We just finished 5 days in Kingston, Jamaica. During this time, I was in the Alpha Primary school where I had the opportunity to spend 4 days with 28 sweet, lovely sixth graders. I had a wonderful time getting to know all of these children. It was an interesting experience getting to know these children in the midst of their studying for the GSAT, which is a very important exam for grade six students in Jamaica. The test is high-stakes because if they do not pass, there is a good chance that they will not be able to continue their schooling, so they will be out of school by age 12 if they do not do well. The students in my class spent most of the time taking practice exams and doing rote exercises to prepare for the GSAT. Caroline and I were in the same room, and our last day we had the opportunity to teach a math lesson. Since these students are sixth graders-the oldest students I have ever taught-the math lesson was a little more advanced than lessons I am used to teaching. We taught a lesson on simple interest, which is something Caroline had to give me a refresher on. The lesson went pretty well, but there were some definite differences between schools in the United States and Jamaica that were noticeable even in our one lesson. We are not very used to teaching a lesson using a more executive teaching style, whereas in Jamaica that is very standard even in elementary school. The students are very eager to participate but it was also difficult to get the students quiet and encourage focus on the lesson because there were so many other noises present around us from the other neighboring classrooms and from outside. In American classrooms we are accustomed to having more privacy in our classrooms and less outside noises and distractions. Despite these issues, we went away from the lesson with the majority of the class understanding the formula and usage, which was the goal! It was a wonderful experience getting to know these children. They asked many questions about the United States and Illinois, specifically, and it was clear that the students had many preconceived notions about life in the United States. I was asked if I knew a celebrity, if I rode a bus to school, if I spoke Spanish, and if there were any crocodiles where I lived, as well as many other questions. I’m going to miss those children and I’m very grateful for this enlightening experience.
The past 6 days we were in Kingston, teaching and observing at the Alpha schools. It was such a great experience being able to work with the children and getting to interact with them. All of the children are so loving and kind. Even the kids who weren’t in the classroom I was in would come up to me and hug me, hold my hand, and say hi. The first day in the 6th grade classroom at Alpha Primary, they were learning about the seasons in the different hemispheres. I was able to have the opportunity to share my experiences with the different seasons in Illinois. Anna and I explained all the different aspects of winter to the children, what we wear, how we prepare our homes, the weather, and more. It was a lot of fun to see all the hands go up while we were talking and to be able to hear and answer all their questions that they had about the weather in Illinois. We also got to help out the teacher, Miss Garrison, by grading the practice tests that the students took in preparation for their standardized test, the CXC. On the second day at the school, we graded more tests for the teacher, and got the chance to listen to Sparrow Martin talk about the history and purpose of the Alpha boys schools, and about many different aspects of music in Jamaica and in his life. Over the weekend we visited the Trench Town culture house, as well as Bob Marley’s house where we met his son Julien Marley. Bob has 7 sons that are accounted for, but who knows how many sons he actually has. We also went to Lime Cay where we took a boat to the island and spent several hours there walking around, snorkeling, collecting shells, and just hanging out. Sunday night, we were told that there was a free concert where Chronix, as well as the Marley children would be performing. However, it turned out to be a dud. We showed up and were the only people there and were told by the DJ that there would be no live music there that night. Monday at the Primary was school, Anna and I graded more tests for the teacher. We also got to observe her give a math lesson which was very interesting to see how their math lessons were much less interactive than math classes I have had in the United States. Tuesday we left the school and drove through the mountains all day to get the Port Antonio where we have been staying at the Great Huts
For the past couple of days, we have been in Kingston, observing at the Alpha schools. The first couple of days, I was observing a Grade 5 classroom. It was an interesting experience to see a different education system than what I am use to. In the class, there were 10 boys and 24 girls, for a total of 34 kids in a classroom that was probably half the size of an American classroom. They sat in desks, two to a bench. It was a tight fit for all of the students plus the teacher and her desk. However, all the students were still required to pay attention and participate with the class. They did a lot of rote learning because that is really all they had room for. One day, however, the students were working on contractions, such as can’t and cannot. To practice this concept, the teacher passed out strips of paper that had either the contraction or the long form of the word. The students had to find their partner and then did a call and response to a rhythm. In theory, this would have worked very well, but the students did not seem to get what they were doing or did not her what they were suppose to do. Instead of taking 10 minutes to get through this activity, it took closer to 30. I was also confused because the teacher kept leaving her classroom unattended or get distracted because her daughter kept popping in to ask for different items. It was very distracting to me but I am just an observer so maybe the kids are used to these distractions and can continue with what they are doing? I really do not know.
The last two days, I was able to switch to the Alpha Boys School to help with the music department. I enjoyed being able to teach some lessons and conduct a small ensemble that included both the boys from the school and Augie students. It was difficult not being a band person but having to teach a clarinet lessons. This experience helped me to think outside the box in order to still be able to teach the student something. While the boys were wonderful, it was frustrating dealing with the administration. There were so many people who were suppose to be charge but I do not know if they have the boys interest at heart or their own agendas to get further in life. This is such an iconic program for Jamaica and I hope that it can continue for years to come, but, at this rate, I worry that it will lose its reputation.
