Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Check out this article

about Penikese Island from an Irish magazine. It has some good pictures too.
Click to Launch Site, then click on "Features" and then "Penikese Island."


Sunday, January 08, 2006

Gift From a Former Student

The student who made this depiction of me with a sword was last seen in a homeless shelter.

A Long Week

This last week I spent an unusually long time on the island. Though we got back to the island one day later than usual so the kids would have an extra day off island for the Christmas holiday, I covered the weekend shift for my comrade and worked a couple extra days on the end there. Now, I've found that the extra long weeks can be exhausting but otherwise I don't really mind them. The fact is I like my work enough and I'm starting to get to a point at where I don't feel as stressed about doing it. And of course, the kids we have out there these days are much easier to work with than those I started this job with.

This shift was interesting for me in two major ways. First, I experienced a little bit more bonding with my kids than I have perhaps since I started here. Second, I learned a little bit about the problem of school, or rather made observations about school that reinforced ideas I already have about it. Third, I got to break up a fight. Huzzah.

First thing that happened was in coming back from the holiday I surprised the kids with a bit of a Christmas gift. I picked them up LED book lights that they could use to read at night during our study hour. It was really a simple and not unreasonable thing but several of the kids, especially our newer ones seemed kind of surprised and at the risk of sounding sappy, touched. Later during the week one of them opened up to me about some frustration he was having with another student. Another of the new guys had the first friendlyish rather than contentious bantering with me. Some more bonding happened when at the start of the weekend one of our students who has some kind of mood disorder, likely bipolar, came to me when he got into a serious funk frustrated with some infighting in his family and a sense that he hadn't been adequately acknowledged for some real progress he's made in our program. Inasmuch as it is our goal to help students improve sometimes it's easy for our staff to focus on all the problems while we fail to praise the accomplishments and this was getting to him. The opportunity I had to do a little listening and offer some encouragement may have helped one kid avoid a disastrous day. The last main bonding opportunity I remeber with some salience was with a kid who when he started our program I had a hard time liking at all. There are a handfull of philosophies where the two of us stand in pretty harsh opposition with each other. He also used to be very rash and bullying. But this weekend, we had some good conversations and teasing. I really feel pretty hopeful for most of these guys.

One day in school, I had planned to teach about some of the intricacies of photosynthesis and I had been trying to come up with a way of teaching it that would be in the form of a game. None of the kids were having it. Distracted and even to a point despairing, the tide of "Why do we have to learn this?" was unleashed to clear some muck away for me to see what was really bugging them. For one it was anxiety over being able to get the credits he needs to progress in his regular public school and the dread of being a perfectly bright yet 17-year-old freshman. For another it was the bleak landscape of another three weeks on the island before he can go home again. For the last it was a realization that in some sense his time on the island was a punishment and he was feeling punished. This kind of stuff is how kids feel when they've been off for a while and they come back and it makes getting school work done on that week that much harder. Getting school work done this week was difficult. But it wasn't until the weekend that I got the full measure of it. Usually on the weekend the kids don't have the regular sort of academics we give them during the week. It often involves health class, art projects, videos with discussion, and the like. So, for Saturday's school I planned the easy job of watching a video about animals fighting, discussing it a bit, and having a rousing game of something. In the afternoon when it came to game time the kids could not come to consensus on what they wanted to play. I found it somewhat fascinating that the attitude when things are under the umbrella of school that the boys would revolt against doing something even if it was play a regular old card game. Somehow or other school and teachers cannot but be seen as an enemy. And it is the enemy which must be rebelled against regardless of what it wants to do, no matter how much I might normally want to go along with it.