Wednesday, July 31, 2013

(the long version of the airport saga)

People often opine about illegal immigration—however, legal immigration through Houston International Airport is quite difficult.  We had an hour and seventeen minutes between touch down and take off.  We soon found out that thousands of people had the same time schedule and there were approximately 2.5 people working at immigration. Next time, I am pushing Travel and Transport a little more because 30 minutes is not enough time to get through immigration. 

Fortunately Kris had the idea to pay extra to get us toward the front of the plane instead of the last row.  So worth it!  We sprinted our first leg of the race between the airplane and immigration.  Long lines. Not enough workers. We waited. Moved to another lane. Stalled.  Moved to another lane. Waited more.  Finally got through…… and………. Maia and I began the second leg of the relay.  Sprinting between immigration and baggage claim.  Maia grabbed the suitcases off the carousel and pushed them toward me.  I caught them and pushed them down toward the customs lane. Then, we just left our bags at baggage check…. And the race continued.

Maia and I took the lead with Kris and Anna close behind.  We raced past babies in strollers and people in wheelchairs only to stand in another line for TSA security.  We caught our breath, took off our shoes, politely told another person that they could not cut in front of us while we smugly knew the inside lane was faster. We gathered our stuff, carried our shoes and ran toward the shuttle.  I put my shoes on while riding the escalator up, Kris ran through the airport barefoot (I wish I had taken pictures or video).

As we disembarked the shuttle towards terminal C—Maia and Anna nearly wiped out an airline pilot waiting for the shuttle.  He looked at them with awe at their blazing speed (or was it irritation?)  The girls used their long legs to sprint the final leg of the airport and with the finish line in sight, the gate agent hollered out “Omaha?” and the girls yelled back “Yes!!” and then started cheering.

The gate agent had to open the cabin door for us and Maia said, “no matter what anybody says, an hour for international arrival is NOT ENOUGH!!”  As we boarded the plane, clearly trying to catch our breath, the baton was passed to the pilots to take us home.  Leon the flight attendant had an empty beer can and I asked how many of those he had left for us.  He promptly gave us all a glass of much needed water.

The cabin doors are closed.

Nope…. They are open again….. four more people boarded the plane after having a similar race as we did. 

There were still eight passengers left behind.

Monday, July 29, 2013

On our way out.....

We took advantage of the later flight to return to the Cathedral plaza one last time.  With it being recognized as a UNESCO sight, it is finally being renovated. With the renovations we weren’t sure if we could go to the top again, but Maia wanted to have her annual picture there.  Thankfully we went up and asked because there was a back way to the top.  We were escorted through some very narrow, spiral stairs that would never pass inspection anywhere else!!  The view was spectacular!!

Maia, Anna, and I also paid an extra $2 to go to the catacombs in the basement.  When people talk about my height, I usually say that it’s ok because I fit better on airplanes.  Well…. now, I think I can say that I fit better in the Nicaraguan catacombs and the tunnels between the churches.

Mom/daughter--  volcanoes and cell phone towers
Mom/daughter-- top of the Cathedral

Maia with Dona Maria--  Maria will be 73 in September and has worked at la Casa de Protocolo for 25 years.

We returned to la Casa de Protocolo to wait for Luis, our UNAN-Leon driver.  And we waited.  This is where intermittent reinforcement was not positive.  I’m used to Nicaraguan Standard Time but Luis has been a bit early the last few times.  This time, he was 45 minutes late.  Yep, back to NST.

The ride to Managua was hot, sweaty, headache inducing and somewhat dangerous.  After passing on the opportunity to buy an iguana at the Nicaraguan drive-thru, we made it to the airport for the beginning of many lines for the day.

Loading up the pick-up
Iguana a la plancha anyone??

Back in May, we made our flight reservations.  I was skeptical of the 1 hour and 17 minutes connection in Houston, especially with immigration and customs.  It was stressful!!!  Numerous international flights arriving at the same time, maybe 5 people working in immigration, and a lot of ground to cover in 13 minutes.  In a nutshell, we pushed suitcases down the hall, sprinted through the airport and the cabin door was opened for us.  Still, 8 passengers were left behind.

Sunday, July 28, 2013


On time for class in the morning and afternoon
Daily homework completion!

