Thursday, December 16, 2010

School Support Staff

At the three buildings that make up The Kaust School - the early childhood, the elementary, and the secondary schools - we have support staff who clean, repair, adjust the freezing air conditioning, and serve lunch to all students and faculty. The staff is make up of people from the Philippines and several countries in South Asia. A committee of teachers organized an appreciation lunch today for all of the staff, including faculty members who wanted to come too. Teachers prepared food and students helped serve and clean-up. It was a lot of fun to have these members of our school community sit and eat lunch with teachers and students. They all do so much for us and we are so grateful.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

KAUST coming into focus

First it was one girl who had previously been with our girls-only program, but now a member of the co-ed 7th grade group that I teach has joined the after-school math group. She had questions about some of the math problems I'd assigned for recent home work and wanted some help after school. A minute later another girl, a classmate, joined her. She'd been out that day visiting the dentist, and, though she could barely talk and was certainly in pain with a visibly swollen mouth, she too wanted to come after school for math help. They came together, and pretty soon we were discussing the nuances of fraction-based word problems, the kind that could trip up most any student, non-native English speaker (as the case was) or not.

Then two ninth grade boys, also my students, walked in, asking for help, and pretty soon I had word problems flowing on one side of the classroom, on the main whiteboard, and algebraic equations using the midpoint formula going up on the side board. Finally, two more students walked in, neither one of them a student of mine, but both in search of math help. They had a crossword puzzle involving math terms, and when I told them that crossword puzzles were absolutely the best things in the world and that math crosswords were the best of the best, they chose to stay.

Now what is amazing about this entire, spontaneous gathering is that all six students were Saudi - which is to say that none of them are native English speakers and a number of them had never had instruction in English before arriving at KAUST. Rather, here were students who could barely speak a word of English 14 months ago when KAUST School opened its doors, now reflecting on some fairly sophisticated problem-solving or terminology, and they were doing it on their own time, after school!

At one point I looked up as each group was working through its particular challenge, and I briefly stopped them to let them know how amazing this all was. Were it me, for example, and had I suddenly been immersed in an entirely different school system using a wholly different language with a set of fairly demanding teachers and a tough curriculum, I'm not sure I would have had the courage, let alone the ability, to stay after school barely a year later and carry on with learning the way these students were.

Saudi Arabia is a land of immense gifts, and KAUST is a result of one man's vision of an educational path this country could take. If you could capture in one classroom what this vision is beginning to look like today, you might look no further than the room I was fortunate enough to be in yesterday. Education may be a gift, but it's one you have to earn, and these kids were clearly there making the most of what is obviously becoming a unique, powerful, and instructive life experience for all, students and teacher alike. Thanks for reading.