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Monday, June 28, 2010

Get This Party Started!

Stopped by São João this morning around 10:30, after students' exams were over for the day. Four of our five teachers met me at the school and we moved into an empty classroom so we could talk a bit about how we want to organize this summer program.

The teachers explained to me that students are in exams this week and then next week is a sort of evaluation period, so students won't be available for the summer program until the week after that (what I believe will be two weeks before I leave). This is both good and bad news. Obviously I want to spend time with the students and am going to miss them. But at the same time, the later we start, the better my chances of getting my lost suitcase back which had some really nice teaching materials (as well as toolkits that I had bought for each teacher so that they could fix their own computers) that I'd love to use. So in a way I don't mind that we're starting later than normal. I have faith that the teachers will be able to teach their students how to make storybooks in Etoys without me. That will be our goal this learn the Basic Etoys lessons and to make storybooks. I think it's a worthy goal.

As the students are still in exams, tomorrow I am going to start teaching the teachers. I explained that it will take a few hours each day for multiple days to learn Basic Etoys. I also have faith that the teachers will learn rather quickly, as it's only five of them and they'll be able to gather around my computer and pick up things pretty fast. Etoys 4 has been translated into even Portuguese than Etoys 3, and the teachers are overwhelmingly grateful to see that change. I also passed around a few materials I printed for them, including the ten Etoys lessons that I translated into Portuguese (as well as a fresh copy of the Troubleshooting Guide); an XO manual which is essentially a translation of the ominous (and entirely in English) Help activity on Sugar, translated by a noble and secret source; and a guide to Etoys created by the Squeakland group and used in Brazil.

There are no words to describe how happy the teachers were to see lesson material in Portuguese. All they could say over and over was, "Oh, this is so much better. Oh, this is so much better!" I know they've been dodging the hurdles of English throughout the entire school year and I know they will be grateful to get a little break in their own language.

They also seem excited to learn how to use Etoys, which has been a sort of dark corner for them, especially since Etoys 3 was not as Portuguese-friendly as Etoys 4 (like for example, the little bubbles that pop up to tell you what each button means are now in Portuguese and not English, thank God!). I showed them storybooks that students in Haiti made and the teachers definitely seemed interested in the idea of their students making similar ones. I also told them that we're going to head to a few bigwigs- UNICEF, the UN, the Ministry of Education, even Voice of America and a few banks here in São Tomé- looking for donations to see if we can get enough computers for the whole school. They nodded their heads enthusiastically, especially Miguel, when I explained that I'd like to eventually get rid of our Saturday classes over the school year and just start using the computers in the classroom. That is my dream. Dona Roberta at STeP UP has been helping me re-work my funding proposal so that we can go together to these organizations and make our requests. We also thought it'd be a good idea to have a sort of "open house" for potential funders to come and watch a class in action, to see how it's going so well, and to then attend a Q&A session afterward.

A meeting also needs to be held with parents of our students. Unfortunately, even though students have been told that they need to turn their computers in at the end of the year, they have been slow to believe it. They have been using the computers all year, anyway- it's not easy for them to think that they will actually give them back after all this time! Because of that, we've had a couple of computer brutalities- a torn off "s" key, a ripped off antenna. The teachers want to have another meeting with the students to talk about computer care, to tell the parents that the students have to return the computers at the end of the year and to build a better system so that students really do take care of their computers throughout their "loan". I suggested the idea of building a sort of computer library like our Waveplace mentors are doing in Petite Riviere des Nippes, in Haiti. That can allow students to continue the learning even after they leave São João. The applied technology school that STeP UP is hoping to build would also be a solution to this, as students would be able to continue learning with computers after their time in the XO laptop program.

I asked the teachers how energy was at the school. They said it is better now than it was when I was here last, but it's still not perfect. I brought up Mike Dawson (OLPC Afghanistan)'s suggestion of getting a car battery to hook the wireless router to, so that students can at least use the internet even when there isn't electricity. Then the battery can be plugged into the wall and recharge when there is electricity so that it can be used later. Their response was much like mine when I learned about that idea- GENIUS! We're going to look into it right away.

I also asked teachers about payment and if they were getting paid okay by the Ministry of Education for their extraordinary hours. They sort of grew quiet and hung their heads. Apparently they have been submitting time sheets to São João's director, with their signatures and all. At first the director passed them along to the Ministry so that they would be paid, but lately he hasn't been doing it so the teachers have not been getting the payment they earned. We're not sure why this is the case and the teachers asked me to talk to the director so I'll do this in the next couple of days. We wonder what could possibly make this man not want to pay the teachers- perhaps he's just being lazy and will get around to it. Perhaps he's slightly, well, jealous that they're getting extra pay (since they're putting in extra work) and he isn't. Whatever the reason, I'm going to find out and hopefully fix it.

It seems the teachers are pretty stable on their own but definitely are benefitting from me being back and checking in on things. I wish I could replicate this model in every country in the world. So far I think it is working extremely well and I am so impressed with the teachers' dedication and interest.

We'll see how Basic Etoys lesson 1 (and hopefully 2) go tomorrow!

After class just had the most wonderful day in São Tomé. A little rusty on the motorcycle but-- it's like riding a bike (but then again, it is a bike!) and I'm feeling quite comfortable with it. Polly (another STeP UP volunteer) and I went into town after lunch with Ned, bought some jack fruit (jaca, em Português) and just hung out by the ocean and watched the horizon. We saw that the cathedral was open and decided to be tourists and check it out. As we approached the doorway, we heard voices. I thought maybe there was a ceremony going on. We entered and saw all the pews pushed into the two side chapels. Then, in the central nave, was a group of guys PLAYING SOCCER INSIDE THE CATHEDRAL!!! I had never seen anything like it in all my life. But it made sense- it was cool in there, there was lots of space, it wasn't being used anyway...why not? Hilarious though. Only wish I could have taken a picture.

Then we met up with my friend Kilson for beers as the sun began to set. Tomorrow we're going to a restaurant that is apparently very popular in São Tomé but I have yet to go there. And on Wednesday, Ned is throwing us a little welcome/goodbye party (welcome for me, goodbye for Polly). I'm already falling in love with São Tomé all over again.

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Please click the button below to donate to STEP UP OLPC to support the São João school's computer program in São Tomé:

Donate $200 and you will be paying for a computer for at least FIVE very special children at São João (as estimated computer life is five years). Thanks so much!

Want your donation to be tax-deductible? Send a check to STeP UP with OLPC in the memo. Then mail it to:

Eric McClafferty
Kelley and Drye
3050 S St. NW, #400
Washington, DC 20007