"At the center of the universe is a loving heart that continues to beat and that wants the best for every person. Anything we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job. Those of us who have this particular vision must continue against all odds. Life is for service." ~Mr. Fred Rogers

Monday, February 13, 2012

Finding my stride

The cold hasn't really let up and I haven't seen a weather report without a "-" for some time now, but life is still wonderful in Ukraine. Yesterday, I was talking with some friends and we were joking about how 0° C would feel balmy. Sure as the sun rises, so will the temperature, but I'm hoping for sooner rather than later. School has been in rare form too, with low attendance and shortened schedules. That means the rest of the semester we'll all be hustling to play catch up, but I think it'll make it go that much faster. 

Even though the cold has things slowing down a little bit at school, my schedule certainly hasn't. Last year around this time, I was just settling into my site and really had no idea where or how to begin. Now, I finally feel like I have hit my stride and can juggle a lot all at once. My site is getting really excited about doing projects and really supportive and open to working with me. I think they are starting to realize I won't be around here forever.

On Wednesday, I've organized an Operation Respect training seminar at my school for teachers and school psychologists of the district. Operation Respect is an American non-profit working in schools worldwide to assure students have a respectful, safe, and compassionate place to learn. A trainer will come to Kolky from Kyiv to give the Seminar for teachers so that the teachers become trainers and we can spread it throughout the schools of the region. I have heard nothing but fantastic things about the OR training so Wednesday should be a great day.

Towards the end of the month, my students will be participating in the International Creative Writing Contest, which we have been preparing for. The unique thing about this writing contest is that it is graded only on CREATIVITY! This is a hard concept for my students to grasp, but they are coming around quickly. Sometimes I feel that Ukraine has a tendency to put students "in a box" and that thinking outside of it, even in the least bit, just isn't possible. Small activities like this seems to give students an outlet to expand their thinking and, more importantly, their imagination. 

Also, I'm hosting a G.L.O.W. & T.O.B.E. Day Camp at my school the beginning of March. (Girls Leading Our World/Teaching Our Boys Excellence). 4 other Peace Corps Volunteer friends of mine will come to Kolky Lyceum to help run it with me. The groups are split up by gender focusing on leadership, gender stereotypes, healthy relationships, etc. Again, hoping to break down a few walls with this short Saturday camp and open a few minds to ideas and thinking that they might not ever have the possibility of knowing.

And finally, the most exciting news from me these days -- I've been asked to address the Ukrainian Parliament next month! I got a call last week asking if I wanted to do it and I immediately said yes. I'll be speaking about Peace Corps and my experience in Ukraine,  as well as working in a Ukrainian village school...all done so on the floor of the Parliament. I'm also supposed to highlight 3 aspects of the Ukrainian school system that I find especially impressive and 3 strategies for improvement.

The latter has made me the most nervous because I don't feel qualified critiquing the American system of education, let alone a foreign country's with whom I'm a guest in. My message from the start of this experience has been gratitude to Ukraine for letting me have this opportunity and for welcoming me into such a wonderful place. Now, I'm just trying to find a balance of evaluation, without sounds too "Holier-than-thou". Also, it's in Ukrainian, but I am choosing to forget that for the time being. 

So, that's what I'll be busy with for the next month or so. Of course, I've got friends to see, classes to teach, and a dog to feed. Besides being consumed with the frost, all the students are preparing for the annual "Hello, We're Looking for Talent" Concert, which happens to be tomorrow. I'll post pictures from the talent show and from all the exciting projects as they happen, so you all can see what talented and amazing teachers and students I get to work with!

Happy Valentines Day (tomorrow) to all of my loved ones, as well! I love you!

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