Pre-Service Training culminates in what we call Model School. For two weeks we held morning classes for local kids who are currently on break from school. Rumor has it that we usually bribe them with the promise of a chicken, but I am pretty sure the main draw was to get an up close and personal look at the abazungu (foreigners). The purpose is to give us a chance to practice teaching in a Rwandan classroom and try out some lesson plans before we get to site. However, there are a few things that made model school especially daunting…
- Lack of resources: To put this in perspective, think back to your own education in America. How often did your teachers distribute handouts, worksheets, study guides, packets, and notes? Class sets of textbooks, novels, and workbooks? Did your teachers often use posters, overhead projectors, or even smart boards? None of those are possible here. In Rwanda, our options are limited to chalk and chalkboard and our students have just a notebook. If you want students to practice reading a paragraph or longer passage, you must either spend fifteen minutes writing it on the board while the kids go wild or write it ahead of time on a rice sack and then post that in the classroom.
- Class Sizes: Since this is the first time PC has organised a Model School in Rwamagana, it was difficult to predict exactly how many students would attend. My school happened to have less Peace Corps Trainees and many, many more students, leaving us with class sizes between 50-75 students. This drastically changed a lot of the activities and lessons that we planned, as a lot of things that would work with 25-30 kids would be absolute chaos in a class that large. Making sure all of the students were engaged was pretty much a constant challenge.
- Observations: This, more than anything, was what we were freaking out about before Model School began. One of the key components of Model School is that you are observed by peers, current volunteers, and training staff and then given feedback.
However, despite these challenges, I’ve got to say, Model School was a blast. We’ve spent so long sitting in the training center learning about how to teach that it was so rewarding and exciting to finally get out there and do what I came here to do. The students were wonderful (for the most part) and I got some great ideas for what I want to do when I start teaching at my site in January. The days were exhausting but truly so much fun.
The last day of Model School coincided with the beginning of our Thanksgiving celebration. This was absolutely the longest day here but still one of my favorites so far. We had planned a field day at our school and were feeling pretty good about how we had organized everything beforehand. Things were going pretty smoothly until, at 9am, a group of 150 new students suddenly appeared at our school with no announcement or explanation. At that point, I knew that things were about to get crazy so I prepared myself to laugh through the general chaos that then ensued. To give you an idea, the day ended with a rousing round of a game that could only be called “chase the muzungu.” Picture a handful of Peace Corps trainees being chased by around the school grounds by stampedes of hundreds of Rwandan children… Before leaving the school I was required to give possibly thousands of high-fives and fist bumps to the students. We were sweaty, dirty, hoarse, and exhausted, but we had survived Model School!
That afternoon, our Thanksgiving celebration was kicked off with the killing of six turkeys. As you probably know, I am a vegetarian, so this was not exactly my favorite part of the celebration, but I couldn’t really look away either… The turkeys alone were a 24-hour process so we got permission to sleep over at our training center to prep for the next day’s feast. I chose to be on the pie committee rather than spending the evening gutting the turkeys, wrapping them in foil, and covering them in a pit with hot charcoal… Instead, my friends and I cooked 15 pies. Peace Corps went all out with the American ingredients, so we had a lot of things that are nearly impossible to find in Rwanda like apples, cinnamon, and nutmeg. We stayed up past 3am to finish the pies (charcoal stoves are not the most efficient baking method).
The next morning, we cooked breakfast and plenty of coffee and cooked the rest of the dishes, which was quite a process with the charcoal stoves. In the end we had a pretty remarkable spread of turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, pumpkin soup, fluffy rolls, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, deviled eggs, hot apple cider, and, of course, the pies. We shared the meal with our Language & Cultural Facilitators (Kinyarwanda teachers), the training staff, and some of the Peace Corps staff from Kigali. I was worried that my first big holiday away from home would feel nostalgic and kind of depressing, but these fears were allayed by an amazing feast and even more amazing people whom I’ve been so fortunate to have shared my Peace Corps experience with. I am bracing for my final week of training feeling incredibly thankful for everything thus far and so excited (ok, and a little nervous) for what’s to come when I move to my site next weekend!