Over Josué's 7 years working at Nuestra Escuela in Puerto Rico, he has worn a great many hats. IDEA's Scott Nine calls him "The Linchpin," a term coined by author Seth Godin. Godin writes, “The linchpin is an individual who can walk into chaos and create order, someone who can invent, connect, create, and make things happen.”
Thurs 27 Sept: I was a fly on the wall this afternoon at a Nuestra Escuela staff professional development meeting, at which the school's Education City coordinator, Josué McGrath Rosario, introduced the methodogy of Self Managed Learning as a structure for supporting student autonomy within a learning community. I have notes to read up on from the presentation today which will hopefully assist my understanding given my limited comprehension at this stage of spoken spanish... people tend to speak quite fast in Puerto Rico.. still, with the aid of powerpoint notes, & my companion dictionary, I was able to pick up enough today to follow the key ideas within the concept & some of the general points of discussion..staff were asked to consider how this type of methodology might fit alongside the school's own unique approach to helping students realise their potential: 'Todo por Mi Estrella' (All for My Star)...a programme which utilizes the star as a quest symbol.. representing the self-identified person or purpose for which one is prepared to give their all... in order to strive to be the best person they can be (personal development & integrity) as well as achieve that which is important & necessary for them in reaching their goals (PEPs, Personalised Education Plan/ pathway for achievement)...I found it invigorating to be listening to a professional dialogue about a topic which resonates so profoundly with me..reshaping the perception of what facilitates learning... & how best to support learners to discover for themselves what is essential to their own personal growth.. & what their hearts & minds desire to know..am looking forward to part 2 tomorrow when staff have had a chance to digest the ideas & come back with queries for discussion. Just prior to that I have a scheduled meeting with Josué regarding his Education City role..with the remaining weeks I have left here I hope to get as much info & experience as possible that will be of use to assist educational development in NZ...so if any of you have any burning questions I can put to Josué or others let me know within the next few weeks..however I can always contact Nuestra Escuela once I get home with further queries as they eventuate...have mixed emotions about heading back to NZ..I love it here..will be hard giving up my Puerto Rican sanctuary to go back into the rat-race of managing a maniac lifestyle to pay the mortgage..anyway, lots of awesome events to look forward to when I do get back..see you in a month.. Arohanui Besos y abrazos Taan :-) x
Self Managed Learning Structures...the Taoist view of appropriate structures is that they should be like a glass..empty (to allow for choice of what gets put in); rigid (in order to be useful); transparent (so that appropriate support & challenge can be offered) & resilient (thin enough to cope with change..overly thick glass, like thick stuctures with too many constraints, doesn't allow easily for internal/external differences)
Loosely translated this is about leaving aside genetic disposition& consequent physical development, all that we are capable of doing must be learned. If we want to change an aspect of what we do or don't do then the way to do that is through learning.
'Unlearning' an interesting concept with relevance in this day and age when new experiences awaken us to realise that what we have been conditioned to believe may not in fact be true..think global economic crisis for starters..and The Matrix trilogy !
Todo por Mi Estrella..Nuestra Escuela's own unique programme designed to support learners to understand themselves, identify their passion, plan their learning pathway & realise their potential.
The following excerpt is from an article I wrote the week I arrived. Stefan & Jose have now completed their animation project here and last week returned to the States. Two incredibly talented young men whom I miss already & hope they will bring their talents to NZ one day soon. Jim Luis, the 10 year old in the video clip (see Tania's FB page for all the video clips!), has given me permission to feature his work here, "muchas gracias para los muchachos".
Also click here to learn more...
Puerto Rico se Anima
From a New Zealander’s Perspective
He aha te mea nui i tenei ao?
Maku e kii atu:
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata!
(from a Maori proverb)
What is the most important thing in this world?
I will tell you:
It is people, it is people, it is people!
Que es la cosa mas importante en este mundo?
Yo te dire:
Eres persona, eres persona, eres persona!
Puerto Rico se Anima is the name of a digital animation project currently being facilitated within the renowned alternative school ‘Nuestra Escuela,’ in the education city of Caguas. The animation project concept, as developed by Jose Saavedra & Stefan Ivanovski, involves using the digital medium as a means for students to learn & develop a wide range of transferable skills whilst exploring social justice issues. Through the creation of digital animations to tell a story, it is hoped that students are not only motivated and engaged in learning, but also empowered to make positive choices in their lives.
