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Last day of school!

Alea and Breck on the last day of school

Here are the kids – all ready for their final classes before summer break! They have a half day today, and tomorrow Alea gets a birthday present: no school!

She got the first part of her ‘presents’ yesterday, as we welcomed the first big rainstorm of the season. The kids had just gone to bed when the lightning flashed and the thunder roared; we all ran to the windows to watch the sheets of rain pour down. How exciting!!

In any case, you can also visit the School Pictures page to see all the first and last day pictures we’ve taken over the years. Have a great summer!!

Slip sliding away

Things you never consider before living in a place that has monsoons: after 8 months or so with no precipitation, the rains have a curious – though utterly predictable – effect on the roads here. That first little bit of moisture ‘brings up’ all the accumulated engine oil, axle grease, tire bits, and other assorted petroleum-based product debris that has accumulated on the asphalt. This creates a super slick skating rink on the surface over which all vehicles must pass.

There was the tiniest trace of a mist in the air this morning, and it made coming in to school a mess. Luckily our van driver is great and knew what was coming (and paid attention to the people on the side of the road waving at him to slow down), but coming over a hill we saw a dump truck that had slid completely around, a bus that skidded and shuddered from side to side as it was breaking, and several people walking motorcycles with freshly-broken side mirrors on them. Another teacher actually saw a motorcycle take a digger while going around a corner, but we just witnessed the aftermath.

There had hardly been enough precipitation to even qualify as ‘moisture,’ but the effects were certainly noticeable. I wonder what else will be in store as the weather patterns start to change. The news headlines this weekend were that the monsoon has hit Kerala (news story here), and Goa is starting to shut down as the rains approach. It won’t be too long now; the big question is whether it will start to pour here before we leave or not…

Breck meditating on the Kiara roof

Regardless of the rain’s plans, Breck intends on using every ounce of sunlight before we take off. He spent the afternoon soaking in the rays (while soaking in a tub) on the Kiara rooftop. What a fun way to enjoy the weather!

Alea’s 5th grade exhibition

Singing the welcome songThis week was the fifth graders’ PYP exhibition, a culminating project incorporating all sorts of learning that took place over their elementary school years. The class focuses on a student selected topic for the last 8 weeks of the school year and then presents what they learned to parents, teachers, and peers. This year’s theme was “With Every Child’s Rights Come Responsibilities.” Because child rights are such a pertinent topic to everyone living in India, the students found that they had a unique opportunity to explore many different facets of the subject.

Alea's group

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To keep things at a manageable level, the kids split up into 8 different groups: Abuse, Basic Needs, Education, Fun, Gender, Healthcare, Labor, and Protection. Alea chose Labor (or Labour as it was spelled here), and so her group’s presentation looked at the lives of children through the prism of them having to work. After the entire grade sang an introductory song, accompanying themselves with drums and guitars, they split up into separate rooms to spend time ‘teaching’ the parents and other visitors about their topics.

Breck wheeling the bricks arounThe main part of the presentation was a ‘newscast’ with Alea and another group member reading the latest news on child labor from several regions in India, followed by an “interview” with 2 ex-child laborers (also group members playing a role), and finishing with a puppet show detailing life as a child slave. After the movie, we were invited to explore the information that the kids had collected and detailed in poster form hanging around the room. There was also a labor simulation of work at a brick making factory, where Breck, and others,  saw how hard it was to load and haul a wheelbarrow across the room.

Of course, her group’s was the best out of all of them (!!), but the other rooms were all interesting and very well done. Breck was a great learner through the different presentations, and even got to participate in some of the games and activities. The highlight of the evening – outside of Alea’s group – was when he took part in the Healthcare game. He was competing against a teacher, and he had some tough questions to answer. We were very proud of his response to, “How do you help someone who is dehydrated?”. He said, “Drink lots of water and electrons” which was close enough to water and electrolytes for us.

But the real moment of parental pride came when he had to “Describe the symptoms of malnourishment.” He stood still for a moment, and then his face brightened and he gave his answer: “When someone is lying on the ground, with their eyes closed, and they’re not breathing!”

Does my son know the symptoms of acute malnourishment, or what?!!

Raising kids internationally is interesting

ASB middle school girls' volleyball 2008I had a fascinating afternoon with some girls from school yesterday. We are hosting a middle school volleyball tournament this weekend, and part of the activity schedule was to go to a mall and go bowling. When the big bus showed up to take everyone, there wasn’t enough room for all the players, so I took a small jeep-like private vehicle. Five girls came with me, 4 from a visiting school and 1 from our school.

