Turn around is the best play!
My last school visit as a resident of Trinidad & Tobago was to Guayaguayare R.C School, and what a treat! Instead of me entertaining them, the students, each grade in turn from 1st to 4th form (ages 5-10), shared their stories with the other students, teachers, visitors from Bridge Foundation, and me!
As part of its "Read to Rise," early literacy program, Bridge Foundation works with students and teachers in some of Trinidad's most needy areas, including Guayaguayare R.C. school.
Guayagyayare (pronounced exactly as it looks, with a Trini accent, yes I practiced heaps) is about 2 1/2 hour drive south-east of Port Of Spain. Reginald Holder, a Bridge Foundation staffer and long-time supporter before that, was kind enough to drive me down. (I'm thinking he and Anthea were worried I might not make it if I drove myself.) They might well have been on to something, some of the towns we passed through looked inviting and the beaches, spectacular. Here's a photo of the coconut palm lined highway in nearby Mayaro. That's the beach just to the left of the road, about 50 feet. (Now you see the temptation...)
Now it's an annual part of the Read to Rise curriculum. And this year it was huge! Through Bridge Foundation's efforts 92 Trinidad and Tobago schools and almost 30,000 children and adults took part in the shared reading experience. Including the students and staff at Guayaguayare and Mayaro schools. What's more, Bridge Foundation gave every student at this school a book, and 2 copies each to the 90 other schools! 30,000 students, that's about 20% of Trinidad's children!
Already acquainted with Norman, the 1st form students (4-5) were brilliantly equipped to respond to the prompt: When I got Norman, I didn't want to keep him.
(Can you guess which was Norman's fav?)
Along with readings by celebrities who put a "Trini" spin on the story, Bridge partners created a slew of activities built around the theme of Pet and Sea-responsibility. Here's more about Bridge Foundation and Read for the Record® day 2015!
Which is where I came in. Reginald read that I lived in Trinidad, he told Anthea who got in touch with me. Three heads together over coffee came up with a plan for me to give a workshop to UWI 2nd year Creative Art students on picture books, which they would then use to help Guayaraguayare students WRITE AND ILLUSTRATE their own stories. The books are being created as we speak! And having met the students, I know they will be amazing! (I'll share some if I can.)
The really really fun part came after my presentation. 2nd form students, with hands clasped & sincerity gave a rousing rendition of their Trini version of There Was an Old Man Who Swallowed a Mosquito--
Q&A session was hillarious! Of course one asked my age...and if my goldfish ever died, because their's did!
Bridge Foundation donated stacks of copies of Not Norman that will be given as prizes later. I was thrilled to sign them. Principal Burt Wiseman is fab and welcoming!
The grand finale was 4th Form's surprise. A recital of a brand new poem penned in Norman's honor!
I should have known their was something, er...fishy going on when they lined up looking like they were up to something. Turns out Bridge's resident poet, Shurla Blade, had composed a poem in honor of my friendly little fish, Norman. They could not stop smiling even while reciting. Imagine my shock & Surprise:
What do I get from school visits? Besides hugs and smiles--and being made to feel like a rockstar for a day? Images of those earnest, interested, bright children to hold, a reminder of who I'm writing for and why.