Intense Science

I don’t take responsibilities lightly. My first year in college, when I was still an acting major (later playwriting), I woke at 6 a.m. to do vocal exercises before conservatory. When I wrote seriously, I woke at 4:30 a.m. to write before work. When I worked as a dramaturge on a theatre production, I went to rehearsal after a full day of day-jobbing (paralegal), got home around 10 or 11 p.m., and spent the next hour or so writing, reviewing, and editing my notes for the director or doing requested research. When my passions are called upon, I can be a little…intense. Or nuts, you can say it.

So when I learned I would be teaching 7-9th grade science, without textbooks or equipment and only the vague but ambitious national curriculum to guide me, I felt a wee panic, a faint nausea, which has never really left. After all, science is serious and seriously fun…but I hadn’t studied it in any serious way since high school sixteen years ago. How was I going to guide these kids through the wonders of the universe’s first moments, animal nutrition, and “various atmospheric phenomena,” and “conceptualize the experimental research process and develop simple experimental designs, systematizing the basic process of the experimental method”?

I did what I could to prepare. I located some very affordable textbooks for myself, thanks to /r/scienceteachers, which also helped translate the curriculum for my layperson’s mind and pointed me in the direction of helpful websites. Still, between nerves and the vastness of my subject and curriculum, I didn’t have my first lesson planned until two days before the first class.

Some of my affordable science textbooks.

Some of my affordable science textbooks.

And it’s been that way ever since. I have no doubt that my fellow volunteers, perhaps with affection, think I’m a little crazy, because when our busito gets home I almost immediately am at my desk, researching and planning for tomorrow, and that doesn’t stop until 7, 8, or even 9 p.m. And that’s just for tomorrow, because try as I might, I so rarely get ahead. My books have some but not all of the topics in the curriculum. Even if they do, to break something into digestible bits, I have to understand the topic thoroughly, so I must hasten to Google for details. Then I try to find cheap, minimal material projects, if I can, because science doesn’t come from my notes on the board. Science is experienced. Science is relevant. As you can imagine, my intensity, my desire to give these kids as wow a science class as possible, leads to some exhaustion.

I have become an expert on the hagfish, also known as the slime eel.

I have become an expert on the hagfish, also known as the slime eel.

Sometimes I succeed; sometimes I fail. Last week the 7th graders made edible animal and plant cell models out of gelatin and candy. The 8th and 9th graders blew up balloons with fermenting yeast. I did a lesson on carnivorous plants using a song from Little Shop of Horrors. I lead all three classes in the construction of seismographs using rubber bands, shoe boxes, string, and markers—an endeavor of ultimately dubious value but, for me, a useful personal study in how maturity affects the ability to handle frustration. I try to laugh at my mistakes, because I make a lot. The kids surprise and stump me all the time.

My key to survival is to never take the long view. Come June, I’ll be here, but if I think about the months, weeks, days, minutes it will take to get there, let me just say there’s a small padded room with my name on it.

But today? Tomorrow? Yeah, I can look at that through the window.

Yours in Science (oh, and 7th grade English),


A Day in the Life…

I should start off by saying that no two days at CBS are EVER the same. It’s wild, crazy, wonderful, and fantastic, and that’s exactly why I love it.

Monday Morning

5AM – Wake up to chickens squawking outside. Pull covers over my head and mentally berate the stupid chickens until I fall back asleep.

5:50 – My first alarm goes off. I sleepily press the snooze button and try to enjoy my last 9 minutes of solitude before the day begins.

5:59 – Here we go. I lazily drag myself out of bed and trudge to the bathroom. Since I haven’t put my contacts in yet there is a 75% chance I will trip over the fan, even though it has been in the same spot all year.

6:06 – I return to my room, turn on the music, and procrastinate for as long as possible.

6:21 – I’ve somehow managed to put clothes on, but whether or not they match is another story entirely. Now for the hair. Hmm…did I wash it last night? Nope. Ponytail and headband it is. Make up? Ha. Haha. Hahahaha.

6:35-6:40 – A bus picks all volunteers up for school at the big house.

6:45-7:15 – Attempt to make copies and curse the copier for not working properly. (Repeat approximately 5x.)

