finishing the one-on-one meetings with students within the one month before graduation is a deliberately modest one. Classes run from 8:30am to 2:30pm Monday through Wednesday but Thursday and Friday they let out at noon. With that limited time period to start with, there are always interruptions as well. For example, last week we had three days of standardized testing and in order to keep the place quiet enough to concentrate, all the grades not participating in the test were sent home. I have a stack of books and resources on my desk to study for times like these. So even though I can’t meet with students, I can still be somewhat productive by researching for my Community And Sector Inventory, an in-depth report which is due to Peace Corps in September. Once I’ve met with all the kids that I can on my list, I’ll divide them into groups by literacy level and age and try to come up with a schedule for small group pull-out sessions. Hopefully I’ll be able to start something during summer school, in July. Otherwise, I’ll officially start working with the groups in September.

On Jedd’s end of things, it’s starting to pick up at the community resource center in town. They finally got one shipment of computers set up in the computer training room. They’re waiting on a second shipment for the internet café, as well as for the internet to be set up… among other things. Every week something new shows up at the building. But Jedd was able to do his first few days of beginning computer classes with two young mothers. There is also someone doing an adult literacy course, and in the meantime, volunteers come to provide child care for the participants. The center also hired a new admin/operations manager, an enthusiastic young man from the community, who will be working closely with Jedd and taking care of daily operations. Preparations are also beginning soon for some upcoming summer camps with youth from the community.

And that’s the run down of our work so far!