Secondary Signing Off

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Our bags are packed, our teaching shirts are neatly put away and our lesson manuals have been closed for one last time. It does not seem possible that this is our last week on project and that yesterday marked our very last day teaching in Belize. Though we are sad to be leaving and full of emotions, we feel blessed that our last week of teaching was perhaps our very best!

Dave and Sarah continued where they started at St. Viator High School. Last week, the two taught both regular classrooms and a special peer leader group. However, as exams officially kicked off this week, Principal Ms. Sho generously afforded us the last two periods of each day to teach all of the students in forms 1, 2 and 3. This was the first time we taught a group of this size – over 80 students piled into the school’s auditorium to hear our lessons! To meet the challenge, we decided to deviate from our regular teaching style and host a school-wide health education competition. Each class picked a team name and colour (Form 1A – the Stars, Form 1B – the Skaters, Form 2 – the Smurffs and Form 3 – Team Zero) and worked together to get points throughout the week. Through a combination of games, answering our questions and a final round of jeopardy, we awarded points to the excited students.

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As the students were diving into exams, covering stress on Monday seemed like a natural fit. We tried to give the students all our best tools to understanding and coping with stress in our lives. We also covered substance use. Tuesday’s lesson was all about HIV/AIDS – from the basics, to where you can get tested and everything in between. Wednesday’s lesson touched on healthy sexual relationships and self-esteem before we dove into our sudden death jeopardy round. It. Was. Intense. Students battled hard, points were stolen and, despite a shaky start and some tough competition, Team Zero proved their name wrong and came out well ahead of the pack! They were thrilled to receive our prize – we pooled together our leftover sports equipment from games days (along with some sweets) and passed these on to the lucky winners. They were particularly excited to get our frisbees. After school, Dave and Sarah had been tossing frisbees around with the students and taught them the rules to one of our favourite’s from back home – Ultimate Frisbee! 

As our sessions were in the afternoon, we took advantage of the mornings to integrate ourselves into the school as much as possible and mingle with the fourth forms who, having finished exams, were busy preparing and practicing for their graduation this Saturday. While cutting out ribbon and humming along to the graduation song was lots of fun, the highlight for us may have been the practical agricultural exam. On Monday morning, we were invited to accompany one of Belize’s Secondary School Agriculture Inspectors as he tested the knowledge and practical skills of St. Viator’s students on the fields. We watched the students work the fields, apply fertilizer and discuss the specifications of crop growth. Most exciting, though, was the chicken slaughter! We watched two brave young women go through the steps – from beheading to plucking – while the inspector watched, grading them on competence, confidence and speed. The girls walked away with the highest score possible and some serious admiration from yours truly. We have a new appreciation for where our delicious stewed chicken has been coming from!

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Taylor and Braden spent the last of their teaching days busy at all three schools.  We were able to take advantage of the extra half/week to bond with these amazing students, and to make the lessons extra-engaging and full of activities! Each morning, the pair taught at the primary schools: Sarteneja Nazarene and La Maculata RC. This week we taught the primary students topics such as peer pressure, substance abuse, bullying, hygiene and healthy relationships. These amazing students were eager to learn, and always requested more games/activities. They enjoyed some of our fan-favourites, such as the “Marijuana Memory” and “Smoking Aerobics”. These activities demonstrated some of the negative effects that a negative substance such as marijuana can have on our memory, health and future life goals. We also were able to introduce fun new activities such as the “Germ Transmission” game, which demonstrates how fast germs can spread, and stresses the importance of the role proper hygiene has in maintaining good health.

In the afternoon at Sarteneja Baptist High school, the pair continued working with the school leaders in the peer education program. We covered topics such as STIs, peer pressure, substance abuse, and bullying. With these topics, our lessons focused more on the role that these students can play as peer leaders in their community. The students were very receptive to the material, and took the responsibility of their role very seriously. We are very thankful to have taught this amazing group of high school students, and we are very excited to see how they can implement these lessons in the future.

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Our time in Sarteneja ended emotionally when saying goodbye to all of the kids in the village.  We had personal send-offs from each class, took lots of group photos, and were honoured with paintings by local artist “Chui” that were gifted to us from the school. The same was true for Sarah and Dave, who finished off at St. Viator with pictures, speeches and holding back a duct or two. The evening made it even harder for us to say goodbye. We got an official tour of Sarteneja from Uris, one of St. Viator’s students, and were also invited along to the bus driver’s surprise birthday party for that evening. We showed up to discover that it was all a ruse, and the party was for us! We were so flattered and excited that the students would go to so much effort to bid us farewell. With spaghetti and lemon meringue, lots of laughs and some instruction for how to dance “punta” style, lots of fun was had by all. We truly feel we left a little part of ourselves with these kids in Sarteneja, and it was simply the best way we could have hoped to leave off as teachers!

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We have just arrived back in Belize City after a bumpy bus ride home from Sarteneja. Today is all about small errands and tying up loose ends before we go. Our final responsibility as QHO Peer Educators will come tomorrow, when we, along with the Primary Team, meet with the HFLE coordinators for each district and the head coordinator Ms. Yvonne Codd. In this meeting we will discuss everything to do with the project – the ups, the downs, the challenges, the opportunities we’ve gained and, of course, what we hope to accomplish for next year. Our heads are brimming with ideas for how we can make QHO Belize even more effective and sustainable, and we look forward to pooling our thoughts with and getting feedback from the Ministry of Education. 

After these official duties, we will all be on our separate ways. Some of us will be heading straight back to Canada, while others will continue on for a short while in Belize. Taylor and Braden will be headed back to Queen’s in the fall to both continue their studies and their dedicated involvement with QHO, while Sarah and Dave are prepped and ready to face reality, having just finished off their fourth and final years. While we all have different paths to take, we are so grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of this project. We truly believe that we gave it our all, left something with these wonderful kids and had a good time doing it!

Thanks for following along, and make sure to check in with QHO Belize in May 2014!

Love Sarah, David, Taylor and Braden

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