7:15-8 – Acto Civico. This is an assembly put on by the Hondurans every Monday morning. Announcements will be made, Stars of the Week will be given out, and a quick lesson will be given on a relevant topic. (Humility, love, peace, honesty, respect, etc.) During this time all volunteers teachers are required to help wrangle and watch the kids. I usually stand in the back and quietly sip my coffee, relishing the final few minutes of the calm before the storm.

8-8:45 – On Mondays this is my only off period, so it is usually spent making sure everything is in order for the rest of the day. If the internet is working I try to catch up on some emails and read the headlines.

8:45-9:30 – 1st Grade Math. Today we’re reviewing the first nine ordinal numbers. The kids are usually very well-behaved in the mornings so the lesson goes off without a hitch.

9:30-10 – Recreo! I spend this time enjoying a delicious baleada and watching the kids play football in the yard.

10-10:40 – 1st Grade English. We’ve been working on using “I have” in sentences, so today each student has to write four sentences describing their family. Since I know several of my kids come from very untraditional households, I purposefully avoid telling the kids to write “I have a mother,” or “I have a father.” I showed the kids several pictures of my family on my iPad and they were ooohhh-ing and ahhhh-ing the whole time. “Miss Krysten…beautiful! Sister…beautiful! Mother…beautiful! Father…beautiful! Dog….AYYYYYYY!!! BEAUTIFUL!!” Needless to say my kids fell in LOVE with the two little marshmallow-looking dogs we have back home. I had kids coming up to me the rest of the day asking to see more pictures!

10:40-11:20 – 2nd Grade Science. Today we are talking about how your body changes as you get older. We talk about the difference in babies, children, adults, and old people. The kids really enjoyed this lesson and loved pretending to crawl like a baby and hobble around like an old person!

11:20-12 – 1st Grade Computación part I. Half of my kids go to computer class and the other half stay with me. I use this time to continue working on “I have.” I pass out number cards and go around the room asking who has which number. By the end of the period, the kids were pretty much running the show. They were shouting, “I have 2! Who has 4?” (When I taught the word ‘who’ I put an owl up on the board and asked what sound it made. All the kids responded with “Hoo! Hooo!!!!” So in all honesty, it sounded much more like this: ” I have 2! HOOOOOOOO has 4?!?!”)

12-12:40 – Almuerzo! That glorious time of day where I am able to partake in a bit of adult conversation. The table we eat at is being slowly taken over by 1st graders, though, and I’m not sure how much longer we can hold them off. (As much as I enjoy spending my lunch time talking to the other teachers, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tickled to death that my kids want to eat lunch with me. They’re my best little friends.)

12:40-1:20 – 1st Grade Computación part II.

1:20-2:10 – 1st Grade Física (PE). I round up my bunch and we head outside to the yard. We manage to fit in follow the leader, leap frog, and freeze tag before it’s time to go back inside.

2:10 – Dismissal! Even though I’ve been here for a year and a half, I still consider it a major accomplishment to make it through the day without serious incident. Nobody got hurt, nobody got lost, and nobody ran away. On top of all that, I think the kids might have even learned something! I’d say it was a pretty great day.

3PM – We have two new volunteers coming this week so I’m headed to town to make copies of our house keys for them. The key shop I wanted to go to is closed, so I backtrack until I reach the first one I passed. I tell the man I need some copies and he just smiles. “Ahhh, I can’t do it right now, mamí!!” he tells me in Spanish. I tell him I’ll try again later.

3:15 – Since I’m in town with nothing to do, I head over to the newly built supermarket. After making my measly selection of a loaf of bread and some Cuban ham, I stand in line for about 20 minutes waiting to check out.

3:45 – Back to the key store. “Can you make the copies now?” I ask. “Ehhhh…..mañana. Si, si. Mañana esta mejor.” (Time works differently down here, so telling me to come back tomorrow was probably no big deal to him. Today, tomorrow, what’s the difference?)

4PM – As I’m walking back to the house preparing to tell our volunteer coordinator I couldn’t get the keys made, I pass the key shop I originally wanted to go to. A man is at the counter finishing opening up because, like I said, time works differently in Honduras. Down here it’s perfectly acceptable to open at 4 o’clock on a Monday afternoon! I go in, sit there patiently, and listen to the machine grind the keys.

4:30 – Sacred keys in hand, I’m finally headed home for the day.

4:45-6 – It’s already time to start thinking about and preparing for tomorrow. I pull out my laptop and get to work.

