#23 Schools Close for August Break

#23-2013 Schools Close for August Break

I haven’t written for some time because school was about to close for the month of August and I wanted to get to as many form 4’s as possible to review their mock math exams.  As is always the case, the results were broad, from really good to really bad.  This has triggered much problem-solving thinking on my part as I realize there are girls whose math skills are very low.  I’m wondering why I (or anyone else) didn’t target those girls 3 ½ years ago and focus on them.  I know for myself, I do love teaching classes and I enjoy the girls for whom math is fun.  But if we want to bring up the results of the school on the KCSE, we have to work with those girls whose scores are low.  DUH!  I’m not implying the mock exams results were bad, they weren’t, but there were individual results that make me cringe.  So I have been reviewing the first paper (there are 2 for math) with the math-strugglers.  And I’ve learned a lot and thought a lot.  My plan for the future is not to teach classes so much, but to get a list of the girls who struggle with math, especially the form 1’s and see if we can’t pull them up at the outset as well as form 4’s b/c their performance has such life implications.

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Students assemble in quad in preparation for August break

One of the last girls I saw late yesterday afternoon was particularly painful.  She’s very quiet, not wanting people to realize how poorly she does in math.  Yet I felt that if she had been given the kind of tutoring I do at home, it would have paid off very well.  I don’t mean to imply at all that the math teachers here are at fault.  They work very hard, but because they teach so many classes, they don’t have much time for individual remediation.  That’s why it’s important for me to step into the gap.

The math teachers and I have discussed this at great length, trying to see what they can do, as well as what I can do in my relatively short stay here.  They plan to develop a diagnostic test for the new students upon their arrival.  The contents will be those skills and concepts they expect students to know from class 7 and 8.  They will analyze the exams not only for each student but also for each skill or concept to determine where are the weaknesses.

Keep in mind that our students are in the 300-350 (some a bit higher) on the KCPE (8th grade exit exam-500 points).  We don’t get the top students, but the girls we do get are bright enough to be very good at math.  I’m wishing it was already June 2014 and I was just arriving to begin my stay.  As it is I am very happy with my 9th summer visit here and feeling sad that it will be over in 3 weeks.

Well, I trust I will be leaving.  You may have read about the huge fire that destroyed the international arrivals terminal in Nairobi.  It closed down the airport for a day, stranding people in all sorts of difficult situations.  Now they are using the departures terminal for both, which is bound to disturb flights both coming and going.  The paper this morning was full of articles, some of which are positing that it may have been arson.  A few days ago all the duty-free shops were unceremoniously kicked out.  It wasn’t done nicely, shops were just torn apart, looted and destroyed—by officials!  Retaliation is a big thing here.  If someone steps on your toe, you feel you must step on the whole leg.  ARGH!  It’s so Old Testament.

Today the students left very early in the morning.  By the time I arrived about 10:30 just one girl was left sitting on the rock edge of the planting area in front.  Her brother arrived to pick her shortly.  I found almost all the teachers and support staff-groundsmen, gate men, librarian, lab tech, cooks, matron, everybody busily preparing an end-of-term feast.  They had slaughtered a goat and a sheep and were happily cooking it, preparing ugali, chipatis, stews, a traditional dish of mashed potatoes, corn and peas (don’t know the name) and lots of vegetables.  For the most part, the men prepare the meat over a grill, then bake it in the big bread ovens and the women prepare vegetables and chipatis.  Everyone pitched in and had a wonderfully relaxing time.  A big deal was making sausage, filling the intestines with a meat mixture, wasn’t quite sure all that went into it.  The stomach was filled with blood, then boiled.  Some thought it a great delicacy.  I took their word for it, as did Pauline, my good math teacher friend.

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Grounds man, gate man and math teacher (Christopher Murimi) making sausage

It made my heart sing to see the staff mixing and working together, relaxing and enjoying themselves.  Many will spend their holiday in school working to complete a degree, some will visit families, some will be on duty for a week, as the school is never left totally empty.  Ruth Kahiga will be there most of the time, although I’m sure she will want to spend some of the holiday with her husband, whom she sees only on weekends, as he works far from here.

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Mary Oguta (biology) carries veges, Esther (matron) looks on. Pauline (math) slices tomatoes.

When the food was prepared we gathered around tables in the dining hall.  I’m always astonished at the portions of food that Kenyan’s eat, so I had to serve myself, but even at that, I had a hearty meal and loved being included in their festivities.  Afterwards they turned on music and everyone, including this 77-year old danced with the joy of feeling free.  A lovely day.

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About 4 it began to rain and it POURED.  I was concerned about the car’s getting stuck in the mud on the dirt road.  Ever-thoughtful Esther, the matron, covered me with a large umbrella as we went to the car.  As I was going out, 2 of the gatemen asked for a ride as far as Ndingi and pronounced themselves lucky.  I felt lucky that I would have 2 strong guys to push my car out of the mud, should I need it.  We slipped and slid a bit, but we made it up to the tarmacked road and I breathed a sigh of relief.  As I drove along, the rain diminished until by the time I got home, a distance of about 5 miles, the ground was perfectly dry.  Just now, 3 hours later, it rained here a bit, but has now stopped.

The weather has been COLD, such that I have worn every warm item I own and still wrapped myself in a shawl and/or scarf.  At school the wind blows through the staff room and library like there were no walls.  At home I have a banana tree outside the bedroom window.  To my knowledge it has yet to produce its first banana, but the wind makes the leaves rustle, sounding like rain.

(later)

My writing was interrupted by the arrival of Simon, class 8 student and very hard worker.  He brings his math exams, which they have every few days as they are cramming those kids for the KCPE.  We talk about the problems he has missed.  Today he brought the questions, but his answers have not yet been marked, so I worked out the questions and indicated which ones I agreed with and which not.  I’ve now given him back the paper, questionable answers circled in red, with instructions to redo those and come back prepared to argue with me.  He struggles a bit with math, but is very determined.  Later he came in wanting to know whether I had a cord they could use with their very old and cantankerous TV.  I didn’t.  But he comes in all the time to borrow a hammer, pliers or screw driver, my roll of duck tape, a special pen, or whatever.  He loves to repair and construct.  I’d love to see him in engineering, but I’m not sure he can make that.  However, he and I will continue to plug away at it.

=Margo

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