Somos las Voluntarias 

Hola a todos! We’ve been here in La Romana for about a month and a half now. It’s hard to believe it’s nearly October when you’re living in an eternal summer. So much has happened in this short time, it’s hard to know where to begin.

When we arrived in August, we had one crazy, overwhelming, confusing week at the school before we actually began teaching. This was a time to familiarize ourselves with the faculty, our specific roles at the school, our schedules, oh and Dominican “Spanish.” We were also given time (some of us more than others) to plan our lessons for the first week of classes. However, no amount of time could have fully prepared us to be English Teachers here at the Hogar. I think I can speak for the three of us when I say that we were questioning just how qualified we actually were for this job. None of us had majored in Education; we had one week to prepare ourselves for what some students spend four years or more preparing for.
Regardless, classes were beginning no matter what, and we jumped in head first, trusting our intuitions to guide us beyond what our lesson plans could. It wasn’t easy, and it still isn’t sometimes. Even though the three of us are all teaching different age students, we face many of the same challenges: students acting out in class, activities that don’t go over well, and moments when we feel like we literally just can’t. But we also experience many of the same joys every day at the Hogar: students running down the hall just to say hello and give us a hug, well-behaved students that help make our job a WHOLE lot easier, helpful and patient supervisors to answer our many questions, and friendly co-workers who share avocado slices with us at lunch. This of course is just a fraction of the list of stressors and delights that come with the job.

Okay, I’m already getting ahead of myself here – who’s doing WHAT here, you ask. Let me explain. I (Haela) am teaching English for the “Nivel Inicial” students, ages 3-6. There are hundreds of these little buggers that I meet with a couple of times a week. The class sizes are fairly big (some nearly 40 students), so I am only able to take half of the class at a time. At the end of the day, I work with a group of students doing a “taller” or extracurricular activity, involving creative movement: yoga, dance, etc. Sometimes we just sing songs. I am also working in the Deaf School, teaching Natural Sciences to students in second to seventh grade, meeting with each class once per week. We are also all teaching adult English classes twice a week, and I am teaching the Intermediate level. The adult classes provide and interesting juxtaposition and a calming balance to some of the classes we teach during the day time. It’s almost shocking to have such an attentive group of students.

Marisa is teaching first through third grades. Marisa enters the students’ home room classrooms and takes over for the full 45 minute class periods. She is also teaching English in the Deaf School to fourth through seventh graders. On top of this, Marisa is in charge of a group of twenty hearing and deaf students ranging from seventh to twelfth grade, whom she is training for a 5k race in November. Coach Marisa is doing the impossible; she is training these kids (of varying athletic ability) to run over three miles, all the while in an area just larger than a basketball court. You go girl. She is teaching the Basic-Intermediate (middle level) adult English classes, after which, she attends a sign language class. Needless to say, her Tuesdays and Thursdays are quite long. 

Sofia is teaching eighth through twelfth grade English. Sofia does not have a classroom either, but unlike Marisa, she is often displaced and left to find a place to hold class last minute. But it always works out! She is also in charge of the fourth and fifth grade volleyball extracurricular activity. For an hour each day, she teaches these kids how to bump and set (yikes please no spikes yet, children), while maintaining a positive learning environment for all. Sofia played volleyball in high school and has become a fun and super patient coach to these young kids, some of which are still learning to control their own quickly-sprouting limbs. She is also teaching the Basic (lowest) level adult English class in the evenings. Sofia is getting an interesting insight into learning a language from the ground up, since many of her students have absolutely no background in English whatsoever. This past week I believe they worked on the alphabet and numbers, to give you a sense of where they’re at. But, her high level of Spanish speaking is a true asset to this class. A big thank you to her trilingual household!

As the month of September has swiftly rolled along, we’ve found ourselves building many friendships in and out of school. The people we have met have all been incredibly welcoming and eager to befriend us, and every new person we meet makes it feel a little more like home. When we are not working, or lesson planning, we are meeting up with friends, going to the beautiful beaches, watching volleyball games, trying local cuisine, or just resting, among other things. While we are still missing our Dunkin Donuts, friends and families, crisp autumn air and pumpkin spice everything, we are all settling into our new lives, with a few inevitable bumps along the road, and finding our places in this new life.