6-8 – Finally! Some “me” time! I celebrate by attempting to watch Netflix, only to realize that my sister (whose Netflix I’ve been not-so-shamefully stealing) needs to update her payment information. I can’t tell her this because she doesn’t know I’ve been using her Netflix, so I settle for reading a book instead. (Sis, if you’re reading this, I love you!)
8PM – I take a shower, make sure everything is packed for tomorrow, and continue reading my book until I fall asleep at the wild and crazy hour of 8:45. Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly dangerous, I can even make it to 9.

1st Grade English Teacher
2nd Grade Science Teacher

CBS has a documentary coming soon!

We are very excited to announce that CBS will soon have a documentary about it! Rob Faris, a filmmaker and sibling of a current volunteer, came to visit Cofradía and is currently working on making a documentary about our school.  We can’t wait for everyone to be able to get a glimpse of everything we love so much about CBS.  You can watch the trailer below!

What is it like to volunteer in Honduras?

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A Honduran house with a storm brewing in the background.

My name is Viera and I’m this year’s 8th and 9th grade English teacher.

I came to Cofradía at the beginning of August this year, not knowing what to expect. Despite having information about the school, I couldn’t imagine what it was going to be like—not just the school, but Honduras in general.

There are so many things about this place I love. The countryside is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The first thing I noticed when I arrived was the mountains. We are surrounded by beautiful vast green mountains, and Cusuco National Park, another mountainous area, is nearby.

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The beautiful green mountains that fill much of Honduras.

People here in Cofradía are really nice, too. It was really funny for me at first when people started calling me ‘Miss.’ I’m still getting used to walking down the street and having my kids or their family members greet me with ‘Buenos dias, Miss.’ It’s feels good to get that level of respect from people.

viera blog 1

A quiet street in Cofradía.

And now a little bit about teaching.

When I decided to come to Honduras, I was really curious to find out what it is like to teach Honduran teenagers. Well…it’s fun. They are like any other teenagers in the world, I imagine. They’re funny and giggly, but also easily bored. I like them very much. They are a handful, but on the other hand, my hard work is rewarded when I realize that I will have a positive impact on their lives.

One of my favorite activities with my students is discussing various topics with them, such as current events or a political or social situation. I love listening to their diverse opinions. Now is the time of their lives when they’re determining their moral values and turning into adults, and it shows in the discussions. I could chat with them forever.

We also have a lot of fun together. A couple of weeks ago we talked about Honduran music, which I know very little about. I asked my students to sing songs, and instead of being shy, they actually sang couple of songs, using their desks as drums. It was beautiful and extremely noisy.

I recently had a little party with my 9th grade class to reward their good behavior, and I stupidly started a glitter fight with them (naively thinking they wouldn’t ‘attack’ their teacher—I was wrong). You should have seen me—I was covered with blue and green sparkly glitter. It was almost impossible to get it off of me.

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The 9th graders, spending a little time outside at the lunch tables.

But it’s not just fun and parties down here—last week was a tough one—exams week. But the kids did well.

I can’t wait for the second bimester and for more fun.

Volunteering in Honduras: is this for real?

eliza 2nd grade blog

It’s been six weeks and I still can’t fully believe this is real. My name is Eliza and I currently teach Prepa (5 and 6-year-olds) and second grade English at CBS. Every single day that I’m here I’m blown away by how much love, energy, and enthusiasm my kids have. I’m also a little bit blown away by their passion for fried chicken and sweets.

I arrived in Cofradía on September 1st, a week after school had begun. The next morning, at 6:30 am, I climbed into the van and headed to school with the other volunteers. At that moment, I became a teacher – not just any teacher, but an English teacher to 54 students. As I walked through the schoolyard, my eyes taking in the surroundings, several little children ran up to me, wrapping their arms around my legs in a hug.

These six weeks have been weeks of experimenting with teaching methods, getting to know each of my students, and adjusting to life in Honduras. I’ve learned to cook a delicious pot of beans, to incorporate bubbles into my lessons, and to structure lesson plans around limited attention spans.

prepa bubbles

From early-morning granola, to after-school stops at the one supermarket in Cofradía, to lesson-planning around the big table with other volunteers, this has become my every day. This has become my home, a place where I’ve developed a routine and found a comfort zone. This comfort zone is broad enough for the drinks that come in plastic bags, the unreliable running water, the diet of beans and fried food, and the farm animals that roam the streets. I love my kids, I love the challenge of teaching them, I love the beauty of the surrounding mountains, and I love the simplicity of Cofradía.