Wow! Kingston was such a change of pace but I enjoyed every part of it. The first day we arrived was Wednesday evening and I was exhausted, so I went to sleep a little early. I wish I had gone out to the sports bar, but oh well, regrets are not a good thing to have. Rob and I ran every morning we were there which usually involved waking up around 5:15. Typically that would make the rest of the day drag, but the new experiences and the hospitality of the Alpha Schools made it easy to make it through the day.
Previous to the first day of teaching, Dr. Egan informed the high school team that we would be subbing for Ms. Williams. I had prepared a lesson for solving quadratic simultaneous equations for 4th formers, but upon arriving we figured out that they were not quite ready for the lesson. Although disappointing, I was quite nervous to deliver my first ever lesson on the first day at this school I’ve never been to before. Our team was able to follow Dr. Egan’s lead and we then had three lessons that day. The girls were so nice and welcoming which made it easy to adjust. At the end of the day, Dr. Egan’s former student Ms. Rose offered me the chance to do the revision lesson. I had already prepared and so Friday was the day I would teach my first lesson.
The second part of our trip consisted traveling to Kingston to observe in the schools as well as experience the city. On our first day at the schools, I didn’t know what to expect and was a little bit nervous. I was placed in a sixth grade classroom and despite preferring to work with younger children, I had an amazing experience. The students were thrilled to talk to me and ask me questions about living in America. I talked a lot to the students about the seasons. My teacher even let me take over the class for about 30 minutes to conduct a conversation with the students.
They asked me many questions including how it feels in the winter in Chicago. It was very hard for the students to fathom the idea that the temperature drops below zero degrees and it is necessary to wear coats, hats, gloves, and scarves in order to go outside. At one point, I made a comment about frostbite and did not realize that the students didn’t know what frostbite was!
Kingston was like nothing I would have imagined! The people are just always so nice and the students that I worked with were so awesome. I worked in a 6th grade classroom where the teacher put us to work the second day. The first day Ann and I observed the class and told the class about our climate and weather. Then the second day we really got to help the students with their learning. We helped understand a language lesson that some of the students were having trouble with. Ann and I also co taught a mathematics lesson on simple interest. This was a new concept for the students to understand but over half the class had grasped the idea by the time we were time. Those who did not understand the information, I worked one on one with till they had a better understanding. This has been an awesome experience in the school.
Their school is very different from our schools in the US in discipline, structure, and instruction. The discipline that is in place is not what I have experienced in America. There was a boy that said something and the teacher hit him with a piece of wood multiple times. I am not saying that this is bad but it was a little harsh. I thin that there should be some kind of physical punishment in the US but not a beating . This was a surprising factor. The structure that the class has, there are something’s that I find are good but others are very different and I am not sure if I like them. The idea that the students have to stand up while talking is a good idea. This way everyone knows who is talking but there is no classroom management. The students just talk over each other and the teacher. They talk during the lesson and it was very hard to get the teaching accross to them. That was very hard to take in because in the US we are so used to the students being quiet. There are other things that I have to take in though. The environment that the students are in is very noisy in the first place and also there are so many sudents in the class. Maybe if I had that many students instead of the 24 that I am used to it would be a little different. Instruction is different too. It is very repetitive and memory based. The students were always repeating what the teacher said or they were taking practice tests, th instruction that Ann and I gave them was very different for them. But the teacher thought that we did a very good job and said that the students learned a lot from it.
While arriving at Kingston, I was slightly nervous because it was something totally new and I felt like we stood out like a sore thumb because of our appearance. At the resort, it didn’t truly hit me that we were in Jamaica because we were still around Americans, in a very beautiful, relaxing place, and with no Jamaicans to really interact with except for the staff which we couldn’t really talk with. In Kingston, I think it really hit me because I was around the people and in their word and not the world of a resort. I was able to travel throughout the city and talk to some people who were at the restaurant, as well as the places we went to while in Kingston.
We were able to go to a school in Jamaica called Alpha Primary. There, I was able to observe a 4th grade classroom. I was able to see the differences and also similarities in a Jamaican classroom, compared to an American classroom. Their class is smaller and also they have more students in the classroom. There are also not much rules, but respect is still shown to the teachers. Some guidelines are more strict then America, and the punishment reflects that. I can’t wait to explore moreover the differences and similarities in my paper when we get back to America.
The main event of this study abroad trip is the Alpha School. The school is split into infant, primary, alpha boys, and alpha girls. I had the opportunity to be over at the primary school for 3 days sitting in on a 4th grade classroom. As I spent my time observing how the children interacted with each other and the teacher, I found myself making mental lists of similrities and differences in comparison to schools in the USA.
The main difference is one I noticed right away, the primary school is all outdoors. The classroom’s walls had hole-openings all over them so the students were never really “inside”.
