First Day of School

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A view of the street left (west) from the school

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A view of the street looking east from the school

First day of school.  Wow.  I remembered these feelings from before.  As a matter of fact this felt a little like that very first day, way back when, (1968-are you kidding me?) not being quite sure how things were going to go.  Yes, we had talked about assignments: Ms Candi would do the opening, Ms Darcel would do the staff introduction, Mr Dale would walk the classroom, learning mostly but also helping some of the students fill out their registration cards.  But the butterflies were there never-the-less.

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Belize Friends School, pretty impressive, huh?

We left the Barber home at 7:15 in plenty of time to make it to school by 8:00. We needed to let Felicia off at Nazarene High School for her own very fist day but that would only take a minute.  Yeah sure. First of all, the traffic was unusually heavy, then Felicia was a little nervous, too, so Becky wanted to accompany her to her room.

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Harrison getting enrolled in school

Those of you who know me well are aware of my issues with punctuality, so you might suspect that by that time I was beginning to get a little nervous about getting to school on time. At 10 ’till, I gave up and texted Ms Candi telling her we would be late and promised her that it would not happen again.  (It hasn’t)  She texted back, ” No problem. I already have students and parents here.” Ack.

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Getting started

But we soon arrived; some students were already there and others were arriving. Harrison’s father was in the office with Ms Candi getting Harrison enrolled.  I decided to go downstairs and hang out with the other students.

Soon it was time to begin.  The Barbers have begun the tradition which we have in many Friends meetings/churches of the sharing of joys and concerns.  It’s a good way to start the day.

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The staff for this week. The Barbers assignment at the school will be complete at the end of August. After that it will be the three of us in the bright yellow shirts.

We completed the morning exercises, including the singing of the Belize national anthem. Then Ms Darcel, our new teacher, introduced the staff.  She introduced herself (Ms Candi had already introduced herself as the new principal), Mr Dale as the director, and Mr Barber and Ms Becky as the former principals.

On to some busywork.  We needed to complete the student information cards and complete the registration forms.friendsschoolday1-13

Ms Becky also played a game with us called ‘True for Me.’  Those of you familiar with the Alternatives to Violence program will be familiar with that one.  We use it as a way for students to begin to ‘own’ themselves.  Not to get melodramatic about it, but many of our students have been put down over and over again, and one step to getting where they want to be is to discover that they can have ideas of their own, and it’s ok, we don’t all have to agree. No one here is going to put them down.

At this point I made a bit of a mistake; I said, “True for me, my favorite color is blue.”  No one indicated an agreement, no one even reacted, it fell entirely flat.  Well, it turns out that the gang colors in Belize are red and blue. To agree with me would have indicated a gang affiliation and Ms Candi had already made a passionate speech about the gang stuff stopping when you enter our street.  So if any of you come to Belize, you will have to leave your affiliation with the Crips or the Bloods at the corner when you turn from Euphrates onto Allenby St.

Break time included a mid-morning snack provided by USFWI. (This is one part of the USFWI feeding program.) When I hear the bell of the street vendor each morning I go out to purchase fruit.  We also purchase fresh powder buns each day from a woman in the community.  Each of our students who wants it gets a powder bun and a banana or orange (oranges are out of season right now). It costs us about $3.00 BZ per day-for all of us. (Fun fact, bananas are 8 per Belize dollar- 8 for 50 cents US.)

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Mr. Anthony Sylvester came for a visit.

We were just beginning with the explanations of the ‘code of discipline,’ the expected behaviors at Friends school, when a friend of the Barbers and Ms Candi showed up.  Anthony Sylvester grew up on the south side and had been a teacher before becoming a successful lawyer.  He introduced himself to the students and had a little conversation with each one asking what they wanted to become and affirming each choice.  He was good.  Candi says that he will return periodically during lunch time to interact with our students.  How cool is that, to have a successful male role model who grew up on the south side and is willing to take time with our students? This is huge.

