Say Cheese!

Something is missing in kindergarten – teeth! First, there was Yafreydi. (Katie wrote about the lost tooth experience here.) In January, Scarlette and Yorjeni joined the ranks of the toothless. When I came back from furlough, I noticed Beba’s big gap! The gummy grins are tiny signs that our kiddos are outwardly growing and changing. So thankful to be a part of their lives, missing teeth and all!

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Yorjeni
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Scarlette
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Beba

Another week of progress

This morning we said goodbye to the biggest team we’ve ever hosted here on the ground! We enjoyed doing life with 33 high schoolers and their chaperones this past week. Their days were full of leading VBS programs in Batey Piñones and Batey Cabeza de Toro, working on the land, and teaching small groups in the classrooms. Last night, the team members shared their thoughts on their time here and talked about what God’s been teaching them. The Freedom team is praying that this week wouldn’t just be a parenthesis in their lives but that they would use their time and experiences here to gain a bigger picture of the Lord.

Not only were the high school students impacted by their experience, but our students also benefited greatly. The individualized attention was huge. Sonia is so close to reading. Anllelo and Nicol and Alejandro didn’t get left in the dust – they had people by their side who desired to keep them focused and learning. Javier has been having a rough couple of weeks, but he responded positively to some guys on the team.

Overall, this week was another step toward seeing some serious change in the lives of our kiddos. Excited for the continued progress!

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Five ways you just know…

There are telltale signs that come with taking on the jobs of teacher and mother simultaneously. Maybe you’ve seen some of them – the crazy eyes, the slew of half-empty coffee mugs littering the house, the cockeyed couch cushions, the trail of toys from bedroom to living room… Over the months, I’ve discovered a few more ways that you just know.

You know you’re a kindergarten teacher and mother to toddlers when…

DSC04042 Ground beef and gluesticks are the first two items on your shopping list. Why ground beef? Because your family’s been alternating between tacos and spaghetti for dinner the past few weeks. And the gluesticks? Because the colored Christmas trees and numbered gingerbread houses you’re using for math centers this week demand to be glued to their cardstock partners.

DSC04039cropYour kitchen table consistently looks like it’s been hit by a paper/scissors/markers grenade and painfully sits without hope of recovery. Let’s be honest – you can’t really clean anything up. That glorious table is the only spot in the house that will hold all of the projects you’ve decided to start working on concurrently. At least the mayhem covers up your 22-month-old’s crayon art from last week. The only plausible solution to the fracas must be to buy a second kitchen table.

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Your pet peeve is not being able to fill that last empty section of laminating sheet. The dilemma: laminate now, waste the space, but finish preparing for the next day? Or laminate later, risk ruining a few visual aids at school, but wait to find the piece of paper that will fit perfectly in that little area? OK, maybe this one can be filed under “You know you’re an OCD kindergarten teacher when…”

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Your family Christmas tree is finally assembled several weeks late, and your new mantra to the smallest members of the household is, “DON’T TOUCH – JUST LOOK.” You’re also still deciding if the faint smell of burning electrical wires is something to be concerned about, or if you should just chalk it up to buying cheap-o Christmas lights.

DSC03983Your heart swells with pride at the glimpses of learning and growth you catch in the middle of the hustle. It happens when your students get so excited about the circle they just drew that they incessantly shout your name from ALL the way across the room. And when you don’t come soon enough, they rocket out of their seats to shove their precious, dirty faces right in front of yours in their valiant attempts for a little recognition. It happens before bed when your three-year-old asks to read the Christmas story and tells you all about the baby Jesus. And it happens again when your kindergartners sit so still and hang on every word of that same, beautiful Christmas story.

You realize that life is hard as a mother-teacher. But you know that in the middle of the exhaustion and frustration, you wouldn’t give up the great privilege to care for these treasured ones. You’re still learning that it’s OK if things aren’t perfect – that you can concede the varied, aesthetically-pleasing meals and perfectly-placed Christmas ornaments if it means that God allows you to play a small part in the lives of these beloved children.

