Ave Maria

Today was my first day volunteering at Ave Maria school. What an experience. If you didn’t read my blog a few weeks ago, Ave Maria is a school for children and families who need a lot of help. Most of the children that go here may have behavioral problems, family problems, and many of them live at the school during the week, and go back with their families during the weekend. Even the youngest children. The principal told me today they try so hard to help the children, but most of them never even make it to high school after this. This was everything I heard before going here today, so of course, I was a little nervous. Walking up to the school to volunteer for the first time today, I had no idea what to expect. What would the children be like? Will this be hard? Will I understand what they are saying? Well, here it goes.

I walked up to the school and there was no one in sight. I went to the principal’s office, Francis, who is a very nice man. He talked to me for a bit, then started to walk me to the classroom to volunteer. I remember just hearing through the windows and I thought the children were being pretty loud. He asked me if I was nervous, and I said that I have been working with children pretty much my whole life and was very excited for a different experience. And…it sure was a different experience.

We walked into a classroom and I got to meet the teacher, Ana. A very kind young women, I’m sure I will enjoy working with her there. Looking around the class, the students were chaotic. Some were throwing pencils, paper, yelling, hitting other students, while some were sitting perfectly still in their desks ready to learn. Such a difference. Some had uniforms, while other were wearing regular clothes. Not sure why. It took me about 5-10 minutes just to introduce myself to the class; my name, and where I was from. This was because once I would start, someone would throw something or hit someone, or yell, and the teacher would have to take them out. Once things got settled, I got to start helping children. One on one, these students wanted to learn, it was just hard for them to focus. Monday’s and Wednesday’s the older children and younger children are combined for some reason. The older students were sitting in desks, and the younger students were sitting at a table. While Ana was explaining things to the older children, I got to help the younger children with a color by number activity. There were 7 children at my table. They were all interested in where I was from, and asked me how to say all of their names in English. They also were very interested just to hear me talk in English. At this school, they learn some English, but it’s not the priority since they need help with just doing their regular work, why add on English as well. They were doing color by number of a horse, so I told them “horse” is how you say “caballo” in English. Once they got started on coloring, some were into it, and others were trying everything they could to not to their work. One student said one thing to another, and so he got up from his seat and wanted to hit the other one, and only around 6 or 7 years old. I tried to stand and talk more to the children who were getting easily distracted. I also tried to talk about the horse and the colors they were using. I could tell that it helped this little boy, Dani, when I talked to him about what he was doing. Meanwhile, some of the older kids are listening to Ana, and others are not. But not once did I see Ana look stressed or show her anger to the children. Yes, she had to raise her voice at times, but I was in shock at how calm she could stay in such a noisy room, where most students just don’t seem motivated at all to learn. I could tell that it will be a challenge here, but since when did I not like challenges? Coming to Granada to learn Spanish is a challenge in itself.

Half hour later, everyone was just about finished with their work. And it was time to go outside to gym. Gym class was a whole other story. The children didn’t get into fights, didn’t try to hit one another, and they seemed way more at ease. The teacher, Miguel, set up a little tennis court. Some children played soccer, some played basketball, and I was with the children who played tennis. One little girl I really connected with today was, Adela. I would say she was probably about 9 years old. She was one of the girls that was at my table in the classroom as well. She wanted me to play tennis with her, she said she is normally really bad but likes when I play with her. In the classroom, it was at times difficult for her to control her anger and listen, but outside she seemed to have no problems. I played tennis with a few other students too. How fun! There was one little girl who seemed to not really know what to do. From a distance, I heard the other girls telling her that she couldn’t play tennis, or that they did not want to be her partner, and then they grabbed the tennis racket from her and ran away. I was sad to see this happen, but sadly it was no different from what I was hearing in the classroom. They sometimes just don’t use kind words to one another. I walked over to this girl, gave her my tennis racket, and we played a little bit together. I think next time I will make sure to give her a little extra help. I really hope these girls aren’t being mean to her on a regular basis, she was such a wonderful little girl. Came up to me right away outside without even knowing me and started talking to me (she wasn’t one of the students in the classroom before). After being outside for about 45 minutes, it was 2pm. The students cleaned up their things, and went inside for lunch. My time was done for the day, but was happy to hear the students ask me when I was coming back next, they were excited.

When the students were all inside, another professor, Mario, came to talk to me for a bit. What a different perspective he showed me. He talked to me a little bit about the children’s situations, that they live here, and how it’s difficult for most of them to do work in class. Mario also said that it’s a tough job to be working here, but once he goes home for the weekend, he does miss the children. He says working here is so gratifying, and he knows they are making a difference, even if it’s a little one. He believes that if the teachers can work here, they can work anywhere. And I agree. What patience these teachers have. Right now, they only have me on for volunteering once a week, every Wednesday, but he told me if I could also volunteer in his classes if I wanted. I emailed the principal later saying I would love to help more days if they needed me.

Overall, today was definitely a challenge and a different experience, but I already miss the kids and I was just there today! They need as much help and love as they can get. I just want to be a person that can help them too.

*P.S. One boy, Antonio, was the sweetest boy. A little older, around 10-12 years old. He was doing the color by numbers at my table in the classroom. He was working hard, had such patience, and finished all his work. Later, when we were walking outside for gym, he walked with me and was telling me all about himself. And he was talking to me a lot during the gym activities too. I noticed that none of the other children talked to him much, but I enjoyed it! He was so kind! Quiet…but happy to have me there to listen to him 🙂

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