We completed the discussion of the code of discipline and it was time for our half-day to end.(Since Monday we have completed going over all the kinds of things that are necessary at the beginning of the school year and begun the process of assessing each student’s math and reading levels.)

After the students left, we spent about an hour just going over what we had learned, and making sure that we knew our assignments for day 2. Then Sam and Becky took me on my cultural experience of the day, walking a block down to Robin’s to order a ‘chicken burger and fries’ from the nice Chinese lady who speaks fluent creole.

Later in the afternoon Sam helped me move some stuff into my apartment.  The adventure continues.

Current stats–2

We had a very busy day today. We spent most of the day planning for next week so that we call all be ready and “have our act together.”

If you have ever been in the office at the Friends School you will appreciate the fact that we have managed to make space for 5 workstations. One of them is pretty small, but we did it never the less.

During the day we learned that one our students will not be returning, but three others registered, so the current count is 17.

Current stats

When we checked yesterday we counted 15 students registered for the beginning of school next Monday. This does not mean that they will all actually show up but we are hopeful.
In the second chance schools like ours, of which there are three, it is common for students to continue to register throughout the month of September. Apparently September is a crazy month in Belize with several important holidays, and some of our students get through the holidays before suddenly realizing that it’s time for them to do something about school. It’s frustrating, but “it is what it is,” and we deal with it.
Because of the size of our facility, we are limited to 22 students. We will continue to work toward that number in the next few weeks.
On a side note, we had a young man come by this week and ask for an application form. After he left, Sam, Becky and Candi just sort of looked at each other. I asked what was up and they said that he was a brother to some other students we have had and that they have all been ‘fighters.’ Do we admit a student who we suspect will be trouble? Yes we do. He will be allowed to prove himself one way or the other. But, of course, he has to complete the application process, and we’ve not seen him again, yet.
Next week the students come for half-days and we spend that time in testing and getting to know them. At the end of the week we assign them either to the prep class (1 year program) or remedial class (2 year program). It’s an important time.

Good morning on the first day

It has been very dry here but it rained fairly hard last evening. I think it cooled down to the low-to-mid 80’s overnight. My body has not, in the last 12 hours, adjusted to the heat. Typing makes me sweat.

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Yesterday was an adventure. I arrived at the Indy airport the recommended 2 hours ahead of an international flight. When I checked in the nice lady at the counter told me that the plane was overbooked and that she would not be able to give me a seat assignment, I would have to get that at the gate.
She then weighed my two storage containers that held my personal stuff and some equipment, supplies, and books for the school. Ms Candi had asked for a clock, stapler, some bulletin board supplies, pens, etc. One box weighed in at 49.5 lbs and the other at 51.5. I was reaching for the second box to remove a book or two when she smiled, pulled the box off the scales and placed it on the belt to the airplane.
Then she gave me some advice, “When you get to the gate, give the gate agent your name and destination. Being assertive will not be necessary, just let her know.”
So that is exactly what I did. Then I listened as they announced that they needed to have two people volunteer to take a later flight; they were offering a $300 transferable voucher. I was tempted, but thought that I should arrive when I said I would for Sam and Becky’s sake. Soon enough she called for “Mr. Dale Graves” and printed my boarding passes with a seat assignment.
Then I began looking for an airplane. No airplane. So. of course, I begin to worry about the timing in Houston; we had only scheduled a 53 minute layover. The airplane finally arrived about 20 minutes before our scheduled departure time, so we departed late. We arrived in Houston 20 minutes late and we were arriving at gate C77a which is not exactly close to E3 where the plane to Belize was boarding.

