(A mediocre picture of my school. For a better look check out this video by a previous volunteer at my site! https://youtu.be/ohmDmgr7Y3g)
Although I’m officially stationed at the health center, I’ve found myself spending a lot of time at my local secondary school teaching Health and Family Life Education (HFLE). I’ve been spending more time there because adolescents are high risk for many health problems here, and unlike many adults, they haven’t already established bad habits and can be more easily encouraged to adopt healthy habits! It also turns out that I quite like teaching the subject! The curriculum is taught all over the Caribbean and was adapted for Guyana. We cover 4 subject areas: Self and Interpersonal Relationships, Sexuality and Sexual Health, Appropriate Eating and Fitness, and Managing the Enviornment. I’m only working in the secondary school (because little kids are too icky!) and co-teach 9 different classes of grades 7, 8, and 9.
Before I get into the subject, I have to give some background on the school. I work at 8th of May Secondary School (named after Prime Minister Ptolomy Reid’s birthday) which neighbors my house. We have about 400 students enrolled in grades 7-11. The school is essentially two open two-story buildings with classrooms separated by chalk boards. This was really challenging for me at first but I’m slowly getting accustomed to it. Because there aren’t individual rooms for each class, the school is always really loud. I don’t have a naturally loud voice, so I’m constantly yelling so the students in the back can hear. The classroom situation is also difficult because it’s easy for students to get distracted. They can just look over and see the next class’ lesson or other students being troublesome. Classroom management has been a giant learning curve for me, but (slowly) my co-teachers and I are making progress. Some days school feels like sheer chaos but mostly it’s fun haha!(My grade 9 class working on an activity. You can see another class in the background)
It’s also helpful to know that in Guyana, students take the National Grade 6 Examination to determine where they will go to secondary school. The students in my area that score the highest usually go to Anna Regina Multilateral School (a 20 min drive from here), and students with the lowest scores usually come to 8th of May. This presents many challenges. Firstly, our grade 7 students usually come in with low literacy skills (my host mom who teaches at the school estimates that 80% of students can’t read). Secondly, many of our students have low self-esteem because they didn’t do well on the exam and many have limited support at home. Thirdly, we get students from all over the region so it can be hard to provide support outside of school and attendance is really poor. Lastly, our drop out rate is really high and lots of students don’t see the value in education. I teach about 150 grade 7 students but there are only 11 students enrolled in grade 11… Despite all of those challenges, our committed teachers are able to help students do fairly well on their CXC exams taken at the end of grade 11. In fact, we often beat out Charity Secondary School’s scores which is suppose to receive higher scoring grade 7 students than us!
So that’s a little background on the school–comment if you have any other questions because I’m sure I didn’t cover all of it! As far as my actual classes, I’m basically there to help teachers who are already assigned to teach the subject. I help to provide scientifically accurate information and infuse the lessons with more activities. Because many of the students can’t read or write well, we try to emphasize experiential learning and skill building through activities. The subject is interesting for the students and they like the activities so my job is a lot easier than most I think! In addition to the kids generally liking the subject, I’m always working with another teacher who is experienced, which has been vital to my success. I really love and respect the teachers I work with and it’s been interesting to get such a good look at how school is taught here!(Ms. Sadnah teaching one of our grade 8 classes. She’s fabulous to work with!)
Teaching the curriculum itself has been an interesting journey for me. I’m motivated to teach it because I believe that students vitally need the we’re trying to teach them. We talk about self-confidence, domestic violence, STIs, healthy eating habits, relationships, contraceptives, communication, puberty, and more! These make so much sense when you look at what’s going on in our community: Guyana has the second highest rate of suicide per capita in the world. Domestic violence and child abuse are extremely prevalent–I see it happening in my community frequently even though I’m often shielded from it as an outsider. Guyana has one of the highest rates of HIV in the region. We also have one of the highest rates of non-communicable diseases (e.g. hypertension and diabetes) in the region. At my health center, 15% of our pregnancies are in teens. I could go on. The fact is these kids are dealing with all sorts of things that they’re not prepared to do within normal academia–which is why HFLE fills (or tries to fill) this essential gap. It can be really challenging to live in a society where all of these social ills are happening, but it makes me hopeful to teach students that there is another way, and that we can work together to improve our community.(One of the posters my grade 9 class has made for world AIDS day this year!)
That’s the basic summary of my life at school! My service has become youth focused and I’m excited to see what moe I can do with students. I laugh because when I was little I wanted to be a teacher just like my sister. Then I grew up a little and realized I really didn’t like teaching and instead wanted to do medicine. But here I am teaching! At the end of the day I think it’s one of the most effective things I can do to improve my community’s health. And I find that I enjoy teaching sex ed more than I should admit! The awkwardness just makes me laugh 🙂 Outside of classes, I’m working to start an IT club but more on that later. On the whole, life is good here! I’ll leave you with a picture of Kora because she’s my everything these days.