Rollercoaster Ride

Wow! It has officially been 4 months since I left my home back in the states to start my amazing journey as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Eastern Caribbean!

Here is a quote that really paints a picture of my past few weeks in the Peace Corps:

11146595_10200991529627462_4861786561214631977_n

(Credit to Kate Bennett of EC87)

However, I have also been living by this quote in the past few weeks:

“You should never give up. No matter how hard the situation is, Always believe that something BEAUTIFUL is going to happen.”

I have really been reflecting on if I made the right choice by coming here. It has been challenging to say the least, with many ups and down. Sometimes I come home feeling like i just got thrown into a cement truck to be tossed around all day, and come out feeling weighed down and confused.

There are good days, and there are bad days, but overall I need to remember that these challenges are the EXACT reason why I wanted to join the Peace Corps in the first place. I would much rather be dealing with this rollercoaster of emotions than be at home, unemployed, and unsure of what I want to be doing with my life. At least here I have a purpose and I am working to help locals in my community. It feels good to have a purpose.

Now to update you on my recent activities in these past few weeks:

Warning, this may be quite disturbing…..

Last week, I tried a new food called “black fish”. Now, I have heard of this food before and I have been both disgusted and interested in trying it. It is a very flavorful, oily, and smoky fish that you can eat with breadfruit (a staple here). I tried it, and it was different but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

This is the disturbing part: “black fish” is actually pilot whale. The people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines still practice whaling here. This may be taboo for us to hear as Americans, yet we still need to respect the culture of other people around the world. The locals are allowed to catch 2 whales per year for the purpose of consumption by Vincentians (local people from St. Vincent). Yes, some of us may have different views, however I felt it was something I wanted to try as a part of integrating into the new culture.

black fish
Black fish and breadfruit.

On a different note, in my last blog post I wrote so proudly that all 32 of the PCVs in the Eastern Caribbean were sworn in and no one had left. About a week after I wrote that post, one of our own decided to ET (early terminate) from the Peace Corps. I will not get into detail about the reasons for their departure (mainly because I do not know), however I can speak to the fact that we were all very shocked and sad to see this person leave. It really made me realize that yes, leaving is an option, and that scared me. I personally go through days where I consider leaving, but the only thing that keeps me here is remembering that I have wanted to do this for so long. Giving up now would just be harmful to myself and my personal goals and aspirations. In addition, leaving would also affect the community that I am serving in because they would no longer have a volunteer’s help for two years. Lastly, leaving would be very unfair to the many, many people who apply to Peace Corps and get in, but get put on the waiting list. They chose ME for a reason, and if I leave, then I would have taken someone else’s spot who really wanted to be here. All of that being said, I do not look down upon the person who left. There are many reasons someone might leave the Peace Corps that would be valid and respectable.

Coming full circle, I want to return back to what I said at the beginning of this post.

“You should never give up. No matter how hard the situation is, Always believe that something BEAUTIFUL is going to happen.”

Well, I have been going through this rollercoaster of emotions, both good and bad. But a few weeks ago I sort of hit a rock bottom. I was feeling depressed about my school situation, the lack of progress I was making, the long and stressful days where I seem to teach the children nothing, the lack of respect I seemed to get from the students, etc. Let me explain a few things: The Eastern Caribbean, along with many other developing countries, still uses corporal punishment to discipline students in the classroom. Corporal punishment, if you are not sure, is a form of physical punishment that involves inflicting pain in order to punish students who are behaving badly. This may include using a ruler, heavy wood stick and even a strap (belt) to threaten or actually beat children into behaving and listening to the teacher. Yes, it is very disturbing to hear about coming from a background where this kind of behavior management was not used when I was growing up. It is even more disturbing to actually see it happening in action at my school. They warned us about this sort of thing during training in St. Lucia, but hearing about it is such a different experience than seeing it with my own eyes. I cannot go into much more detail about my experience with this, so you can use your own imagination..

That being said, I have since introduced a new strategy for positive behavior management to the Grade 1 teacher. I made a behavior chart and showed her how it can be used. I asked her if she would be interested in trying it out in her classroom, and she said she would be very interested! From then on, I modeled for her how it can be used, and she saw that the children responded very well. We have been using it ever since.

This is how the chart works:

I call it the “Super Student” Chart. It looks like this, but I made my own:

super student
Super Student Behavior Chart

Basically each student has their own clip that goes on the chart with their name on it. They all start at “ready to learn” in the morning each day. Throughout the day, the teacher or myself will move their names up or down depending on their behavior. Up is good, down is bad. The kids love it because they can visually see how they are behaving in class. They also want to reach all the way to the top and become super students! If they do this, they get a prize (bracelet to wear all day, toy car to play with, stickers, etc.) any small prize will work, but reusable prizes are best for the budget!

Since the implementation of this new strategy, we have seen many improvements in the Grade 1 classroom. One of the most notable success stories is that of a little girl named Mia. This is her story….

“This is Mia, today’s super student. Up until the new “Super Student” behavior chart was introduced, she was a very challenging student to say the least. Now, she has fabulous behavior for most of the day (no one is perfect), and she always says to me “Miss, I want to go right up to the top!”. Good job Mia! It seems as though the chart is working.”

super student 3
This is Mia. You can see her pointing to the “Super Student” at the very top!

One of the most important aspects of this new system is that there is a chart identical to this one that is in the principal’s office. It is important to reinforce the new system wherever possible so that the children are held accountable. We focus mainly on trying to send children to the office if they are being exceptionally good that day, and the principal will let that child pick out a prize, and put their name at “super student” on the behavior chart.

Here are a few more students from Grade 1 that reached the very top and were “super students” for the day. As a reward, I took these students around the whole school and introduced them as “super students”. I explained that they were behaving extremely well this day and that they got a prize.. They showed their prize to the classes (bracelets), and they had huge grins on their faces! They were so proud and this was a fantastic reward for them.

super student
“Super Students” in Grade 1

So, it seems as though the chart is working in Grade 1, so in the next few weeks we are hoping to implement this system with more classrooms. It feels good to finally start seeing positive results from my efforts at school. This has definitely been a rewarding few weeks, and I look forward to what the future brings for myself and my school.

Also, just to give you an idea of the crazy class sizes that we have at my school, here is a photo of the Grade 1 classroom.

grade1
There are 2 or 3 students to a bench, and they share one table. There are a total of 35 students in Grade 1 with only 1 teacher.

That is it for now, but thank you for reading!

Until next time,

Shelby

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One thought on “Rollercoaster Ride

  1. Your honest and sincere blog touched me. At times I have felt the same hopelessness in a developing country. I have offended staff and cringed at obedience techniques that I found appalling. We can make a difference, if only one heart at a time. Hats off to you Shelby, for your tenacity. And, thanks for sharing.

    Like

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