I’ve spent the last month and a half assessing a long list of low-achieving students provided by each teacher. One at a time, I pulled them out of class and sat down with them to find out about their home life, their interests, and also their reading level. Using the Jamaican Ministry of Education’s reading diagnostic tool, I determined that most of the kids I saw were still confusing some letter names, were not familiar with saying the sounds that letters make, had no concept of how to sound out an unfamiliar word, and didn’t know the sight words for their grade level. From first through fifth grade, about 1/3 of the students at the school were below their reading level with a vast majority reading below the first grade level (including many fifth graders).
But this week was the start of summer, and the guidance counselor and I had put together a two-day program for some of the low-achieving boys. It was a spin off of another volunteer’s motivational boys camp but on a smaller, test-phase scale since we didn’t have much time to plan it. Up until the day before, we still had not confirmed with any of the five local businesses we contacted for our field trip. We had been told the school could provide lunch but what food was available and who would cook it was still up in the air. 20 boys had been selected but due to the low attendance rate during the last two weeks, only 17 had received the invitation, 6 had confirmed and 4 had submitted their $1 registration fee. We really had very little idea of what was going to happen.
But I was pleasantly surprised. Nine boys turned out, very curious about what was to happen and excited to hear that there would be a field trip involved. Jedd was able to come in the morning and lead some games that tied in life skills. He used the activities to promote the importance of education, motivation, relationships, and integrity, which were themes we used throughout the two days. Our friend and fellow Peace Corps volunteer travelled in to do an afternoon session with the kids, showing them card tricks and demonstrating how “practice makes perfect.” We also showed them an inspirational video of boys their age in Thailand who found a creative way to improve their own lives. Because we kept them engaged, the boys were relatively well behaved. We had just one fight break out when someone suggested playing musical chairs. Of course, a game where you make kids fight over scarce resources is bound to cause problems in a place like Jamaica, so we moved on from that quickly.
The second day, we did a few more games and then piled the boys into a teacher’s car for a tour of the bank, police station, and library. At the police station, we happened to arrive on visiting day for the jail and the boys got a unique, unplanned experience face to face with prisoners behind bars. The men called for the boys to come into the visiting area. They were rough and tough and spoke directly but they told the boys to keep themselves out of trouble, listen to their teachers, and don’t end up in prison. It was so powerful that some of us adults nearly cried and all of the boys said it was their least favorite thing of the whole camp. Little do they know that’s exactly why we’ll probably try to include another jail visit in next year’s program!
Despite a few frustrating moments, all in all things worked out well and it was a great experience for the boys. I’m already looking forward to next year when we’ll have more time to plan, get sponsorship, and expand the program.