As the tutors arrive, eager students greet them with applause. It is summer school and these students are here by choice. The current class of 8 students who are now in their fourth and final week of the programme range in age from 10 to 30 years. Learning is not age discriminate.
Each student settles quickly to work on the final details of their animations in preparation for the upcoming auspicious exhibition, when their work will be viewed by invited special guests, including family, the school’s director & the city mayor.
I cannot help but be impressed on several levels. Firstly, with the enterprising skills of the tutors, two Bucknell University recent graduates, both in their early twenties, who have not only conceived the concept of Puerto Rico se Anima, but who would have done a huge amount of work prior to get the project designed, supported, funded, coordinated, resourced and initiated. Secondly, with the students. The class I sat in with were engaged, focused, & appreciative, as well as accommodating of me as a curious observer. The attitudes the students exhibited were certainly positive. And as an example of the skills, I have to say, I am humbled by what one 10 year old student had so easily & competently achieved with his digital creation. Last but not least, mention must be made of the school Nuestra Escuela itself, which has earned such a high reputation nationally that it has become a beacon internationally for people passionate about exploring innovative educational experiences and meaningful teaching opportunities.
In terms of evaluating its effectiveness, it’s hard for me to be impartial about the project by this stage. I see it as such a foresightful tool to up-skill & empower youth of all backgrounds & ethnicities. So much so, that I am already scheming as to how I can lure its creators/facilitators to bring the programme to Aotearoa, New Zealand!
Educator & Holistic Learning Advocate
2 August 2012
The Vital Essence retreat experience is all that I had envisaged and more. I have been to the mountain eco-lodge 3 times already in the last couple of weeks and am going back there again tomorrow. It's about a 2 & 1/2 hr trip to get there each time but so beautiful it's worth the travel. The first time I went was with staff doing strategic planning for the vision for the school over the next decade. The second time was with students & other foreign visitors as a participant of the Nuestra Escuela Vital Essence Retreat. The last time was as part of the support team to help look after a new student group. And I will do the the same again this weekend. The 3 day, series of healing & bonding processes for new students is limited to around 25 participants each time and because Caguas has so many students wanting to enroll this semester they are running 3 Vital Essence retreats to cater for them all, one after the other. This was preceded by a 3 day retreat for students from another of the other Nuestra Escuela centres, & will be followed by one for Vieques, a small island on which there is another of the school's 5 centres. I hope to support at that retreat too as I intend to visit them at their centre later and also as many of the other Nuestra Escuela centres in Puerto Rico as I can while I am here. The dedication & commitment of the entire team is incredible. The retreats are full on and intense. Starting the new day at 7 in the morning & going through till past 1 a.m after the first full day & till 4 a.m the next!! The transformation during this time is amazing, from a group of strangers & individuals to a close knit family displaying respect & caring for each other. The intention of the retreat is not to 'change' students but to support them in their self reflection about how they are perceived to be & who they really are & want to be. I was curious from the preliminary meetings at the school about the strict code of compliance for the retreat which participants were meticulously & repeatedly taken through, & which I had initially perceived as being imposed. I could imagine students not only resisting but refusing to comply with certain aspects of the contract..especially relinquishing cellphones & even watches for the duration. No violence, no drugs, no alcohol, no cigarettes, no swearing, no sexual behaviour, no opting out of activities, no putting down of others..as well as showing consideration & respect for everyone at all times, going to bed & getting up when told to, limiting showers to a few minutes only, putting loo paper in the waste bin not the loo, so as not to overload the septic system, and keeping all areas tidy. Prior to to the retreat, participants meet at the school and are given a written outline of the conduct expectations for the retreat & asked to agree to them verbally there as well as sign a conduct contract. They are taken through the expectations again as a group at the retreat, and asked to swear to comply in front of the group and sign the group chart version. Some of these participants would be considered 'tough' kids who would have no hesitation in telling an authority where to stick their rules so I was intrigued at how willingly & without fuss they all did it..and the difference was simple..they weren't being made to do it..they wanted to! Firstly, they weren't being made to enroll in this school..they wanted to because they heard about it from someone whose opinion they respected. Secondly, the Vital Essence retreat