The worldwide Augustana College experience

Kingston, Jamaica

Words can not explain the experiences that I’ve had these past three days at the Alpha Girls’ School! I not only taught them math concepts but they also taught me a lot about myself. I am truly blessed to have had this opportunity. It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience.

It all started on Wednesday when we arrived at the school at 8:15.  As we pulled in the girls’ heads all turned towards our vans. The girls waived and smiled as if we were long lost friends. I was very surprised at just how many girls showed up, even though it was the last week of their Christmas break. It was very special to think just how dedicated the group of girls had to be to make such a responsible decision to come.
As we entered the hall we were greeted by the principal, head of the math department, and again all of the girls. The girls began by welcoming us with some songs, including the Jamaican National Anthem. My heart instantly melted when e girls began singing. I could tell that they were very heartfelt in their welcoming. We were then introduced to the girls and then shown to each of our rooms.
While I knew there would be a lack of supplies, the teaching environment was very different than that of student teaching as well. My room was right next to Jenna’s and the wall did not sever as a very good sound barrier. Another difference was the humidity. By the end of the day I was drenched with sweat. Even though this was considered “the cool season” in their country, it was something that I was not used to at all. When I student taught this past term it was so cold in my room that I always wore layers. That was definitely not the case here.
From the very beginning interactions with my students that day, I knew that this experience would be incredible. The girls were very well mannered, answering questions with “yes miss” or “no miss”. Their interest and appreciation for their education was another thing that had a large impact on me. Students would apologize for interrupting, ask questions if they didn’t understand, volunteer left and right to participate and answer questions. Another hot topic was touching my blonde hair and looking at my “pretty blue eyes”, the girls found these qualities about me very interesting and different than what they were used to.
Another thing that I noticed was the value that the students placed on the things that we as Americans don’t consider a privilege but a necessity. During student teaching I couldn’t even estimate the number of pencils that I lost by having students “borrow” them and never return them. This trip I brought four pencils with me, and while I did have students in each of my classes borrow one they were always considerate to return them and make sure to thank me. While something like returning a pencil that cost maybe fifteen cents doesn’t seem important, it shows the amazing character the students had. Once the first day came to an end,the girls made sure to thank me for the time I spent helping them with material that they had missed from missing school due to the hurricane.
The girls drive to work hard and make the most of the three days continued the second day. One student in particular in my home room was having a hard time grasping one of the concepts and asked if I could stay after to help her. She had reworked through the previous day’s examples on her own the night before and was struggling with graphing. I asked to see her work to see if i could identify the problem. When i looked at the practice problems, I noticed that she had done the problems on lined paper instead of graph paper. I told her that the work looked right, however using lined paper wasn’t as precise as graph paper and that this seemed to be where the problems were occurring. She looked at me and quietly said, “I don’t have graph paper to do my homework on.” My heart instantly sank. The girl had used the resources that she had at home to do extra practice and I had just assumed that she would have graph paper. I had extra graph paper in my bag and when I offered the girl some to take home, her eyes lit up. She was genuinely appreciative of the resources so that she could use it to study for the CXC Exam. This day, it was this little act of kindness that made me feel on top of the world. What would normally seem like an insignificant act in the United States was a huge gesture to this particular student. I am so happy to have had this experience, it was truly eye opening for me.
The third day was a very sad one, I didn’t want to leave my students. We had developed such a bond and were learning so much from each other. The final day i was able to review exam problems with them, giving them insight of what the test would be like. However, the students taught me so much more. They taught me to be patient and kind through their own actions. The girls also helped me become more well rounded in my music selection. When I told them that I was from a small town in the middle of cornfields and that I listened to country, they replied, “Oh, no no no miss! You need real music!” So the girls made me a list of songs and artists that I must listen too. Another thing the girls taught me were common phrases  in their native language. The girls found my accent and pronunciation of the repeated phrases quite hilarious. I asked the girls to write the phrases down and I also recorded them speaking so that I can practice for the next time I visit.
Overall it was very sad to leave the girls. I made sure to give them my email address so that they could stay in contact and email me any questions that they had in regards to studying for their exam. We took a class picture which I will cherish FOREVER! Each and every student has made a special place in my heart. The things that they have taught me will always be remembered.
At the end of the final day, the girls put on an assembly for us. It consisted of more singing, dancing, and an enthusiastic environment that would put a smile on anyone’s face! The speeches that the principal and head of the math department gave were touching. They expressed their genuine thanks and appreciation for our help the past three days. The girls also presented us with keychains with their school logo on them and the administrators gave each of us a copy of the textbook we used to create the lessons from. These gifts are so meaningful to me. They represent the love and appreciation that one can give as well as receive in such a short amount of time when people are genuine and real.
Prior to teaching at the Alpha Girls’ School, we had gone on so many amazing excursions, but this opportunity is no comparison. Teaching in the school has surpassed all of the expectations I had for this trip. I can honestly say that I know for sure that I chose the right profession. The girls that I taught along with the Alpha Girls’ School as a whole will always have a special place in my heart! I hope that I can return to visit some day and that this program continues for years to come! This has been the best experience of my life!

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