We knew the participants were planning something—because—well, we were observing behavior.  :-)  They were collecting money, keeping lists and asking both Ulises and Maria what I like to eat.  We figured it was some pastries and drinks, but we were surprised with much more.  It was for the "despedida" or the going away party.

Kris and Ulises

We began the day with Kris finishing up the math portion of DIBELS (or IDEL in Spanish) and then reviewing a case study to bring all components of the week together.  Then, the fun began!  Maia and Anna explained the review boards they had created incorporating Nicaraguan themes. One game board was designed around the Nicaraguan flag and the other was a volcano.  The volcano game board was a version of Chutes and Ladders but it had individual pictures of us from the previous Sunday volcano boarding.

We wanted to have a group picture taken with the UNO flag but the participants took over the agenda.  Each person stood up and expressed his/her gratitude for the training.  They looked so sincere and the comments were authentic.  Several individuals mentioned that they knew we were sharing our knowledge with passion and love.  Oh my goodness—I definitely had the tears flowing!! (I am very passionate about teacher training and I love the people of Nicaragua).  Furthermore, they recognized that all of us (and our families) had made sacrifices to be there— both financially and in time.

With the confusion in taking the picture, we didn’t even realize the flag was upside down!

Then, we were presented with four colorful ceramic butterflies for each family.  Butterflies are symbolic of transformation, new life and hope which is perfect for empowering teachers with special education information. 

People began to scatter, moved tables and began serving plates of food.  Johanna had prepared a native Nicaraguan meal and gave us way too much of it!!  Luckily, Ulises and Omar were there to clean up after us.  ;-)  The chicken was so tender and the yucca was flavorful with the parsley and the pico de gallo.  Absolutely delicious!  

The Nicaraguan culture is very relational with lots of hugs being shared—much like the Deaf culture of the United States.  Love it!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Learning Continues- Module 3

The UNO Group in Leon
Julie Delkamiller, Kris Swain, Jeanette Harder, and Ann Coyne
We are very fortunate to be here while Ann Coyne (Queen Ann) is here.  This is my first time being in Leon with Ann who has 25 years of experience working in Nicaragua.  Jeanette Harder has joined her this week as they are teaching a class for the Master's in Social Work that is being offered at UNAN-Leon.  This is Jeanette's first trip to Leon so she is learning a lot.  I said that is was nice that I could go to Nicaragua to get to know UNO colleagues.  This place is so busy with so many different classes going on in many different disciplines.

Anyone who know me, knows that I love data collection so this has been fun having them learning how keep data and how to use that data.  However, this module has challenged me in many ways as we adapt the content for what can be used in the Nicaraguan schools.  The data that the teachers report they have collected in the past has included attendance and grades.  We have been showing them how to graph information this week so we are using their homework completion and being on time to class as examples with Anna and Maia helping us with our great graphs.
Graph of Homework completed- 100% on Tuesday

On Time to Class Graph
An amazing moment on Tuesday was when the students all started clapping when I showed them the class pretest scores and then the posttest information on the first two modules.  The students had increased the scores by over 20% for each of the two modules.  They were so proud of their improvement and it really helped them understand how data can be important to students.

A little movement anyone?  Julie gets the class ready for the day!

Anna and Maia have been working hard to get our game boards ready for a Friday review game.  I love their creativity, and I am sure that our students will love playing "Hike and Board" and "National Symbols".  You may not be able to tell from this picture, but they have added actual pictures of us volcano boarding on the game board.  This will be such a great learning and fun activity on Friday.
Hike and Board Review GameBoard
National Symbols GameBoard

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Diplomado Module #3-- Day 1

Data Collection is the theme of the week.

Kris collected a lot of data immediately:

7:55-- 5 students, no projector
8:01-- 6 students, no projector,
8:05-- Omar and Ulises arrive (our super hero translators)
8:15-- 10 students, no projector, Omar riding motor bike to get one
8:37-- projector is here and hooked up
8:40-- time to start-- still no Indiana
8:50-- introductions began

This is very Nicaraguan.  :-)

We spent the majority of the day reviewing modules 1 and 2-- from December and January.  It's been 7 months so the review was necessary.  It was also great to get feedback from the participants on how they have used the information.  Repeatedly, they commented on positive reinforcement being so powerful (kudos to Beth & Mitzi!!).  A few of the teachers mentioned how they are sharing the information with others in their schools, so I reinforced that as exactly what we wanted to have happen.  We need this ripple effect to reach other classrooms.