Edward and a Proud “Momma”

Teaching kindergarten feels like being a part of one great big family.

There have been frustrating moments. My kids don’t always want to listen. Sometimes they complain and cry. They are hard to please – they want routine, but they want variety within that routine. It’s been a huge learning experience for all of us as we do life together.

There have been some “momma-bear” moments with these kindergartners, too. If I see older children in the bateyes bothering or making fun of our students, it makes me so angry inside! I’m surprised by the protective feeling that comes with being a teacher to these little ones.

There have also been some proud moments where I’ve watched these students take huge steps in learning. Even today, I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face as Achuchu repeated Luke 2:11 word for word in English (OK, so maybe there was one little hiccup, but my momma-pride demanded that I brush over that little blunder and gave him a sticker anyways.)

Another little guy who has recently caught my eye and stolen my heart is Edward.

Edward is the newest little ball of cuteness to join our “family”. When he started school with us this year, he was dreadfully behind the rest of the kids. However, he’s catching up at lightning speed! He is actually one of the best at enunciating and repeating in both Spanish and English. Kurt has been helping him recognize and correctly form the letters in his name. At the beginning of the year, Edward had no idea how to trace letters in his writing notebook. Now he needs little help in copying the letters across the page. This kid has some serious potential. His charming smile and delightful little laugh put me in a good mood every time he’s around. You could say that I’m one proud “momma”!

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Diana

Diana

It’s been 4 months since school started. I feel like I’m finally getting to know some of our kindergartners and understand what makes them tick. But I still haven’t figured out Diana. This beautiful little girl lives in Batey Lima with her grandmother. She’s not the brightest student in the class, but neither is she a big troublemaker. Since she doesn’t necessarily beg for extra attention, I can overlook her unless I’m consciously seeking her out. This week, I want to find some special time to focus on Diana and to learn something new about her. God’s got a plan for this precious little one whose very soul is hanging in the balance.

The little stuff (or maybe it’s the big stuff after all)

Sometimes I feel like I only write about the big things going on in our lives – the difficult struggles, the huge joys, the deep pain, the answered prayers. I thought I’d just share some little stuff from the week – things that have made my heart happy in the midst of the ‘daily grind’.

The kids are starting to lead out in prayer! I almost cry when I hear one of their little voices sounding out the typical “Señor Jesús, Te damos gracias…” that starts their conversations with Jesus. Marcia, Sonia, Chiquito, Nika and Yeanny have all volunteered this week.

Yeifrey has been exceptionally “roller-coaster-y” recently. I feel like I walk on eggshells with him – that he may explode at any moment. This week, I’ve really seen him searching for some extra love and attention. Each day during writing practice, he grabs my arm and says, “Miss Angela, please just stay…”

Sonia led her entire small group during center time today! We were short-handed when we first started centers, so I just gave her the little worksheet and told her what I wanted. I asked her to explain to the others how to match the color names to the crayons. I’d look up every once in awhile to check on them, and they were staying on task better than any group so far – without a teacher there! Sonia is one smart little gal. So proud of her.

I’d be lost without my helpers in the classroom. Our Dominican teacher Mery seems to know the days I have no strength. She leads the kids with confidence and creativity and energy. Kurt interacts and plays with the kids – he’s recently taken on the task of helping struggling students learn to write their names. Gabe has been great about doing whatever I ask him to do. And Katie fills in all of the gaps to keep things moving throughout the day. Prepping notebooks and pouring juice and dishing out hand sanitizer and talking with kids in the corner aren’t the most splendid of ways to spend one’s time. But in my mind, those humble jobs are the very ones I imagine Jesus rewarding someday as we stand before Him.

Recently, I’ve just really felt the presence and closeness of the Lord in the classroom. I don’t know who all is praying for us, but I can attest that God has been helping me personally as of late. Days are still chaotic, emotional, and draining. But through the struggles, I can feel my Savior’s gentle leading. He is so very faithful – even in the little stuff.

Estefani

We recently ended an amazing two weeks with a team from Indiana! Met new friends and loved “sharing” our students with some people who genuinely care about our little guys and gals.

