Early Grade Reading Projects

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One of the primary schools I volunteered at last academic year was Dibza, a large government school (KG – Grade 8) located in close proximity to the College of Teacher Education (CTE). As a PCV, I was assigned to work 100% at the College of Teacher Education (CTE), where I found myself frequently frustrated and demoralized by what we in Peace Corps now refer to as “a lack of institutional buy-in.”  This phrase simply means that the CTE seems to have no internal motivation or interest in building successful ELIC programs.

If two Peace Corps Volunteers (my husband and myself) had not magically appeared at the campus of the CTE, I’m almost certain the ELIC programs would have been nonexistent in Ethiopian Calendar (EC) 2004.  Even with our presence at the CTE, the ELIC in 2004 offered a very limited number successful programs, none of which can be called “sustainable” because nobody in the CTE will step forward and voluntarily pick up training programs after we depart.

Note: In case you hadn’t heard the news, we will be leaving Debre Markos in January, 2013,  for new Peace Corps Volunteer assignments in Addis Ababa.  

To combat boredom and professional frustration at the CTE, I decided to dedicate 10 hours a week to “Linkage Programs” during the second semester (2004 EC), which allowed me to directly support English teachers  and begin to build relationships that would help to establish Early Grade Reading programs in the two Government Schools and three Private Schools in Dibza Cluster.

First Graders (Section 1A) at Dibza Primary School, Debre Markos

The two Government Schools are both KG through grade 8.

1) Dibza (seen here, uniform = green sweaters and blue pants/skirts). This is the Cluster Center, meaning it may have the most resources and should offer support to other schools.

2) Biruh Tesfa (uniform = red sweaters).  This was planned as a Grade 1-4 Primary School, but due to demands by the local population was expanded to serve students through Grade 8.  It is located on the outskirts of town, which means half the student population live in Debre Markos and the other half walk in from surrounding rural areas.  The classes are offered on a “Shift System” ~ one week, students in grades 1-4 attend in the morning shift and grades 5-8 attend in the afternoon shift.  The next week, the schedule is reversed.

The three private schools in Dibza Cluster are:

1) Debre Markos Academy (KG through Grade 4)

2) Fasika  (KG through Grade 4)

3) Hohiyat Academy (KG through Grade 8)

So, these five schools in Dibza Cluster are the focus of my Early Grade Reading Centers project.  With the assistance and advice of the Cluster Supervisor, Ato Mekonnen, we decided how many books to allocate to each school (2 boxes of books to each private school, 8 or more boxes of books to each public school).  Then, it is my job to work with the principals and the teachers to place quality, grade-appropriate English books (from the Books for Africa donation boxes) in locations where students have daily access to reading materials.

Dibza Primary School: Store Keeper/Librarian (far left), 3rd Year Practicum Students, and Cluster Supervisor Ato Mekonnen (second from right) standing by some of the boxes of donated books.

Each school has a slightly different personality and attitude about how best to use these resources.  In Biruh Tesfa, the classrooms do not currently have doors with locks.  This presents a security issue and the teachers feel that books will be stolen from the classrooms when they are not present.  Thus, they have a current plan to get locks applied on the doors of some of the classrooms (we’ll see if this happens before I leave Debre Markos).  These “model classrooms” will be set up with mini-libraries and the books can be placed there.  If this doesn’t happen, then Biruh Tesfa has a nice Reading Room, with bookshelves and tables and chairs.  Here, we can place the books on the shelves and sort them according to grade level.  Students may be allowed to check out books and take them home on Fridays, returning them on Mondays.  Again, these ideas were presented to me as something the school is already doing and I am going to work with them to help them achieve their goals.  The inherent quality of the English books we are donating will motivate teachers and students alike to want to read them.  In particular, the non-fiction books and science books will be of great interest to students and teachers in the second cycle (Grades 5-8).

Here are some images with captions that help explain the process of sorting and donating books to local primary schools.

I’ll report again on this more over the next few weeks.  As each school receives their books and places them in Mini-Libraries or other student-accessible contexts, I will attempt to document the progress we make and the type of support that the students and teachers seem to need as they improve their classrooms by adding age-appropriate reading materials.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS:  Books are tangible, interactive works of art that teach students to engage with images and text, for pleasure and for knowledge.  This project alone has erased most of the feelings of depression and professional despair that had started accumulating and were sticking to my imaginary fur like a million small burs (burrs) that had attached themselves to myself, a large bear lumbering around looking for blueberries… gathering more spiky burrs than sweet berries and getting so tired … all I wanted to do in my lumbering bear mind was to revert to my winter hibernation mode, curl up and hide in a hole in the ground until the next season arrives and I can start over again fully rested and with renewed purpose.

To me, the books that are now in our community are like wild blueberries, enticing, exciting, small, and powerful.  So what if I gathered a few burrs along the way… at least I found some sweetness!  Books have lifted the feeling of depression and futility that was creeping slowly into my heart and soul…they open up the window of the imagination and I wonder if they may have the same impact on some students in these schools.  Who knows.  All I know is that the feeling of futility has vanished through the introduction of illustrated books.  These books represent creativity, imagination, love, hope, and joy.  Wild and sweet, like blueberries.

1st Grade Teacher ~ Dibza Primary School ~ preparing the “Mini-Library” in her room with Amharic books.

3rd Grade classroom at Dibza ~ Empty shelves in back prepared for Early Grade Reading Books!

Here is a look at some of the boxes of books that made their way to Dibza School. About 20 students showed up at my house one Friday afternoon with the Librarian/Store Keeper. Each student carried 30 or 40 books in their arms to the school (a good 20 minute walk) where they were supposed to drop the books into the boxes. The boxes (when full) were way too heavy for anyone to carry individually, so this was the method the school devised for transporting books. IT WORKED! Here they are, in all their glory. 😉

This is a clever book design with 3-letter words and images. The pages flip independently and a beginning level reader could discover new English words by matching up three images. Okay, so there is one image of a white skinned person with a blue eye, that can’t be changed in this version of the book to represent a typical child’s skin and eye color in Debre Markos. But LOOK! They have PURPLE INK for the word ink. What could be more perfect for any Ethiopian child anywhere? This is the land of purple ink and purple stamps for sure.

Official Stamp indicating the origin of the book in Debre Markos and promoting the work of Peace Corps Volunteers in support of Supplementary Reading Materials and Early Grade Reading programs in our community.

Purple Ink for our Official Stamp.

About Mandalay Elf

This blog is about my experiences as an English Language Fellow in Myanmar (2015-2016) and an archive of past experiences as an Education sector Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia (2011-2013). All contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government, the ELFellow program or the Peace Corps.

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