is pre-requisite for entering Nuestra Escuela & an opportunity for the potential student to find out what the school is about & decide whether he or she wants to part of it. And thirdly, because Nuestra Escuela is considered a family, where a persons word is their honour, it is important for each family members own sense of integrity to know that they can give their word & stick to it, & complying with this code of conduct at the retreat gives them the opportunity to prove it to themselves. So each day, as they have kept their word & complied their integrity is acknowledged. Everyone who comes arrives with "baggage", as a result of past problems & emotional pain, but instead of being told to leave it at the gate, to put it in writing, or that it is their issue, in the past & they should just get over it, they are encouraged to talk about it & share what happened, but more-so talk about why they acted or reacted the way they did. The WHY is what is important, not the what. The reason is to understand the person, not to judge their actions. These 'kids,' varying in age from 12 to early 20s, have been labeled as dropouts, truants, troublemakers etc, many involved in violence, drugs or crime. And although the individual stories vary there is a common family theme of feeling abandoned (usually by an absent father), and a common education theme of feeling not valued & not heard, and of having rebelled against being dis-empowered & misunderstood. What most participants say they want to get from their retreat experience is friendship, trust & a sense of family. Certainly every activity is designed to allow for these things to develop, so it is no surprise that all participants leave feeling loved, safe & connected. There is a large support team made up of school social workers, teaching staff, past & present students & others who go beyond the call of duty to ensure that every participant is supported, accepted & respected. Whilst some of the support team change over so as to have a break ocasionally & not necessarily involved in every activity or present at every retreat, Justo & Ana Yris are there for every retreat and make a point of learning & using every single persons name within the first hour of working with them. I made an effort to learn all the students names this last time too & found that in doing so & by studying each person's face & really focusing on each of them as they spoke, got an enhanced understanding of who they are. As I am becoming more familiar with the processes I am able to more easily follow what is going on without need for translation or explanation. A lot of what the students share of their personal journeys and traumatic experiences I haven't been able to pick up on but emotion is universal regardless of language. Just being able to place your hand on someones back, between their shoulder blades so that they can feel your support is a powerful gesture of love, and for them in return to want to share a hug, a gesture of acceptance & trust. It is a liberating experience for both students & staff to be able to openly display care & affection and freely hug each other whenever the need or the will is there. The students are given several opportunities to practise & become more comfortable with this, particular the guys who may arrive with macho attitudes. Justo talks to them about the difference between being macho and being men, and also in being gentlemen. The range of emotions experienced within those few days reminds me of a Maori tangihanga whereby acute sadness is anticipated and people rally to support those going through grief & to help lift their spirits with a celebration at the end. During the celebration part of the programme I thought of my kids' birthdays as they were growing up, when I would stay up all night to plan & prepare their party in order to make their day as memorable as I could for them, attending to every little detail so that they would feel special, happy & loved. The importance & effectiveness of those little details in humbling oneself to honour others is not overlooked within the Vital Essence programme. Symbolised with a candle, offered on bended knee. By the early hours of the morning on the last night participants have had to climb some pretty treacherous mountains emotionally and dig deep to forgive people who have caused them tremendous pain, not to excuse the perpetrator but to liberate the sufferer..tears & sobbing often come with such a profound release...but by this stage one feels completely comfortable & supported to do so.. within the group there is no fear of being judged or ridiculed, no longer the distinction of me versus you or us versus them..just a sense of we together are a caring family...our family includes our school..and literally translated, Our School is Nuestra Escuela.
I am so grateful now for the traumatic period I experienced this year, through the disloyalty of my partner in not standing by me & the betrayal by people who had known me for years who went against me behind my back.. because the pain & suffering that that caused me propelled me to go in search of something different. I am grateful too for the love & support by so many friends & whanau who have encouraged me & helped me to make this journey. What I have found here isn't new, but for me revived..and thats "hope". The kind of education system I have dreamed of.... it is possible, it does exist & it is worth fighting for.
