Volunteer Teacher Reflects on Her
Experience at the Starfish School
September 15, 2009
Recently, I returned from teaching Geography at the Starfish School in Maceió, Brazil. From the moment I stepped off of the plane I felt welcomed and needed. I am very grateful to Worldfund and to the Leiners, who founded the school. The work of David and Claudia Leiner was extremely inspiring. Every day they perform the difficult task of ensuring that 151 young, disadvantaged pupils receive a quality education. I hope one day I can be as selfless and determined as they are. Rene Bangert at the Starfish School
Throughout the two months in Brazil, my 7-10 year old students taught me a great deal about themselves, their families, and their communities. In addition, they gave their love and appreciation. I tried to expand their world view and teach Geography starting with their communities. When discussing their communities, many expressed their dislike of violence and gangs, but their gratitude for the Starfish School that allows them to receive a first rate education. Although many experience chaos in their lives, from 7am -4pm, they have a safe place where they are nourished with food, knowledge, and guidance.
When I would arrive each day, I would be greeted with a showering of kisses, hugs, and questions, “Teacher Joy! Teacher Joy! Are you teaching us today?” “Did you come here on a plane?” “Is it nigh time in Chicago?” Lunch was one of the best times of day, although sometimes it was hard to eat with all of the attention: some students playing with my hair, others jockeying for a seat next to me to practice their English skills, and others just smiling their beautiful smiles and hugging me.
During the geography lesson, many students were anxious to learn. When I showed them a globe and asked them to point to where they lived, many pointed to the interior of Brazil. I asked if Maceió was on the coast and they replied that it was not. Although geographically they live twenty minutes from beautiful beaches, for many, it is not part of their reality.
One of the most touching experiences was interacting with an especially energetic nine year old student, João Paulo. At first, he was always running around during class time: trying to do flips, dancing like Michael Jackson, or making inappropriate noises. When he did behave and work on the assignment, I would give him praise and attention. Soon, he stopped misbehaving and sought my approval. His academic level was lower than the other students, but not for want of trying. Later, I learned that he had seen his father shot and killed by policemen when he was just three years old. Many students come with difficult life stories, but with love, praise, and direction, they have a greater likelihood of succeeding. Thank you Worldfund for giving João Paulo and others like him a chance to create a different future!
Rene Joy Bangert
Starfish School Volunteer