Towards the end of Term 2 (June), we started some new projects at Boetse based on our personal passions and conversations with our debate leaders about what they would like to see at their school. Lara and I both started our own after school clubs on Tuesday afternoons as well as working on some joint projects during the day. Lara started a writing club and I’m doing my best to teach some yoga (which is also born out of the fact that I personally miss yoga so much since I haven’t found a place to practice in Polokwane). We are also working on one-on-one tutoring to help our lowest readers and started a Girls Group. Recently, I went back and reread my Fulbright essays when I was sending them to a friend who is applying for an upcoming grant, and remembered that I had written about yoga club and girls group as projects in my grant proposal. I wrote those essays over two years ago so I had completely forgotten the projects I pitched to Fulbright but was happy that I stumbled into creating those programs anyway at Boetse because they are what I’m passionate about and what Boetse learners have requested.
I love yoga. I started practicing when I was 16 with my mom. She was doing some exercise program and I went with her for moral support. I feel in love with yoga from that very first class. As y’all know, I’ve struggled with anxiety for my whole life, and that first time I practiced yoga, I couldn’t believe how calm my mind was. It was the first time I felt completely at ease and free from my constant anxious thoughts. Even after my mom stopped that exercise program, I kept going to yoga. Nearly 10 years later, and I never stopped going. I’ve tried all different kinds from Bikram, Vinyasa, heated yoga, etc etc. In college, some friends and I would practice on Sunday nights together, rotating the practice leader each week. I was so so so nervous that first time I led a practice, and that was just in front of my core group of friends. But then I went on to use yoga and mindfulness in my classroom and could see the joy and calmness it brought to my little learners. The summer after my first year of teaching I also treated myself to a yoga retreat in Thailand (which actually I got sick during so it turned out to be a bit of a disaster but it was still a cool experience). Needless to say, yoga has been a big part of my life for a long time and I was so excited to share this with my Boetse learners.
A downfall of the after school programs is that not many learners can stay after school. Many learners come to Boetse from far distances and have to walk home or already have transport that can’t be rearranged. So, the yoga club is small and only learners who live close by or have flexible transport are able to come.
We practice on Tuesday afternoons and I have a core group of girls that come each sessions. The past few weeks, a few boys have even joined us! I’m already seeing growth in some of my usual attendees, they are telling me the poses are getting easier and they are not so giggly anymore (the first class most of them could not stop laughing). I think together we are creating a space for exploring through yoga and a bit of quiet/mindfulness during the busy week
Tutoring we actually started in the beginning of term 2, once we had identified learners from our small groups who were very behind in their reading. Learners who have trouble identifying letters and their sounds. We decided these learners need more help, in a more targeted setting. As an elementary teacher, I felt very responsible to help these bbs. I know how to teach phonics and effective reading skills and I thought I would be doing a total disservice to these learners if I didn’t at least attempt to help them.
So, we started pulling these learners out of class. Lara and I each have 2 learners that we are focused on helping. During our targeted tutoring, we work on identifying letters, knowing letter sounds, word segementation, sight words, etc. We also are working on reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which to be truthful, is beyond their reading level. In the beginning, I really struggled with how to help these learners, without making them feel like primary learners or embarrassed. My skills with reading intervention were developed by working with little readers, who don’t have much of a problem reading a picture book with a few words on each page. But to make a high school learner do that? I thought that would be so embarrassing and mortifying. I wanted them to want to learn and practice reading. And I knew if I picked a book that was too babyish, they wouldn’t come to tutoring ever again. There definitely is a need for books that are age appropriate and level appropriate for high school aged struggling readers (if you know of any please let me know!). We already had one girl drop, arguably the learner that needed the most help as she can not identify most letters in English or her home language. Maggie is the learner that inspired me to create tutoring but I can’t force her to go. I think she feels like she isn’t getting better so what is the point and definitely doesn’t want others to know she is getting extra help. She likes to fade into the crowd. She still comes to the small group classes so at least there is that.
The learners are loving Diary of a Wimpy Kid by the way. That franchise isn’t big here in SA so they have no idea that it’s targeted towards primary kiddos. They think Greg is hilarious.
Girls group is a dream for me. Everything I hope for in this world. Girls coming together. Working together. Supporting each other. Challenging the social norms. Being whoever they want to be and feeling empowered to do so. Going after their dreams. Challenging what others think girls are capable of.
Or that’s the goal at least. It’s still a work in progress. This group has only been meeting for about a month actually. We had girls apply for girls group during term 2 by filling out an application. Our idea was to have a girl from every class to try to represent the whole student population. Originally, we had wanted it to meet during lunch. So we could chat while we ate and wouldn’t have to take the learners out of class. But this turned out to be extremely difficult. Lunch is sometimes late and the learners have to wait in long lines to get their food, so we found that only 1 or 2 girls could meet during this time. We thought about doing after school, but knew it would be challenging for all the girls to stay for reasons previously mentioned. We opted to take them out of class the last period of the day and reminded them to catch up on any school work that they missed.
So far with Girls Group we have discussed a variety of topics: gender-based violence, teen pregnancy, Intersectionality, and women leadership. They also started a petition to the SGB (school governing body of teachers and parents) to allow girls to wear trousers (how in 2018 do these sexist uniform policies still exist is really mind boggling to me). Girls are allowed to wear track suit pants during winter, but the rest of the year they have to wear skirts and they have two different skirts they have to wear, alternating days at school with the green skirt and the yellow skirt. The boys, wear the same thing every day. As a group, we talked about the reasons girls should be allowed to wear trousers, including that it is what is fair, so they can be more comfortable, etc etc. I’m a little nervous about backlash on Lara and I once we present the signed petitions to the SGB but its what the girls wanted to do. The petitions was their idea as were all of the topics that we discussed. So I’m willing to take the backlash to help these girls achieve their goals. We also came up with a list of discussion guidelines to help the discussions stay respectful and give everyone a safe space to share and learn.
Overall, I’m pleased with these special projects. I’m know they are not sustainable, as we have to get learners out of class to achieve them or ask them to stay after school and when we leave and no other ETAs fill our spots, there will be no one to take them over. No teacher will take them over, we can’t even get a teacher to take over debate which is a school sponsored activity. Regardless, I’m happy to give these opportunities to these learners while we are here.