Thursday, May 23, 2013

Testing, Testing, I'm Just Suggesting

Hello, friends!  As promised, this blog entry is dedicated to the arrival of my friend and colleague, Angi Stone-MacDonald, and her work with Toa Nafasi.

Angi arrived in Moshi about a week ago and, after a not-so-restful weekend (setting up house, grocery shopping, helping me look for a new car, a road trip to Arusha, yada yada yada), she has finally settled back into life in TZ....I think.

I'm pretty sure I mentioned in a previous entry that Angi lived here for the year 2009, doing research for her dissertation in Lushoto (about 4-5 hours from Moshi in Tanga region) on developing curriculum for children with intellectual impairment in order that they learn life skills to be as self-sufficient adults as possible.  A major part of her work was trimming the fat on the academic subjects being taught to mentally challenged students and focusing on the "community funds of knowledge" whereby they received instruction in areas they actually needed to know, such as math for money value, or reading for boarding a bus.

At any rate, she is now back after four years in the U.S. (during which time she became an Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, in Early Education and Care in Inclusive Settings) and on board with Toa Nafasi in a consultancy capacity.  The situation is ideal and mutually beneficial: for me, to help assess my kids in Msaranga, and for her, to inform further research on schoolchildren with disabilities in Tanzania. 

On Monday, Angi came to Msaranga Primary School for the first time and met Mama T and Dada M as well as Vumi.  She also had the chance to introduce herself to the kids and get to know a couple of them and look at their work.

Then, we began our work on the assessment the next day with a tutorial from Angi for me and Vumi on the various components of the test and how to execute it.  The assessment is comprised of a bunch of different sections designed to examine cognitive skills (literacy and numeracy), gross and fine motor skills, and social and adaptive skills.

Vumi and I watched Angi with one of our brightest (and youngest at only 5 years old!!) pupils, and tried to learn from her example.

Then Vumi and I each had a trial run with students of our own while Angi watched and gave us pointers on what was good and what we should change about our approach.

That first day, we got through only five complete assessments - slow because of us newbies, and a small source of worry for Angi who thought maybe we wouldn't be able to get through our nearly 160 Standard One schoolchildren during the two months she will be here, one of which the school will be out for "summer" vacation.  Fortunately for all of us however, Vumi and I are quick studies and the next day, we collectively got through 28 tests and the following day, 32.  I'm guessing if we continue at this clip, we'll be done by the middle of next week and then able to analyze the data and start making our plans for referrals and curriculum modification.  Already, we have seen students that we want to test for poor vision, color-blindness, speech therapy, dyslexia, Marfan syndrome, and anencephaly.  Others Angi has identified as having mild intellectual disabilities or simply needing extra help outside the classroom to catch up.  Though the work is hard and in the past three days I have already run the gamut of emotion from a.) near tears, b.) steaming mad, c.) sick and tired, and d.) exultant, I feel as though I am doing something really important and worthwhile.  Plus, Angi, Vumi, and I make a threesome on par with a special ed Charlie's Angels tag team!

The only problem is that now with this assessment in full gear, I have been neglecting my little boyfriend Ema from Standard 5!!  He waits by the classroom door for me everyday but I don't take breaks long enough to chat with him and by the end of the day, I am exhausted and dirty and just want to go home.  Poor thing actually issued me this letter via paper airplane trying to get my attention.


At any rate, Toa Nafasi is now going gangbusters and I am very happy if a bit fatigued.  Stay tuned for more from next week's entry!

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