Written By Current PVI Kathryn Keane
Shifting the van into second gear, I round the first major bend on the narrow road to the rural town of Somerset, and slow down to begin my search. Scanning the sidewalks for the bright green uniforms of my students from the Somerset Primary School I am helped by their cheers as they spot the car: “Aunty Kee-atrin! Yeah!” Within minutes the car is packed with excited little spirits singing along with the radio or attempting to shout a story to me over the others. We dip and climb our way through the lush mountains and tall grasses leading further and further back into the rural Jamaican “bush”. I can’t help but absorb the raw energy bursting form the children in the car. Crawlling up the last major hill, I turn the radio off and demand silence while we pull into the parking lot.
Everyone is lined up under the speckled shade of the almond trees and ready for morning devotion. I walk over and stand beside the line of squirming, giggly second graders struggling to pay attention to the prayers. With arms fully extended in front and hands pressed together, seven-year-old Douglas, makes-like-a-snake weaving between the backpacks until he breaks free and wraps himself around my waist. “Good morning!” he whispers. He’s followed quickly by the very backpacks he just pushed aside, and I find mysefl struggling to support the weight of the group jostling to greet me. Once devotion is over the second graders who managed to stay in line and walk nicely into the classroom then converge on me wiht glee as I step inside. So begins another non-stop day at Somerset Primary.
On my first day at the school, I had a run in whith a little boy named Jonathan. Pulling him off of another student he was fighting for an eraser. I ordered him to “sit down”. “Sit down!!” he mimicked back as he careened around the room, screeching at the top of his lungs. I stifled the laugh I wanted to let out and tried another approach: “Hey, Jonathan, will you come sit with me and read this book?” Confused by this response he obediently marched over and sat down.
Later, I asked the teacher why Jonathan and a number of students were running around the room without any work to do. She explained plainly that the school has limited materials and is reluctant to entrust them to stduents who might not know what to do with them! I had gone to Somerset Primary that first day to decide if this was one of the schools where I might want to volunteer, from a list of seven schools suggested to me. After the teacher’s explanation however, I knew where I belonged.
I found a spare conference table in the dilapidated “computer” room, and brought all my supplies with me. Now I am teaching the alphabet and introductory phonics to ten second graders, all with a range of learning disabilities. For many of them the concept that each letter makes a sound is novel! For others, letters are random symbols! These second graders test the limits of my patience, frequently amazing me with the creativity of their mischief! Yet at the end of the day, I love them deeply and will do everything I can to help them learn.