I hurried off the plan, which turned out to be pointless because the plane to Houston had been a small plane and I had had to check my carry-on at the plane. So I waited impatiently. It seemed like a very long time, but I suppose it was only 5 minutes or so. As soon as it was passed through the door, I grabbed it and began walking as fast as this old guy can walk. I arrived at the terminal transfer train just as one was leaving, but another arrived in about a minute, so I didn’t feel too bad. We were humming our way over to gate E, and I was beginning to feel better, when the train just stopped and the announcer said that we were delayed. No indication of how long. I’m not sure how long that lasted, another eternity, I’m sure. At that point I began rehearsing my speech to the flight attendant about the possibilities of getting a later flight and still be able to make it to Belize on the same day.

When the train arrived at E terminal, I hurried as fast as I could to E3. I’m pretty sure it was about a 5 mile walk. The departure time was scheduled for 1:08. I arrived at 1:08, absolutely sure that I had missed my plane, but there was still a lady at the counter. She quickly took my ticket and passport, scanned them and send me down the runway. I heard her trying to call down to the end of the runway.

I walked quickly and the lady at the other end of the runway looked like she had seen a ghost. I noticed that the door was already closed, so I just looked at her with a question in my eyes. Just then I heard a voice behind me telling her to knock on the door and have them open it. She didn’t look too sure about that , but she did it anyway and a miracle occurred, the door opened and I was allowed on the plane.
I expected to get a bunch of dirty looks from the other passengers, but that did not happen. My guess is that Belize is not exactly a hub and that none of these passengers was hurrying to catch another plane. Or maybe this was just a planeload of Belizeans and time isn’t the same here…
I was on the plane and headed for Belize. I sat beside a Belizean farmer who raises chickens and cows. He lives just south of the Mexican border and grew up in Mexico, but has been farming in Belize for 30 years. And now I know where the chickens in the grocery store come from.

We arrived in Belize on time. The nice man at the entry point informed me that he could only give me a 30 day visa, and that I would need to extend it, which I already knew, and the customs agent decided that he did not need to charge me anything for the supplies I was bringing to the school. So I was good to go.
Sam and Becky met me at the exit, informed me that my apartment is not quite ready and it would probably be best if I stayed with them overnight. That was quite fine, because it gave me a chance to visit with them.
This morning I woke at my normal 6:00 am, except that Indiana happens to be 2 hours ahead of Belize City, so I rearranged the totes and got one of them ready to go to the school with the new equipment and supplies.

Then I went out to take some photos of the sunrise from their back yard.

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Goal Reached

When we started raising money for this year in Belize I asked FUM to pay for my housing, food, and travel, but mentioned that I would need no salary.  I am, after all, a retired teacher with a pension.  So we estimated a cost of $30,800, which surprised me. I had expected something much smaller.

Since then I have found an apartment which is the bottom level of a small home where the owner lives upstairs.  It has two small bedrooms, a small bath, and a long narrow living/kitchen area.  It will be just fine for me and I’m estimating a cost for rent and utilities at $500/month. (Electricity is twice as expensive in Belize as it is where I live southwest of Indy).  Anyway, that is considerably less than we had earlier estimated so I recalculated the cost at about $24,000.

Well, I received the report from FUM on July contributions and discovered that we had made the $24,000 goal.  Wow.  Thank you so much!

It is important for us all to understand that we are changing the configuration of the ministry in Belize.  I will not be the active principal of the school.  My task is defined as “director.” I will supervise Ms Candi, who will be half-time principal and half-time teacher, and I will explore the other possibilities for Friends in Belize. This change necessitated the acquisition of a new teacher.  (Ms Darcel Murray is our new teacher.)

So, in short, the cost of the FUM representative in Belize is going down but the cost of the Belize Friends School is going up.  If you know of Friends who are interested in the work in Belize and would like to contribute, please ask them to contribute to Belize Friends School, rather than to my ministry account.

I’m off to Belize next Monday and I’m excited about it.  I will hit the ground running because I have one week to work with Sam, Candi, and Marcel before school starts next Monday. That’s a little scary, but it’s ok, I had these jitters at the start of every school year from 1968 to 2007.  It meant I was ready.

As I learn more, I will keep you posted.  Thanks for ‘listening.’