The conversations on the way down were eye-opening, to say the least. While not really eavesdropping, I was listening in from time to time, and was surprised by the conversations that took place. They started off with the typical “Where are you from?” questions, with the girls coming from the USA and Korea. Things started to turn when one of them continued, “But my friends tell me I’m not really from the United States. I consider myself more of a world citizen.” That led them in to the “Where have you lived?” portion of the conversation, which is a very normal course of events when these kids have spent their lives living out of their home countries.

They talked volleyball for a little while (since they were, after all here for a volleyball tournament!), but then moved right back into descriptions of places they’d been, people they knew in various schools around the world (and finding they had some acquaintances in Egypt in common!), and weird experiences while traveling (riding on trains, sitting on tops of buses, life in an Asian mega-city).

What I found mesmerizing, listening in from afar, was the complete lack of discussion or seeming interest in those things that one would expect middle school students to talk about: music, movies, TV shows, actors, gossip, etc. The one time they mentioned movies was in the context of, “I was watching this movie, and even though my Hindi isn’t really all that good I could understand a lot of it.”

I know that I shouldn’t assign too much importance to a single conversation that I heard, but as a dad of children who are going to be brought up in this way, I was entranced. Here are 11 to 14 year olds who have very different perspective of ‘shared culture.’ They don’t have a common set of entertainment (music and video) experiences, and so they have to build their social engagements around what they have in common: the world. What a different way to build a middle school experience – instead of giggling over the latest celebrity gossip and pop music craze, the girls were laughing about the crazy places they’d seen around the world! Makes me pretty excited to be raising a couple of kids in this environment…

And by the way – our ASB teams took 2nd and 3rd in the tournament! Pretty great for a program in its second year!!

Pi Day!

Of course we celebrated Pi Day this year at school and at home. Breck and Alea have been singing all the Pi Songs they can remember. For those of you who might have forgotten, March 14th – 3.14 – is Pi Day (get it?). And of course, as a middle school math teacher, I do all sorts of Pi stuff at school and it has kind of rubbed off on the kids. I let my students earn some extra credit by recording Pi songs or videos: here is a link to where I parked a few of the audio files as well as some I’d previously found on the net. We had our annual digit memorizing contest – this year our high scores were 95 and 83 – both were by 6th graders!

Breck’s Soccer TeamSaturday was a full day at school. Dave got up early to go in for middle school girls’ volleyball practice (no, he’s not playing on the team – he’s coachingthe team!). Breck’s indoor soccer season then wrapped up this weekend with a tournament that afternoon at the school. The kids played hard and stuffed themselves between games on all the food parents had brought for the pot luck dinner. Alea got to go swimming during some of the matches, as one of her friends was at school (also to watch her brother – who was on Breck’s team – play in the tournament). In the end, his team ended up with a 4th place trophy, lots of smiles all around, and some standing invitations for play dates.

We spent the rest of the weekend relaxing around the home with friends from Kiara as the temperatures start to soar. We plan on getting the pool opened up and going for a dip this afternoon. The ACs are running full time now, and we can only sweat and anticipate what April and May are going to be like!

New links added today:

Indian Dance

We get these little tastes of Indian culture from time to time here at the school, and today was one of those special occasions. There has been talk of a ‘famous Indian dancer’ coming to perform at ASB – her name is Malavika Sarukkai and she is lauded as one of the best of the best classical Indian dancers. There was even a performance last night: Sunday evening is a really tough time to make anything happen with a family (even ignoring the hellacious traffic here), so we gave it a pass. Luckily enough, she was scheduled to come during the school day.

We had a special schedule all day long to accommodate her performance during the last hour of school. Now, anyone who knows anything about kids is probably thinking, “What the heck is that school thinking, screwing up the whole day’s schedule and putting the kids on edge so they can sit and watch a lady dance during the last hour of school? What a recipe for disaster!” I’ll have to admit, I was thinking much the same thing, especially given how squirrelly the kids were all day long. But boy, was I wrong.

Malavika DancingMalavika came out and introduced the performance by invoking a prayer to Ganesh (whose blessings are supposed to clear all obstacles out of your way for a successful undertaking). Then, instead of dancing, she actually led the kids through a rundown of the instruments that were playing, giving each musician a brief solo, and then showed some of the basics of the dance moves. When she finally got around to dancing, the kids were raptly watching to see the foot movements and hand motions that she had described.

