Monday, June 25, 2012

Brazil Meets Red Bank

In addition to learning about Brazilian culture and its education system, all teachers in our 11 member cohort gave presentations to their host schools regarding their schools and respective towns in the U.S. I presented this video to the students and educators I met while in Brazil to provide a glimpse into an American school. In general, Brazilian students were transfixed by it. They were especially fascinated by my 4th graders, who are building VEX robots in the video (in addition to goofing off). My host teacher, Eduardo also had to explain to his students what a fire drill is (one occurs in the video), as they do not have these in Brazil. According to him, if a fire ever did break out, it would be mass hysteria.

A day in the life at the Red Bank Middle School.

Eduardo's students learning about life in an American school.

I also presented my host, Eduardo and some other educators with gifts from the Jersey Shore - salt water taffy, what else? I gave the students I met bookmarks from the Red Bank Public Library, which were created by Red Bank students from Pre-K through high school. They were a big hit, as you can see in these pics:

Students in Eduardo's private language school in Nova Iguacu.

Public school students at city-based school, Escola Municipal Cyro Monteiro, situated in Anchieta, a neighborhood in the city of Rio. Eduardo also works here. In Brazil, it is not uncommon for teachers to work at multiple schools.

Happy student with a new Red Bank bookmark.

On many occasions, I had the pleasure of presenting a video that my students and I produced to Eduardo's students. A few years ago, as an interdisciplinary project, our school's music, technology and art classes put together a music video called, "2048: A Rock Opera," which placed 3rd in Sony's Technology in Motion contest. The students (and teachers) in Brazil were very impressed with it and had many questions regarding its production. In all of the schools we visited I never saw any technologies or facilities that could be used for high-end media production. The only place that came close was a project-based learning lab in a private school called Marista, in Brasilia. Otherwise, public schools in Brazil seem to face major challenges regarding the implementation of technology, including theft, vandalism, inconsistent IT support, outdated hardware and intermittent internet access.

"2048" makes its premiere in Brazil.

2048: A Rock Opera

Sunday, June 17, 2012

DAY NINE: Sugar Loaf at Night

Had the opportunity to take the cable car up to the top of Sugar Loaf (Pao de Acucar) in Rio today with my host teacher, Eduardo, his wife Janine and my fellow IREX teacher, David. As you can tell by the short video posted here, I can barely muster any words other than, "amazing." Now that I have time to reflect a bit, here are some more that come to mind: humbling, transcendant, other-worldly, magnificent, surreal. I found myself thinking about my mother while on top of Sugar Loaf, as she loved to travel (I think that's where I get the bug). I think it would have made her happy to know I was there.

Me, Eduardo, and Janine. Check out Eduardo's shirt!

My colleague, David on top of the world (literally and figuratively).

The view from Pao de Acucar. Christ the Redeemer in the upper left (bathed in green for Rio +20). From this vantage point, I can understand why Rio is often called "The Marvelous City," or Cidade Maravilhosa.

Kids playing soccer (futebol) on Copacabana Beach (Sugar Loaf in the distance).

One more shot of Rio (how can you resist?).

The cable car to the top.

The cable car makes two stops. On top of each hill are restaurants, viewing platforms, bandstands, shops and more.

Driving in Rio

I used to be convinced that the worst drivers in the world lived in New Jersey. I was wrong. They all live here, in Rio. In the past four days, I could have been killed on at least 7 separate occasions (don't tell my wife) on the "red line" highway that runs from Rio out to the district where I am staying, Nova Iguacu. Whoever manufactures brake pads here in Brazil must be making a mint.

Here's what I know about Brazilian driving rules: speed limits are merely suggestions, red lights are regarded as "decorations," lanes are ambiguous and using your headlights at night is not considered mandatory. Think Formula One racing, but the drivers are all psychotic.

The best line of the day was when Eduardo (our host teacher) said, "Beware that my brother-in-law, Claudio likes to drive dangerously. You might want to buckle up." Although he managed to get us home in one piece, it was a thrilling ride, to say the least.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

DAY SEVEN: Meet The Beatles

David and I met in the lobby restaurant for a quick breakfast before Eduardo picked us up at 7:15AM to begin the day's activities. We walked down to the train station, busy with commuters heading into Rio's city center. At so many points on this trip I am reminded of India and getting on a train is one of those times. The coaches are painted a greenish-blue (think swimming pool) and bounce around on the tracks as if they were on a road filled with potholes. We sped through the outskirts of Rio, past smaller and smaller concrete homes, over farm land that somewhat resembles Thailand, with lush green hills rising dramatically out of the flat landscape.

We trekked it out about an hour before arriving at the end of the city line in a town called Japeri, where we were greeted by our host for the day, an ILEP (International Leaders in Education) teacher named Patricia. She then took us to her school inside a very poor, rural community. We pulled up in front of ColĂ©gio Estadual Almirante TamandarĂ© (CEAT), not knowing what to expect, as it was a surrounded by a crumbling masonry wall (spilling over with beautful pink flowers), which concealed a courtyard and the school itself.

We all filed through the door and then it got wild. We were met by an endless stream of smiling staff and students who treated us like the Beatles landing at JFK in 1964. It was incredible! Brazilians by nature have a different regard for personal space than Americans, so it's not uncommon for them to hug and touch you when they meet you, which may take a little getting used to. It's immediately disarming and endearing and drives home the fact that above all, Brazilians cherish personal relationships.