Anna and Maia were responsible for letting people in the front doors and getting them registered.

 I began with an activity where the participants observed changes in another person and highlighted how everyone put things back to where there were originally (earrings, watches, collars, etc.)  People want change but don't necessarily want to change.  We expect others to change and expect our students to change, but as individuals we resist change and go back to what is comfortable.  Then, we spent time asking how they have changed and implemented change in their classrooms this year.

The Nicaraguans are very literal and concrete-- which is a direct result of the current education system.  The lack of critical thinking skills permeates every area of life.  So, we started with a concrete graphing activity to lay the foundation for data collection on behavior and academics.  We used Skittles-- which they got to eat when we were done. :-)

We reviewed classroom rules and began brainstorming for a token economy.  The kinds of data the teachers currently collect are related to attendance and homework.  So, we are going to reinforce being on time and completing homework.  Some of the rewards they would like are: chocolate, pens, gum, and even cards to recharge their cell phones.  :-)

We are planning to graph their progress and hopefully--- we will reach 80% so we can let them out early on Friday.

This is not a reading culture so giving reading homework each night is a stretch.  When I handed it out, they all counted the pages!  Julio Pinedo-- one of my most favorite Nicaraguans-- stopped by to visit as well.  He mentioned that a recent survey on the news showed that only 1% of college students said they read regularly.  1% -- and these are college students.

Julio was captured and tortured by Somoza's men and he told us about a reenactment that will happen on Tuesday. We understand it is a big celebration in Leon for the day of the student, and they are commemorating when Somoza's people killed 4 students. However............with all the loud firecrackers-- ok, cannons and bombardas-- we need to graph the amount of sleep we might actually get.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Adventures in Nicaragua

Anna and I arrived in Managua on Wednesday and met up with Julie, Maia, and Ann Coyne in Leon on Thursday.  We were able to go to the Deaf School with Julie and Maia on Thursday afternoon, and Anna really enjoyed seeing what is happening in the school as well as helping out with teaching Twister and jump roping for the students.

Friday all headed to the beach as the July 19 celebration for Liberation Day (i.e., fireworks and cannons) would be taking place.  We had a wonderful time talking with Ann about her experience in Nicaragua and the book she is writing about her 25 years of experience in Nicaragua. The beach was beautiful, and this was a wonderful way to relax and avoid the celebrations that would be taking place in Leon.

An added bonus was Ulises coming out to visit us at the beach and giving us all dancing lessons.  Samba anyone?
Anna, Ulises, and Maia

Saturday it was back to Leon to work on some preparations for the week.  People have been asking what Anna and Maia will be doing.  No worries, we are keeping them busy.  They planned game boards for the review game that we will be playing later this week, and they were so creative with their ideas.  I can't wait to see the finished products later this week.
Maia and Anna planning game boards
Sunday was the last major adventure for this trip as we headed to Cerro Negro to go Volcano Boarding with Anry from Mas Adventures.  The adventure started when he picked us up in a small pickup and after all these years of telling Anna to wear her seatbelt, she is riding in the back of a pickup truck for an hour ride to a volcano.  The trek up the volcano was about an hour and very steep and windy.  We were wearing our buzz lightyear pack, and I felt like I may just take off at times as we were climbing.

We all made is down the volcano and think this was the perfect adventure as we prepare for the third module of the Diplomado as Nicaraguans are so proud of their country and especially the volcanoes.  We can say that we appreciated the beauty from up close and learned a little bit more about this beautiful country.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Impacting Lives

This is our last day.  It's been very bittersweet.  Many of the students were missing this week because of extended vacation and a holiday week.  Also, as much as we enjoy our brief time, it is even harder to leave.  Yet, we know that without the sponsors and the pottery sales, none of these children would have access to a basic education. It does make the buying, wrapping, hauling and selling pottery worth every minute.

          We have a student, Ana, who is 16 and has been placed in a regular education classroom her entire life.  She has no auditory/oral skills and is just now learning sign. 

          Another student, Alexander, just joined who is 17 and has just been kept at home all these years.  He doesn’t even have any home signs.  He does the classic “smile and nod” behavior and doesn’t cause any trouble.  He had difficulty following basic visual/spatial directions.

