Week 2 – Summer Fellows

 

I survived my first overnight camp experience in 45 years! It was great fun, intense and very social. The LEAP students were from the 12th grade class. Only a few didn’t or couldn’t come.
The general purpose of the week was to motivate the students for their last 3 months of school and prepare for their matriculation exams. This is the first time LEAP had organized such a camp. We stayed at a Rotary camp near Simon’s Town, about a 45 minute drive from Cape Town. I did take notes during the week on the computer but my computer cannot read the program I used so I’m recount the events from memory (and I do suffer from “some timers” disease- I don’t forget things all the time, just sometimes). My apologies at the onset for omissions and misrepresentations.

We arrived late Monday morning and began with a community meeting to define the goals of the camp, the “Code of Conduct” the students wanted represented and to identify what they personally hoped to achieve during the week. John Gilmour then presented a lesson on learning styles, emphasizing the difference between passive and active learning.

He challenged the students to examine their own study habits honestly and recognize, if they are to achieve at the high level they have set for themselves, they have to become more active learners. After lunch we had some outdoor activities (in spite of the weather). American football was introduced and the students enthusiastically caught on quickly. In the late afternoon students had a study session while the TWA team meet with the LEAP staff to discuss the coming week’s activities. Our meeting lasted over an hour and we were struck by how focused and serious the student took to their work with no supervision. After dinner we engaged in social activities and got more personally acquainted with the students.

Tuesday morning was devoted to science instruction. Half the group who did poorly on their June exams met with the science teacher to identify and clarify problem areas. The other half worked independently or in small groups on their long term science projects. The TWA team worked with both groups. After lunch students divided into gender specific Life Orientation sessions. The TWA team was again struck by the directness and confrontational style of the session. John, Bones, and Jerome (sp?) guided the men’s group. The dialog swung between academic, interpersonal and personal issues. No student was spared questions or comments though one could choose not to participate. There were some very uncomfortable moments for the TWA team and the students alike. In the discussion with the staff afterwards, it was emphasized that the LEAP philosophy is that academic performance can not be separated from personal and interpersonal issues and that the directness of the interventions is, in part, a consequence of not having the luxury of time to work with these students. We were able to get outside for some physical activity in between the downpours and the students had a self study session for two hours before dinner. Games and songs were played after dinner, concluding with a question and answer game organized by the LEAP students for the TWA team.

Wednesday morning was for math instruction. The students met as an entire group and once again used the June exam to focus on problem areas. The math challenged and phobic of the TWA team (me were impressed by the level of math the students were doing. In the afternoon we all took a walk through the wetlands to the beach. The Johns (Gilmour and Kennedy) explain the importance of the wetlands, the purposes served and the problems associated with their demise. At the beach Crissy presented a hands on lesson about tide pools. Afterwards the TWA team helped individuals and small groups during The self study session.

Our final team member, Mike Rettberg, arrived during dinner and the students spontaneously broke into a traditional wedding song as a welcome. We were all very moved. After dinner the LEAP boys joined our team in the kitchen to do dishes and teach us a variety of games, songs and dances. A number of the TWA people said it was the highlight of a week full of highlights.

Thursday morning John Gilmour conducted a “brilliant” English lesson on poetry and Othello. The TWA team worked with small groups of students as they analyzed poetry and the major themes of Othello, particularly racism. After lunch the TWA team along with two students climb to the top of a local peak for a breathtaking view of False Bay and the Cape Peninsula. Later that afternoon John Gilmour facilitated a meeting of the TWA team and LEAP staff. It had been requested by a couple TWA fellows because of feelings of confusion as to the role expected of them at the camp and in the coming week when school resumed. The meeting was held with the honesty and openness that characterize everything LEAP does. John emphasized that, like what they are doing at LEAP, this is new territory with no models for how it should be done. I felt all left the meeting with a renewed sense of purpose and a confidence that John and the LEAP staff were committed to working with TWA fellows to assure the program is worthwhile and productive.

After dinner LEAP students and TWA fellows put on a talent show of dances, songs, and improvisation. It reinforced for me what an incredibly talented group of people had assembled at the camp. Some of the highlights included an evolution rap by Mike with the beat provided by John K, hilarious improv by Brian and Lindsay and a number of songs performed by TWA fellows along with the LEAP students. The evening ended with all the students performing a couple beautiful traditional songs that left the TWA team in awe of their talent.

Friday we broke camp, cleaned up and then had a community meeting with a focus on giving thanks to all who had help to make the week successful. Individual thanks were given by everyone getting up and shaking hands with those who had done something particularly helpful during the camp and telling them so. The meeting concluded with a few more songs and singing continuing all the way home on the bus.

A few of my impression from the week are how dedicated and committed the students (and LEAP staff ) are to achieving the high goals they have set for themselves. One example of this were the afternoon study sessions when, after a long day of activities, the students sat down for a couple more hours to do academic work with no supervision. I was also struck by how full of fun, games and songs the students are. If they are not singing (which they do constantly), then they are kicking around a soccer ball, volleyball or playing some group game. I also want to recognize how accommodating and sensitive the students and staff were the TWA team. This was reflected in numerous way from the special meals they prepared for us to the continual check ins to make sure everything was alright.

The team is looking forward to some R and R this weekend and very excited about the start of school and the work to be done in the coming weeks.

Jim

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