Another big difference I noticed was that the students come and go as they please. Throughout the day the kids will walk out to use the bathroom or run some other chore, and they rarely ask for permission. Also, the classrooms are a lot smaller than I’m used too and the class size are nuch bigger than a traditional American school.
There’s also a lot of rote memorizations that’s invovleved and, from what I observed, no kind of group work. Although these teaching methods are different from whay I’m personally used to, they work for the students there. The students at the Alpha schools are all so bright and talented and I was always amazed watching them work.
Despite all of these observed differences, the kids were still kids. They screamed when the lights went out during a storm and they cheered when they got to watch a video. This shows that despite educational differences among countries, students will still act like students no matter where they are.
The students at the primary school were an absolute joy to work with. They were VERY excited by our presence and we found ourselves mobbed by children who all wanted to hug us and touch our hair. They were so loving and curious about us and out culture and we felt the same towards them. One of the students during my last day asked what my favorite part of the school was and I told her it was all of them, a statement I stand by.
My time in Kingston has been nothing short of remarkable. Working at the Alpha Boys school truly brought me joy. Leaving will be very hard. I had the opportunity to work with boys in the 13-18 age range, with whom I got the chance to share my passion for saxophone. I worked with a group of 3 beginners named Andrew, Griffin, and Nakeem. Griffin and Nadeem picked up alto sax in September, and Andrew had started tenor saxophone the week before the Augie group arrived at the Alpha schools. What blew me away was how talented these young men were. All of them learned music by rote, so the beginners had no knowledge of how to read music. But they could pick up a tune by ear and play it within minutes. A salient example came on Friday, when Griffin and Nakeem stayed past dismissal to make me learn the pop song “Don’t Let Me Down” by ear. They refused to let me leave until I learned the first verse. Nakeem was also able to play “Amazing Grace” in 4 different keys after 30 minutes of rehearsal. He also learned vibrato in 30 minutes, which is a skill I have yet to master after 10 years of playing.
Andrew was also a wonderful student to spend time with. Andrew actually had no desire to play tenor sax. He was forced to switch to the instrument from keyboard because he has asthma, and someone at Alpha decided that playing saxophone would fix his asthma. It didn’t, and Andrew struggled greatly to get even a sound of the tenor. But nonetheless, Andrew diligently worked on remembering the finger settings for his notes and spent time at home learning how to read notes in the staff of a musical measure. Andrew was constsntly friendly and very focused on his work.
Our stay at the Jewel Resort in Runaway Bay was very eye opening. What struck me most was the contrast between the resort and the surrounding areas. There were a lot of people walking on the side of the road as we drove out of the airport in Montego Bay. This was odd for me because I expected more people to be inside cars. This was my first sign that average Jamaicans were far less wealthy than I had expected. I also saw many people sitting in roadside carts by the side of the road, selling everything from fruit to shoes. I had seen media portrayals of this phenomenon, but it was far more widespread than I had thought. We also passed a sobering number of shantytowns on the way in. Americans tend to have an image of third world nations as a giant collection of wooden shacks with corrugated tin roofs; the shanties on the north side of the island fit that image exactly, and it was very strange to think that these people may well be starving, but that I was headed toward an all-you-can-eat resort. Once we had arrived at the resort, we were greeted with blue drinks of some kind that tasted very sweet, given to us by a hotel employee. We were escorted to our rooms by a different employee who pulled our bags around for us. After getting settled, we went down to the beach, which looked like an Epicurean dream. Platters of food were everywhere, and we never wanted for food or drink. The resort was compeltly walled off from the surrounding areas, so we were in our own bubble for all intents and purpose. A nice bubble, but a bubble nonetheless. What made the scene all the more surreal is that a reggae band was playing. They played a song called “Too Many Guns”, because the lead singer said that gun violence was a huge problem in Jamaica. But his desire to bring awareness to his audience fell flat. The small children present there were too young to understand and simply danced along to their rhythm, and their parents were too drunk to even walk straight, let alone comprehend what the singer said. It made me feel slightly unnerved, because the singer was right. While I was sitting on a beach at a buffet, someone else in Jamaica was crouched down, hoping to avoid getting struck by a bullet. And things may not be getting any better. Romayne, a 20 year old bartender at the Jewel, told us that Vybz Kartel, an incarcerated dancehall star, was getting an appeal soon and might get out of jail. This also coincides with a revival of Kartel’s renewed feud with Mavado, another artist. The first Kartel-Mavado feud made blood run in the streets as fans of each artist fought each other with guns in the streets. Romayne said that “things will get crazy” because Romayne thought that Vybz Kartel is bigger than Bob Marley was.
I will say that the resort was beautiful, the food was fantastic, and that it was a wonderful experience all-around. But something just didn’t quite sit well with me at the Jewel. I was appreciative of the amenities I stayed in, but I was ready to head into Kingston. It made me realize that tourism is not nearly as helpful for Jamaica as one may think. The real problems, like gang violence, that affect everyday Jamaicans get walled off from the tourists, who gorge themselves without knowing what happens only a few mikes away from the resort. Tourism dollars need to go toward public works if it will have any significant impact on everyday Jamaican lives.