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It’s always fun watching people make connections with different kiddos. Most every team that visits has a story about certain students like adorable Alejandro, independent Yorjeni, or shy Yelin. Some boys and girls are naturally outgoing or absolutely gorgeous or incredibly smart – they just radiate their magnetic personalities and draw others to them.

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Then there’s Estefani. Estefani doesn’t have lots of cute memories attached to her name. I can’t brag about her good grades. She’s often “out to lunch” when we’re reciting numbers or letters. It has been difficult for me to keep her engaged and learning.

I’ve recently been praying that God would do something in me and in Estefani – that He would give me extra opportunities to talk to her; that He would give me wisdom in disciplining her and in encouraging her in the classroom; that He would give Estefani the ability to see how much she is loved and valued.

Well, God didn’t take long in answering those prayers. I met Estefani’s sponsor family last week! What a joy to see them connect in spite of the language barrier. I loved watching them work together on their letters and numbers and shapes and colors. I heard about how she jumped and ran and played with them before school started in the mornings. I’m sure Estefani smiled more last week than she’s smiled all year.

There have already been some small but exciting changes in Estefani since this team left! This little girl has transformed behaviorally in the classroom even over the last few days. She stays focused longer. She sits with her legs crossed and her hands folded when listening on the mat; she stands straight as a soldier when lining up. Estefani’s improving academically as well. We’ve noticed she can now write all of the letters in her name in order and right-side-up! I’ll often ask the kids at the end of the day if they “went to the corner” (which is our discipline system in the classroom)… Estefani ran past me today yelling behind her, “I’m not going to go to the corner anymore!” It’s as if she’s purposed in her heart to make a change, and I’m super pumped to see this played out in her life. I’m hopeful that these differences are for the long-term.

There may still be difficult days ahead. While tiny changes are taking place every day, Estefani probably won’t be engaged in every moment. She may still go to the corner. But one thing I think she knows now is that she matters. Her sponsor family took some time to be Jesus to her last week, and I think that her life is being intercepted. A family has made the choice to be involved in her life and to pray for her little soul every single day. And that is exciting stuff.

God has a plan for Estefani. I’m praying that He would continue to show her how beautiful she is to Him.

Sweet Summer School Moments

Although this summer was difficult in many aspects, it was also extremely rewarding. I wish I could do it all over again – only better. Heh. One of my favorite parts was getting to know our kindergartners on a deeper level and already seeing some learning progress.

Reading CornerIt was fun watching the kids recognize various sounds in English even though they don’t yet know the meaning of the words. One afternoon, a young lady from a visiting team read One Fish, Two Fish to the kids. She reached the section about Yinks who like to wink and drink pink ink. Listening to those rhyming words triggered a soft tittering in a few children until a contagious laughter overtook the entire group. I couldn’t stop giggling either – those sweet little faces had no idea how nonsensical Dr. Seuss’s words really were, yet they still found joy in hearing the funny sounds.

AnlleloI loved spending some precious time with Anllelo before school. (This sweet little man recently lost his mother and is now living with an aunt.) Anllelo would sometimes come to watch the Freedom team set up the classroom. A couple of mornings, I told him to stay with us instead of shooing him out with the other kids. He loved “helping” put the name tags out on the desks. “Angela! This is Rosa’s name, right?” “No, buddy, that says ‘Estefani’ – let’s find a tag that starts with the letter R.” I felt like I spent most of my prep time walking through those silly name tags with him instead of preparing for the day. But what sweet moments. He’s so hungry for some attention and love.

Bergica

Another surprising experience came when Bergica (right), our little ball of energy, stopped all wiggling as we discussed the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. She pointed up at the Roman soldiers nailing Jesus’ feet to the cross and angrily said, “Those men are bad!” We were able to talk about how Jesus willingly laid down his life for the sins of the world.

I loved seeing these sweet moments in the classroom this summer. There has been much progress. And much more growth remains. Gotta remember, it’s all part of the process.