After every few minutes, she’d take a breather (literally) and come back to the microphone to describe her art some more. To finish the performance, she asked the audience to suggest a line of poetry that she could interpret. The first thing that leapt to my mind concerned a man from Nantuckett, but I remained discreetly silent. The stanza that made it up to her was “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and I took the one less traveled.” I mean, it was really darn close – I sure didn’t know that it was in a yellow wood (what kind of trees are yellow, anyways?).

She proceeded to dance her way down a road not taken, coming into contact with bees and rain and flowers and animals – signified by her hands. And the kids knew exactly what she meant! She showed them sights of her working in the garden, meeting a god – all your pretty typical afternoon goings on down the back roads of India. All in all, it was a spectacular performance and a super way to round out a crazy day.

ASB Unplugged

ASB UnpluggedThe whole school is aflutter this week because of a big technology conference we are hosting. There are administrators and tech personnel coming in from at least 26 international schools, and the 3-day conference is a huge showcase for the day-to-day uses of tech in the educational arena. Many teachers are personally delivering workshops: Susan is leading a group on the use of a digital document camera in the first grade classroom while Dave has ‘farmed out’ his presentations to students – they’ll be showcasing subject specific programs to the conference attendees.

It is a pretty big deal for the school, as ASB is very much on the cutting edge of computer use in the classroom. In the middle and high school, all students have a tablet computer (think “laptop with swiveling screen”) that they bring with them to all classes. The elementary school kids have a good deal of computer exposure as well – witness Alea’s webpage and Breck’s class blog. Of course, there are also a million other things going on, from grades being due to a PTA formal party, so there’s no chance to sit back and bask in glory!

Just to keep things in perspective, however, I did have to laugh at what I got when I googled the asb unplugged conference:
ASB Unplugged on Google

I was relieved to note that – no, people didn’t (necessarily) consider the conference to be ‘dangerously irrelevant’ – this is the name of a blog run by Scott McLeod, one of the keynote speakers at the conference. Whew!

To school or not to school?

That is the question. There is a big hoopla going on in the city tonight, and we may be getting an extra day off before the long weekend (Friday there are no classes – but teachers have professional development – and Monday is a vacation day. We are heading to the massive conglomeration of Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu caves of Ajanta and Ellora in central India near Aurangabad). Let’s see if I can summarize, with my casual Westerner’s eye towards longstanding Indian issues, just what the deal is.

Raj Thackery raises the Sword of Maharastra!There is a guy in this particular state of India who comes from an extensive line of what he would call nationalists and what other people would call fascist xenophobes. He and his uncle – who interestingly enough is grandfather to students currently attending our school – along with other politicians with a similar mindset have made their careers out of bashing Indians from outside the state of Maharashtra (of which Mumbai is the capital). They hate foreigners (that is, anyone not originally from this region), hate the use of English (or really any language except the native Marathi), hate the name Bombay, hate any cultural influence that is not Maharashtran – do you see a trend developing? In other times, in other places, their names might be mentioned in comparison with certain people whose first names were Adolf and Slobodan, but apparently that’s not done here.

In any case, the political parties they’ve founded have habitually beaten up migrant workers in the city, defaced English and Hindi texted signs, destroyed shops selling items that reflect the West rather than India (such as stalls that sell Valentine balloons), held strikes and paralyzed transport, and even killed local ministers who’ve opposed them. According to another teacher that I was talking to today, the word thug is Hindi in origin, and is a perfect descriptor of how these groups act.

Finally fed up with all this, the government charged them with breaking the law. And not just any old law – oh no, they apparently have broken section 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot – ooooh!!), 153 A (promoting enmity between groups on the basis of place of birth, residence, etc – aaaahhh!!) and 153 B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration – argggg!!!).

So now the big question on everyone’s mind is, “How will the parties react tomorrow?” All after-school sports and activities were shut down today so people could get home in relative safety, and we’ll see if we get an SMS sometime tonight about the situation. Breck and Alea are, of course, hoping that there’ll be full fledged rioting and chaos in the streets – well, maybe not full-fledged, but enough to get school canceled for the day. If I were a betting man, I would put money down on the proposition that there are even some adults at the school who would like there to be an itsy-bitsy protest march really early in the morning as well, but since I’m not a betting man I won’t speculate any further (except to say that I personally don’t think anything’s going to happen).

But that’s the big news in town tonight. Guess we’ll have to see what happens tomorrow…

UPDATE – no riots. We have school.