Throughout our trip, I kept hearing the same words over and over again in reference to the schools and communities we would visit:"marginalized,""disenfranchised,""forgotten." I was expecting to meet students who had been beaten down by society, embittered by the hand they had been dealt, but this was not the case at all. I've never met nicer, happier, more welcoming and sincere people in all my life. I kept thinking about a Lauryn Hill song I love called, "Every Ghetto, Every City." One line that resonated with me was, "unaware of what we didn't have," which she sings in reference to her own upbringing in a poor neighborhood. I also kept wondering about my own students back in Red Bank and how they would receive a visitor from another country to our school. I can't imagine they could match the enthusiasm and hospitality of these students.

A welcome ceremony was held for us in the school gymnasium and students read a famous Brazilian poem called, "Big World" in both Portugese and English. Here is an excerpt that I feel is very fitting:

No, my heart isn´t bigger than the world.
It´s much smaller.
It doesn´t even fit my pains.

Many students asked us in surprise, "Why are you visiting us?" As if to say that no one visits them. Later, they showed us their art studio, filled with beautiful student-made pieces. Art is not offered during the school day, but is made available after school and is instructed voluntarily by a woman named Peter. They also gave us an incredible impromptu concert in the school's small courtyard - one student played guitar, while the others sang along to their favorite songs. Music is not offered during the school day, either. This seems to be the case in many of the public schools we visited.

We were also given time to meet privately with the school's principal. She was happy to share information about her school and was clearly proud of all the hard work she and her staff put in to it. She was especially proud of the high scores they acheive on state-issued standardized tests. Apparently, they have to deal with them just like we do in the states.

Overall, it was one of the best days I spent in Brazil and I look forward to maintaining a relationship with Patricia and her school.

Public school in Japeri, Brazil (on the outskirts of Rio).

The warm and welcoming students of Japeri along with their gracious teacher, Patricia. She refuses to Samba in front of them (see the video), but made me do it. Her reasoning was that she would have to stay and face their teasing, while I get to leave. While my dancing was not immortalized (thankfully) in the video below, you can see the Samba demonstration I was given by one of Patricia's students, Marcos:

Welcome ceremony.

Patricia's principal welcomes us to CEAT.

My many new friends!

Rock 'n Roll Diplomacy Part I: One student had a guitar and played very well. He entertained us while his classmates sang along to Brazilian "gospel" favorites. I asked to play, and mimicked the chords he was playing, which delighted the kids. Then, in the spirit of the Beatles, I played "Saw Her Standing There." Not many of them knew it, but they seemed to like it anyway. Music is a truly universal language.

My new friend, Grasiele. She painted this picture in her after school art class. It took her two months to make and she gave it to me as a gift. I keep saying that the best thing about Brazil is its people, and Grasiele is proof.

More new friends.

David shows off beautiful artwork that was given to him as a gift.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

DAY SIX: Rio de Janeiro!

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have been participating in the IREX Teachers for Global Classrooms program, which is offered through a branch of the US Department of State (it should be noted that all of the opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the US State Dept. - they are my personal and professional observations). After a year of challenging and exciting work, including an 8 week online course and a global education symposium in Washington, DC, I am finally in Brazil along with the 10 other American teachers of my cohort.

We have all been in the capital city, Brasilia for the past four days, learning about the Brazilian culture and education system. We've had some amazing experiences visiting classrooms in both public and private schools. I will post more regarding Brasilia shortly, but I just want to write briefly about arriving in Rio as I have not had a moment to update this blog.

My fellow teacher, David Angwenyi and I got on our plane in Brasilia early this afternoon and after a quick and uneventful flight on TAM airlines, we made our approach over the beautiful hillside surrounding Rio (pronounced HEE-Oh in Brazilian Portugese), we touched down and met up with our host teacher, Eduardo Vasconcellos and his wife, Janine. They were kind enough to pick us up at the airport and spare us having to butcher the language seeking a ride. Not many people here speak English, but in general, everyone I have encountered has been pleasant and accomodating. I find my self defaulting to some home-brewed patois of English, Spanish and severely wounded Portugese to get by. I also smile a lot and say, "obrigado (thank you)" often.

Eduardo and his wife immediately took us to a Brazilian BBQ restaurant for lunch/dinner. It's one they enjoy and frequent with friends and family. We took our seats and almost instantly were served an endless amount of beef, sliced onto our plates from a sword. While I don't usually eat meat, I have never had Brazilian BBQ before and I wholeheartedly subscribe to the idea that when in Rome, one should do as the Romans. I even tried chicken hearts for the first (and last) time. They were small, somewhat tough and reminded me of mushrooms. Not my cup of meat.

Eduardo is an English teacher in a part of Brazil called Nilopolis (he refers to it as a suburb). Rio is an enourmous city of about 8 million people. Imagine the city of New York sprawling all over gorgeous hillsides and spilling onto pristine beaches and you might get the picture. I am staying in a hotel in another Rio neighborhood/district called Nova Iguacu. Tomorrow, we are off to a local school for a visit and I am excited to meet with staff and students. Based on our experiences in Brasilia, it should be amazing. Check back to read more about my adventures south of the Equator (4 continents down, 3 to go!).

Meanwhile, here are some photos from today...

David, Eduardo and Me at the Rio airport.

Ready to eat!


Eduardo and his lovely wife, Janine.

Chicken hearts.

Utility tower outside the restaurant. Be careful - don't plug that hair dryer in here!