Abrazos y bejos
Taan :-) x
Mi sentí como madre orgullosa la noche interior de míos muchachos -felt like a proud mum of my 2 boys...Stefano & Jose did a fabulous job presenting the culmination of their Puerto Rico se Anima - Puerta Rican Animation project., show casing some of the students work. Evening event was sponsored by & held at the Caguas Contemporary Arts Museum. Check out the boys website on the link below.. Am gonna really miss them when they go back to the States next week..but am already scheming about getting them to bring the project to Aotearoa in 2013! Attached foto is of us flatmates, (including Leona, a college friend of the guys visiting with us at the moment) & Luis the museum manager.
www.latcreativa.org/prsa — at Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Caguas
Eco-Lodge in the mountains
Wow.. Had an awesome weekend with the staff of Nuestra Escuela,http://nuestraescuela.org/ at Casa Collores, an eco-lodge set in the beautiful mountain forest of Central Puerto Rico.http://casacollores.com/ .. Am so wrapped I came to Nuestra Escuela..I was attracted from the moment I heard about the background, purpose, mission & initiatives of the school..I can't speak highly enough of the place and the people...I am so impressed already with their commitment, dedication & awakenedness..they are so onto it..Wed, Thurs & Friday this week we spent shacked up at a nun's convent doing training in social capacity & financial literacy which will be introduced to the students when the new semester starts next week. Wed & Thurs began at 8am & went through to 9 & 10.30 pm stopping only to eat..and everyone was positive & enthusiatically engaged..then on Fri after administrative matters like representatives from each of the school's 5 sites presenting their own evaluation report on 'from where & where to' & a new governance structure proposed, we then packed up and drove 2 hrs to the mountain retreat to look at strategic planning for the school for the next decade..they were straight into it on arrival.. dreaming, sharing, discussing, comparing, proposing, analysing & evaluating till late into the evenings..stopping only to eat, cool off in the river, & watch PR win silver in the wrestling.. & this week staff are busy enrolling prospective students, taking them through a briefing process & preparing for taking the new students to the retreat this coming weekend ..as a means of getting to know each other, building trust, acknowledging the students' hardships & struggles, supporting them to self reflect & helping them to project a new future by setting their own goals & therefore their own curriculums for the year...kiwi teachers would have been in an uproar about excessive workload & missing out on school holidays! It appears here that holidays are for the students to have a bit of a break and a time for staff to work even harder! ..I must say these guys do it in style though..the professional development training during the week for example the event was family-friendly with an on-site creche for the kids & purposeful roles for the teens..the strategic planning weekend at the eco-lodge retreat..well, for starters it was held in environmental heaven.. mountains, forest, river..& tropical fruits galore..need I say more..it included an onsite chef who catered delicious, authentic Puerto Rican cuisine..and everything was provided..including red wine & nibbles to wind down with in the evenings! So..yeah..I can see why staff would willingly opt in! :-)
My group's presentation of AFLATOUN.. concept introduced through verse, key ideas described through acronym rap, & slogan shared through song & dance. 20 minutes to consult, create, rehearse & present..I picked an animated group to work with..or rather they picked me as the grouping energiser activity was getting together with someone you were different from..and since I am from a different country, this lot braved it to group with me.
1 verse lyrics: " separando la ficcion de la realidad"(separating fiction from reality); 2 acronym rap: "Ahorra (saving) Finanzas (finances) Liderazgo (leadership) Actuar (to act) Tiempo (time) Organizar (organise) Union (united) Naciones (nations)..pal piso! (to the floor!, kinda like 'boogy down now!')"; 3 song & dance: "La mano arriba (hands above), cintura sola (waist circling), da media vuelta (give half turn), actuar ahora (act now)..vive explorando (live exploring), siempre pensando (always thinking), y investigando (and investigating), actuar ahora (act now)"
Awesome! Day 1 of a 2 day staff seminar on AFLATOUN-an international Social & Financial Capacity Education programme to be introduced to the students this semester. 12 hrs of seminar flew by & despite little sleep prior & fully immersed in Spanish I managed to remain captivated, energised & engaged. Everything about today was inspiring. From the organisation, the concept, the content & most of all the commitment of all involved. So inspirational in fact that for the self exploration exercise whereby we drew ourselves as who we are, in terms of profound personal definition, and then spoke about it, I created a new language of expression which I have aptly named 'Espanugues'!! It's what comes out of my mouth when I am thinking in Portugues & trying to speak Espanol..kinda like a weaving together of the 2..somehow people managed to follow me though..or at least were polite enough to make out they did. LOL :-)