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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.