White Water Rafting (Wisconsin Style)

I was recently invited on a rafting day trip and impulsively decided to go. Throughout the experience, I had so many flashbacks to traveling throughout Costa Rica — obviously the landscape didn’t match, but being in the middle of an adventure without knowing many details beforehand (or even during, ha!) brought back terrifying fond memories of what it’s like to live in the moment of first-time experiences. A good reminder, for sure.

After 5 hours of driving north, here are the sleep-deprived, brave souls. All nine of them.

Most of the rafting adventure looked like the image above. We slowly paddled down the Wolf River and drank in the nature sounds and sights.

Then there was a slight drizzle that felt really good in the hot afternoon sun… So I actually said (yes, out loud) something like, “It would be great to get more rain like that.”

So right after I took the photo of these gorgeous pines, it started drizzling… then raining… then pouring. Oops. Guess I got what I wished for.

So really all the photos I took were before this rain storm blinded our path (and made my sunscreen run in my eyes). Above, I am with Heather, a sweet girl I met at the Vineyard church I have been attending.

Right after the rain started was our first rapids, so we were squinting in the downpour and wind, trying to keep the raft afloat (and right side up), and praying we wouldn’t fall out. (Maybe the others weren’t praying about their survival, but I certainly was as we approached the falls, lol. I mean, all you could see was that everyone in front of you had suddenly gone over the edge…)

Then the rain stopped long enough right at the end of the 5 hour “adult lazy river” for me to capture this photo of the toughest falls for extremely brave souls — Don’t worry, Mom, I wasn’t that brave. : )

And a video for your viewing pleasure. This group was heavily drinking as we paddled past them before the first falls, and they had strapped all their rafts together. Here are the hilarious (and most definitely painful) results of inhibited common sense.

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Team Builders

Team building is very, very important in a classroom environment. If you doubt how that might play into putting 20-some kids into one room and expecting them to get along for 9 months, reflect back to your elementary days, haha.

The 6th grade classes recently ventured out on a camping field trip, and I was introduced or reminded of the many team-building activities that are out there that could easily be adapted for classroom use. I will be using some of these ideas in the fall to unite my next class.

Note: Click on individual photos to get a closer look.

Injustice

When I hear the word “injustice,” my mind immediately pictures the African nation of Guinea-Bissau where unwanted babies and children are buried alive in ant hills as sacrifices to the gods. While in Costa Rica, I had the opportunity to have lunch with Dr. Isabel Johanning-Mora, an amazing Costa Rican woman who decided she was going to move to Guinea-Bissau as a missionary over 15 years ago. Today, she runs the orphanage Casa Emanuel and calls Guinea-Bissau home. Teletica, the Costa Rican CNN of sorts, broadcast the story of Casa Emanuel over several days, and Costa Ricans responded by giving more than $22,000 to support the incredible work Dr. Johanning is doing.

”Injustice.” I also think of the Kony 2012 campaign that has gone viral within the last week. Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army has abducted thousands of children to join the fight for no apparent cause other than to cause terror in Uganda and surrounding countries. Invisible Children founder Jason Russell has his hands full as he juggles his sudden global fame with his argument that the U.S. must support African nations in arresting Joseph Kony this year.

Even while thinking of Africa’s many injustices, I can’t help but think of injustice that is closer to home for my 6th graders. On Friday, I sat down with them to explain their ISAT (standardized test) prep assignment, and Yessenia tells me, “Miss Siscoe, we didn’t prepare for the ISATs last school year.”

“Oh really?” I ask, not sure where this is going.

“Yeah,” cuts in Tomas. “And our teacher would just text on her cell phone all day.”

“She didn’t listen to us when we had reading conferences. She would just text,” adds Josúe.

Seeing that this struck an emotional chord with these 6th graders, I continued to listen.

“And you know how you talk with us so much about why it’s not okay to be a bully? Well last year the teacher didn’t do anything about the bullies. It was hard to come to school,” Gabriel looks at his classmates for support.

“Yeah,” Yessenia is raising her voice now. “Teacher, you wouldn’t have liked our class last year. That teacher said she didn’t like us.”

