Here's the scoop. My school is still a mess. The Directora (or principal) got her job through political connections or family, as she is clearly unqualified for the position. Until I got there, her job was easy. Sit around and gossip with the other teachers all day, ignore the kids, and collect the pay check. The grades they submit to the Supervision in Oviedo are completely fabricated, to make their kids look pretty damn smart. Then they made a mistake: the 2nd grade teacher wrote the request to have a Peace Corps Volunteer come and work in the school. Before I got there, he thought that I was going to come in and teach the 2nd grade full time, so that he could keep getting paid for doing even less work than he already does. Well, that's not my job. When they found out that I was trained to teach the teachers how to do their work more effectively (emphasis on the word "work"), they wanted nothing to do with it. The Directora made it her personal mission to make everything I do difficult. She would interrupt my model lessons in the class, shoot down every learning game I started up, and got the kids back to copying already completed math problems off the board. When I asked to use one of the classrooms for an event I was planning, she said "yeah, sure, I don't care", then told all the other teachers that she actually wasn't going to let me, but not to tell me because she wanted to wait until the day before my event to pull the rug out from under me. (Fortunately, not all of my co-workers are horrible people, so I got a tip-off and was able to find another venue. Then the event got rained out anyway. Oh well.) So this was what I was having to work with up until now.
One afternoon my host brother knocked on my door to tell me that he had good news, and bad news. The bad news was that 5 of the Directora's family members were killed in a brutal car accident so horrendous that made the national news. This is an unfortunate tragedy, and no one, no matter how nasty they are, deserves something like this. I would never wish anything like this to happen to anyone. But the good news was that she wouldn't be in school for at least a month. (I actually doubt she will be coming back for the rest of the school year.)
School was canceled for several days, but when I came in on the first day it started up again, the atmosphere was very different. The teachers talked to me, without rolling their eyes or simply turning and walking away mid-sentence. I didn't get kicked out of any classrooms. I actually scheduled 4 model lessons for the next few weeks, and actualized them without a hitch. There was no back-stabbing, no plotting and no evil chisme. (There always will be chisme (gossip), but but it is no longer malicious, which is quite a relief.) All that patience and perseverance has finally begun to pay off.
My home base at the school is the Sala de Apoyo, or the "Help Room" where kids go for extra help in their studies during the half of the day when they don't have class. (Paraguayan kids only go to school for 4 hours a day, and recess usually takes up about 3 of the 4 hours, so these kids need a lot of help.) I try to have a plan for each day, but the plan usually changes as soon as I arrive. For example, today the plan was to solidify the schedule for my Reading club and English club, and to take some initial steps for forming a Youth Action Committee, but when I arrived in the school I ended up teaching the concepts of area and volume to a quiet 3rd grade boy who's answer for everything was "4 centimeters".
I was, however, able to catch two of my star students, Fátima and Miguelito, and get them excited about the World Map Project that we've been talking about for weeks. I was about to suggest starting a kind of fund-raiser to collect the 200 mil (around $40 USD) we need for the supplies, when Fátima pulls a half-used book of raffle tickets out of her backpack. She tells me proudly that they've already raised 19 mil by selling the tickets to raffle off 6 wine-bottle-glasses I had helped them make the week before. I was so pleased with her initiative that I bought two. We have nearly 10% of our goal, and we haven't even had the first meeting yet!
Tomorrow afternoon will be the first meeting of the map-making committee. We will discus why (and if) we want a big map in the Sala de Apoyo, what we want to learn with this project, and why it is important. We will come up with a name for the committee, and if there is time, elect a president, vp, secretary and treasurer. I expect to have around 10 or 15 students between 4th-9th grades show up.
Next week I have a meeting with the Parent's commission to discus possible community projects we want to undertake during Summer Vacation, which lasts from December to February. I am not as sure what to expect from that meeting, but with a little help from my Paraguayan friends in the school I think it will be productive. Or at least help pave to the way to a future productive meeting. New concepts and new attitudes are very difficult for Paraguayans, especially older adults, to accept, and they may be somewhat reticent at first, but any little step in the right direction is a small victory.
Future blog posts will hopefully be filled with pictures of smiling kids smudged with paint standing in front of a partially-completed world map, but until then I will leave you with just a few photos of where I live.
(Edit: Okay so my internet at home is too slow to upload photos. But I'll get them on here sometime soon, I promise!)