Volunteer Stories: Audrey and learning through play

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Peace Corps Volunteers do some amazing work, be it projects at site, friendships they’ve made, crafts they’ve perfected or integrating into their communities most impressively. Volunteer Stories is a series designed to share some of those cool bits, and an opportunity for me to brag about my friends who are often too humble to do so themselves. 

“It can be always evolving, it doesn’t have to stay static.” -Audrey, Group 85 Education Volunteer

Practicing a hip hop dance with Grade 6 in prep for their graduation
Practicing a hip hop dance with Grade 6 in prep for their graduation

Meet Audrey. She’s a hard-working, caring volunteer from Florida and she’s been my friend since PST. Before becoming a PCV in Jamaica, she spent several years working as a preschool teacher and is arguably the most confident person I’ve ever seen in a classroom.

Working with children for so long has taught Audrey the value of learning through play. When she was growing up, she wasn’t one of those students who did well with traditional chalk-and-talk classroom instruction; it just didn’t captivate her in the right ways.

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One of the goals for the Education project in Jamaica is to build teacher literacy instruction capacity. This means that we’re supposed to help teachers improve the way they teach literacy, including providing more creative ways to inspire those students who, like Audrey, just don’t want to sit down and write all day.

Enter Audrey’s Teacher Resource Box. It’s chock-full of games and other creative activities that can be adapted for any grade or ability level. It’s heavy on activities that get kids up and moving out of their seat and working with manipulatives like letter tiles and question cubes. For a kid that’s constantly being told to sit down and copy the work from the board, this box is a dream come true. For a teacher who’s so overextended and overworked that they feel a sense of dread as they walk through the school gate, the box is a game changer, a springboard of possibility that will help them to reenergize and reconnect with their creative side. Diversified lessons are a win-win-WIN situation!

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Unassuming, perfect simplicity
Unassuming, perfect simplicity

Armed with an arsenal of tried-and-true activities she’d used with her students here in JA, Audrey provided training to all of her teachers and Principal through a personal development workshop. They played the games themselves and learned how they could include learning through play in a number of ways in their lessons. Some of the activities will even work for math, science or any other subject you could imagine!

Peace Corps’ model of development is based on sustainability. That S-word is a complex, at times elusive concept that PCVs constantly fret about. After I leave, will this project die an untimely death, or will it blossom into something bigger and better than I ever could have achieved in my two short years of service? 

I asked Audrey when she would consider the project to be sustainable. “I think the first day that a teacher went in and took something out and used it without being prompted. I think that made it successful.” The simple beauty in seeing your ideas embraced by your local counterparts is a joy that I’m sure PCVs all over can relate to. The Teacher Resource Box has quickly become a mainstay at Audrey’s school.

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Her favorite thing in the box? A set of charades cards! “They teach the students how to think about things differently and describe things without using words.” Plus, it works on emotional intelligence, which is one of the most difficult things to teach.

The Boys Hub, a work in progress
The Boys Hub, a work in progress

Recently, Audrey has worked with one of her teachers to secure grant funding for the creation of a “Boys Hub.” The hub is a means to help with character development of their upper grade male students, who are most at risk for underperforming in school (or worse).

Way to go Audge!

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