By this point, my heart is breaking and I think I’ve heard enough, but they continue.

“Remember that one time,” Tomas asks everyone, “She had her nails done and then she didn’t want to touch our books? She said she didn’t want to mess up her nails.”

Several more memories surfaced before I gained their attention again.

“Alright, boys and girls, I just have to tell you that my number one rule for myself as your teacher is that my cell phone stays in my purse.”

“We know,” interrupts Yessenia.

I raise my “be quiet” sign. “Also, I want you to know that when I am not listening to you during your reading conferences, it is because I am writing down notes about what I should be sure to teach you. I’m sorry that your teacher last year wasn’t the kind of teacher that you deserve.”

Thoughtful silence.

“Okay, are we ready for our assignment now?”

Injustice in today’s schools does not only exist in U.S. public schools. I observed numerous examples of injustice in private Christian schools in Costa Rica as well. I remember during my first year of teaching, I asked my group of fourth graders what types of healthy snacks were acceptable to bring to school. A fourth-grade-style riot broke out as (I figured out later) students were terrified that I was going to have the same strict snack policies that their 3rd grade teacher had enforced (Her healthy snack list included things like hard-boiled eggs and tofu… Pure injustice in a fourth grader’s mind!). In my second year of teaching, I was faced with the fact that I was paid twice as much for my teaching job than the tica teachers I worked with… simply because I came from the United States. As I ate lunch with my compañeras, I wondered how they treated me so kindly when they knew I was favored above them. After two years of teaching at that school, I turned in my resignation letter explaining my reasons for moving on — being favored above other employees was one of my reasons as I chose not to associate myself with such obvious unfairness.

Here’s the thing about injustice: All that matters is what we do about it. Not what we say. Not what we know. Our actions speak louder than our words. Dr. Johanning decided to build an orphanage, school, and a clinic where hundreds of children’s lives have been changed; Jason Russell is globally campaigning that Joseph Kony be captured and tried in court; and I am being daily faithful to the learning of my 5th and 6th graders. No matter where you are, you can choose to make a difference.

Mr. Giver-Upper

I have affectionately begun to call my student Mauricio my ”Mr. Giver Upper.” Our conversations go something like this:

Me ”Are you doing okay?”

Mauricio ”This is too hard.” (raises his eyebrows and stares at me above his glasses)

Me ”Why do you say that?”

M ”I don’t know, it just is…”

Me ”Do you have a specific question I can help you with?”

M ”I don’t know…” (buries his head in his now folded arms)

I had a lengthy one-on-one with Mauricio last week. I asked him who he was hurting when he decides to give up. I saw the realization dawn on his face when he thought about how he was only hurting himself when he stops trying.

It had become such an issue in the classroom that he was beginning to blurt out Spanish dichos (sayings) spontaneously during class as he was in that sink-or-swim moment. It seemed that right before he gave up, he would yell, ”Diay muchachos!! Que no me dejen!”  (Hey guys! Don’t leave me behind!) Hmm… a very creative way for a child to ask for help…

Now Mauricio has not made much progress since August when he started in my classroom. His MAP reading score is exactly the same… His F/P level is exactly the same… (Teacher acronyms for the various state tests we now administer three times a year)… Mauricio is in a sink-or-swim kind of school year. I think if I were in his shoes, I would give up too…

I even got the principal involved last week. The blurting Spanish had become such a distraction in class that I knew it was time to take some drastic measures. I think the continued conversations about not giving up are working because…

TODAY we had a math test on fractions. FRACTIONS, of all things. I mean, fractions in 5th grade have become very difficult. I´m sure you remember your own nightmares about adding fractions with unlike denominators. I just finished grading the math tests, and I just have to share the good news with you that I am going to share with Mauricio as soon as I see him in the morning: He earned a B!!!!!! Now this is seriously huge because the efforts he put forth in past chapters resulted in Ds and D minuses. I’m so proud :).

Taking life day by day and celebrating even the smallest victories… that’s the secret to not giving up.