Back at the School

This morning I walked to the school to meet with the students again. I’m on my own a bit more recently. The field students went out to Castle Hill. I was sad to miss what Sophia calls her favorite place, but it is important to be persistant and present with the students to establish a working relationship.

I walked there in the morning and MOSTLY knew my way there. I had to ask one fellow if I was going the right way. There aren’t many options on which way to go, but this is the first time that I walked to the school on my own. I have walked back several times previously, but doing things backwards and forwards is difficult for humans for some reason. Try reciting the alphabet backwards. NOW. Just kidding.

The walk there illustrates a bit of the local context for the students. There are several half built houses that stick out. They are not abandoned. The reason they are half built is, there is no credit on the island. You have to build a home with the cash upfront. The land is commonly owned among the Barbudan people. You get a plot of land from the council and then you can build upon it. There are no mortgages or rent.

The walk to the high school passes through the center of town, called Madison Square. A few folks set up to sell food along the way. I smelled jerk chicken along the way. After two years of living in Flatbush Brooklyn, I’m happy to say I’ve tried jerk chicken and I like it. There are also several cars that are overgrown and abandoned. I think it is difficult to repair autos on the island. Parts can be hard to come by. In fact I passed a hand written sign that said “We have difficult to find items! Just ask!” Again, the population of the island is well below 2,000 people.

I got to the school, walked on the grounds and waved to a few familiar faces. I wave or say “Good Day” to just about everybody, which is not the case in Brooklyn. I have noticed some skepticism from a few people, but with repeated greetings over several days, this skepticism is mellowing. I walked into the teachers lounge and one teacher asked me if I brought my work to show again today. I didn’t have the print outs, but she said she heard it was “beautiful” and wanted to see it.

Mr. Weber, the main art teacher I am working with was at the school today. He was feeling ill yesterday so was not in. I went in to meet with him and discuss how we can move things forward. We talked for a while about some ideas on how to guide and manage the students. We talked a bit about his own history with art. I learned that the examination board for the students is Caribbean wide. They are not to paint these projects with slow drying paint, as they pack up and ship artwork away to be graded by the exam board.

The teacher had a notebook on his desk dated 1994, with plenty of cursive writing filling the pages. I asked him what the yellowed pages where about and he said “I never thought I would be using this notebook now when I wrote it back then.” It is a building techniques notebook that he copied diligently from teachers who either wrote on the board or dictated the content. They didn’t have text books back then. And now the kids “have everything.”

There is a unique texture to the school. I don’t quite understand structure of the days. It is Caribbean, I suppose. On such a small island, the school does not need to be indoctrinating the proper behavior toward authority and train kids to sit at desks for 8 hours a day. For a lot of these kids, that is not what is ahead of them. And so, there is a lot of milling about and socializing. The socializing and network building is probably extremely important to the integrity of the island, so I imagine there is a lot of value in that. Still, the school is not without its challenges. The art teacher (who also teaches several other subjects) was complaining that the kids don’t read. But I wonder if they do read much anywhere these days.

After the meeting with Mr. Webber, I walked down a few classrooms and came across a bunch of students I had spoken to yesterday. About four of them were sketching, maybe another 6 were doodling, writing their name in block letters and so on. They were excited to see me, so we looked at some of the drawings. For every person drawing, about 3 folks were surrounding them, experiencing the drawing in a way themselves. There was definite enthusiasm and an almost ownership of the other person’s drawing was expressed. “I started it, and he helped me finish it.” I made sure to ask the names again of those that were drawing and take pictures if they didn’t mind. I drew a sketch of a dog for a girl that requested one. I asked them what they knew about global warming. They said it was a hole in the ozone layer that was caused by pollution. The sun will be closer, no not closer, but hotter. The ice caps will melt and the sea level will rise. I asked them what that would mean for Barbuda and they ducked the question and moved on.

After debriefing with the principle I left for the day. I needed to get back to add a second coat of primer on the wall for the mural. The mural is going to be on a cinder block wall. We have a limited supply of pigment. I wanted to fill in the pores of the concerte with the primer to stretch out what pigment we do have. I didn’t make any concrete plans with the students to work on this, but about 6 of them showed up after school to help me do this. They were very well behaved and focused today, which was great.

The wall is fantastically primed now.

We finished the day with a bbq on a tire rim bbq for the departing field students. I’ll show you a picture someday.

Tomorrow, back to the school to workshop with some older students.