          One of the girls that I’ve been especially attached to, lives in a home with an actively alcoholic mother.  The father left long ago and the house is full of empty bottles.  This student is extremely intelligent but is left home alone often.

          Another boy was not in attendance this week at all and we really missed him.  He has AIDS and has been sick. He has been part of the school since opening day and is quite bright.

          Most students travel a long distance, including one who rides in a hot van on dusty roads for an hour each way. Most families cannot afford to pay the $40/month tuition and struggle to come up with transportation. None of the family members are fluent signers and the students only come to our project for 3 hours/day.

          Yet, the teachers are doing the best they can with what they have. Ann and I buy pottery, wrap it and bring it back to Nebraska to sell it in order to pay the teachers.  The students are resilient even in a culture that is oppressive.  My life is enriched in infinite ways from loving all of them.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Progress! Amazing Progress!!


For the first time, the students have real books!!  

        The “Math-U-See” blocks that I brought last year have been used.  The boxes are dirty and one of the students was actually using them!  I couldn’t help but get teary eyed.  I know they didn’t just throw dirt on the boxes the day before I arrived.

          Recess is gone!  There is very little wasted time now!  Success!!

          I brought some Spanish syllable charts and pictures for the teachers to use.  Lidia did not hesitate!  She started trying to figure out how to use these materials as soon as they were opened. This is such HUGE progress over the last five years!  It used to be that I would show ideas and guide the teachers in doing the activities themselves.  Then, they would go back to the old ways. 

          Who knew that the party game “Twister” could have so many teaching applications?!?!  The students did not know their left from their right—even after we wrote “d” for derecha on their right hand and “i” for izquierda on their left hand. It was also quite evident that short term memory is extremely short!  They had difficulty remembering the placements of their hands and feet.  

          “Connect 4” and “Mexican Train Dominoes” were other games we taught.  I really wanted the teachers to see that learning can be fun.  I also wanted to have games the students could use if there was free time.

           “Scrabble—the Español edition” was a game I left for the teachers.  I told Maritza to use it at a staff meeting.  :-)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Escuela de Sordos-- July 2013

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

          Estimating that this is my tenth trip to Nicaragua in five years, I am feeling immense gratitude being here again. In a way, this “place” seems like “home” but it is actually the connections made with people that make León feel like “home.” The teachers at the school, the deaf students, the visiting professors at la Casa de Protocolo and... even Doña Maria all make being in León such a blessing.

          Dr. Ann Coyne, a.k.a Anita, has been invested in Nicaragua for 25 years. Beginning with Witness for Peace, she has certainly witnessed many changes in the people and the country.  Ann is supervising two UNO students completing their practicum in social work and has spent the summer in León again.  While here she has earned an honorary doctorate from UNAN-León but has won even more hearts from the Nicaraguans.

          My daughter Maia made this trip with me again.  It is her 3rd time and she is in love with the students.  She was ready to go to the school four hours before it opened. Once we got there, the kids were overjoyed and immediately asked for “chicle” (gum.)  Lucky for them, we brought 4 big boxes of gum for teachers to use as reinforcers over the next few months.

          Maia was absolutely overcome with joy when she saw a teacher using the activity Maia introduced last year.  Maia made magnets with vocabulary words that could be used to make sentences.

I bought some puffy, sticky letters at a garage sale for the students to use in making their names.  There is a new girl named Keyssi who is five years old and has been at the school just one month.  INCREDIBLE!  I was able to see her use classifiers and language expansion that one might see in a deaf child of deaf parents. Keyssi told us how her mom would be so proud of her work using the letters—and her facial expressions were perfect.  Keyssi even joked about one of the boys stinking because he farts so much. She would touch my face to get my attention which is a common behavior among deaf children and she would share all her joy with everyone around her. 

          Maia also used jump ropes with Nubia’s class to help review math facts.  The girls were enjoying this but the boys were so clumsy and uncoordinated.  These students are 10-11 years old but were working on basic single digit addition facts.  Maia would tell them “2+2= “ and the students would need to jump the answer.  For the oldest group we gave them word searches.  This was the first time for the teacher and for the students.

          I strongly believe that people in poverty need education and people to mentor them.  Nelson Mandela who celebrates 95 years of life is quoted as saying,
“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

I couldn’t agree more.