The worldwide Augustana College experience

Jamaica Blog #3 – Kingston and Alpha School

I am writing this in the security line at the Montego Bay Airport, which is absolutely insanely long. The past few days in Kingston at the Alpha Boys School have been incredible. Even though it started out extremely disorganized and stressful, it all worked out wonderfully.

       When we first arrived at the Alpha schools on Wednesday morning, we went to the girls’ school where we were able to sit through a daily assembly with singing, a short speech by the principal and introductions of our math education team. During the assembly, it became clear why Dr. Egan has such a strong sense of pride about the Alpha Girls’ School.

       We ventured across the campus to the boys’ school where we were greeted by the boys’ principal who made it clear exactly how tough on those boys the staff is. After almost two hours of looking for guidance to get started teaching, our boys showed up. Meeting them was worth waiting so stressfully long for.
       The first day at the music school we got to know the boys a little, evaluated them with a pre-test and listened to them play a little bit with their bandmaster, Sparrow Martin. Mr. Martin seemed very interested in us and insisted that we play with the boys and improvise, which was embarrassing. The boys learn to play mostly by listening, while in America we learn by reading notes which made improvising difficult for us and teaching the boys how to read music a challenge as well.
       The second day at the Alpha Boys’ School we had private lessons until lunch. We had organized a schedule with a half hour slot for each boy, but none of them wanted to wait for their turn or leave after so we adjusted accordingly and did our best to work with all the boys as much as we could individually. After lunch we had a rotation schedule of theory lessons. Jessie taught symbols, Paige and Dr. J taught rhythms and I taught notes. This system worked rather nicely and the boys were making great progress right before our eyes.
       The third and final day at the school was extremely productive. In the morning we had individual lessons with all the boys and taught them all a group song from one of the books that Dr. J brought to leave with the boys. We all came together and heard the boys play the song, which was amazing since two days earlier they could not play anything based on reading the notes. When we broke for lunch and went to the girls’ school a woman from the Alpha staff brought us jerk chicken, festival bread and Red Stripe Beer for lunch. I sat through a few minutes of an assembly put on for our group by the Alpha Girls’ School and was stunned by their dedication to learning, their school and their appreciation for those who helped prepare them for their exams. Although I wanted to stay, I could not imagine leaving my boys earlier than necessary.
(I am finally through that nightmare of a security line!!!)
       When we came back, we administered the post-test to see how much of what we taught boys had retained. When they were finished, we sat down with each of them and graded their pre and post tests individually so they could see their mistakes and progress. Three of the boys got almost every question wrong on the pre-test and almost every question correct… We were so proud and felt extremely accomplished. After the test we were able to just hang out with the boys, which gave us an opportunity to get to know them and learn about their lives inside and outside of Alpha.
       One boy, Jackson, quickly became one of the most inspirational people I have ever met. We asked if all the boys needed to shave their heads, because they were all bald and Jackson said you can grow it out if you are a Rasta. He added that he is not a Rasta and does not like them because they sell and do drugs. He reassured us that he will never do drugs again because he got in a lot of trouble for ganja. He also reassured us that he got rid of his guns…. We did not ask any questions, he offered this information and was very ashamed to do so. He is a 14 year old boy who “used to” do drugs and have guns… It is still difficult to wrap my mind around hearing that such a young man has experienced more than I hopefully ever will in my life within the first 14 years of his life.
       While some of the Alpha boys are there because of parental problems, others are there for delinquency. The staff are very tough on the boys which is difficult to watch, especially once I got to know 9 of them very closely and would never imagine treating them poorly. Jackson’s spirit mirrored the attitude of Jamaica that has been very visible throughout our trip. Jamaica gained independence in 1962, as we learned in class, and every where we went there were signs about the 50th anniversary of progress. Jackson, although very young, was determined to turn his life around. He told us that he is currently reading a book about 10 black men who have come out of prison and changed for the better. The maturity that he showed was well beyond his years, and really reflected that of Jamaica, a country with a really rough start that worked as hard as they could to become the best they could. Jamaica, just like Jackson, has a long way to go, but with enough dedication will be able to succeed.
        Jackson gave me a lot to think about and has truly taught me that anything is possible, regardless of circumstances. I had already been introspecting quite a bit and reflecting on how truly blessed I am to live in America and have such an easy life even though I complain quite a bit about trivial things. When Jackson told us that he likes how we speak and he wants to speak like us so that he does not sound like he is from the ghetto or sound uneducated, my heart broke a little. These boys were so touching and I have learned more from them than they could have possibly learned from us. Jackson and the other boys each taught me valuable lessons that I would have never otherwise learned.
       I have to mention what a wonderful time I had being able to work with Paige and Jessie. I feel that we were a great team and we definitely worked as hard as we could to teach the boys as much a possible in such a short time. I am very thankful to have two amazing women to spend so much time with. Both of them were enthusiastic and dedicated and helped any worries that I had going into Alpha disappear completely. It was awesome working with them and I truly feel that being with them at Alpha enriched my Jamaica experience so much.
       Other than Paige and Jessie, the whole group made this trip fabulous. Especially at Reach Falls, I was able to become very close with so many people in just a little over a week. Going into the trip, I was friends with about half the group and I purposely bounced around so that I would be able to spend time with different people and break out of my comfort bubble in order to make the most out of the whole experience. On every trip I have ever been on with groups, there has always been at least one pain in the ass person that no one likes to be around. Assuming that I was not that individual, we had a great group. And we were very lucky to be under the care of two great professors, Dr. Egan and Dr. Jaeschke. I consider myself not only very fortunate to live in a great country that I take so much advantage of, go to a wonderful college and have so many opportunities, but to have been able to have such an incredible experience that I would have never been able to do without Augustana, the planning and preparation by Dr. Egan and Dr. J, the amazing Alpha boys, being with a wonderful group of classmates and, of course, Augie Choice’s $2000 contribution. This trip was by far the best $900s I have ever and will ever spend in my life.

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