The other thing I’ve come to love about Honduras is that it is a place to be taken in stride. It’s hard to ever know exactly what’s coming. A shapes-review running game on the patio was thwarted upon arrival with my 30 Prepa kids to an already occupied patio. A five-day weekend was announced one day before it began. The laundry machine ran one load of laundry for three days. A taco turned out to be basically a large Honduran eggroll. All plans have been cancelled everytime it rains. Everything keeps me a little bit more on my toes and a little bit more ready to improvise.

From becoming a teacher overnight to writing bimester exams for this week, I’ve had six eye-opening weeks in this country. When one of my students handed me a shiny red apple one morning, it all became that much more real – I’m a teacher in Honduras now.

Volunteer Coordinator Amanda starts us off!

Emely soccer amanda This year at CBS is off to a great start! I’m Amanda and I am this year’s Kinder teacher (4-year olds) and Volunteer Coordinator. This is my second year at CBS and I am so excited for all that we will accomplish this year. We have an outstanding group of volunteer teachers this year (three of which are also second year teachers at CBS) and I am so proud of all of the preparation and dedication they have demonstrated so far.

Many volunteers who come to teach at CBS have never taught before, and it is always astounding to see the enthusiasm with which they jump in and start doing their best to educate their new students. This year’s team took it a step further by participating in multiple trainings, soliciting advice from teachers they know back home, and putting a ton of time and effort into lesson plans and visual/teaching aids for their class before school even started. Based on this group of volunteers and their dedication, and how much the kids have already learned in the first 7 weeks of school, I believe it will be a very productive year!

The first few days of school were spent getting acquainted with our students, reviewing, and guaging our class’s English level. It is hard to believe we are coming up on exam week for the first bimester. We have participated in a lot of school events so far, my favorite being the desfile de antorchas (“Torch Parade”). The desfile de antorchas is a beautiful event in which many schools in Cofradía march through the town of Cofradía with candlelit torches. It starts just before sunset, and each school arranges its students by age and height, with the smallest children in front. The parade includes a marching band that provides a charming soundtrack to our stroll through the streets. As night falls, the torch that each student holds provides a soft, peaceful light as the parade snakes through Cofradía. The parade is certainly beautiful, but it is also my favorite event because of the feeling of community it elicits. Parents keep pace with us and hand their children water or Gatorade to keep them hydrated. Onlookers line the streets with smiles, and a large crowd of families and an announcer await our arrival at the town park, where the parade ends. Afterwards, students and families want pictures with us, there are ice cream cones and snow cones for sale, and everyone just seems happy to be out in the open air together. While Cofradía is safer than many other small Honduran towns, the dangers that plague most of Honduras are still present, and one should proceed with caution when walking the streets at night. But not on the night of the desfile de antorchas . On this night Cofradía feels like the happiest, most peaceful place you could imagine.

amanda torch blog                       CBS amanda blog torch

Another celebration we took part in was Día del niño (Children’s Day). This holiday is not celebrated in the U.S. and I was a little puzzled by the concept during my first year here. It is like Mother’s or Father’s Day, but with a lot more sugar and piñatas. Día del niño is about honoring children, which is done by serving them large quantities of cake, soda, and candy. Once they are properly sugared, games and prizes ensue. The favorite event for the children, and the most frightening for us teachers, is the piñata. The kids whack the daylight out of the piñata and charge at the first sign of candy, while we desperately try to hold back the crowd to keep them from getting belted by the child currently swinging the big wooden stick. But the kids enjoy themselves and school gets dismissed early, so we soldier on through the chaos of the morning. Never has a school day felt so long or exhausting. Especially one that only lasts until 11:20 am. amanda blog pinata Last Friday our school soccer team had their first game of the year! They played against the top team in Cofradía and tied 3-3! Some of our dedicated volunteer teachers went to support our boys and said they played impressively. It is really great for these older boys to have a constructive afterschool activity that gets them more involved in our school by letting them do something they love: playing soccer! I can’t wait to do see the next game! CBS  amanda soccer This past Monday we began what will be a yearlong school event: House color competitions! We divide all of the students from first through ninth grade into “teams” or houses (like in Harry Potter). Each house has it’s own color and several teachers assigned as the house leaders (Volunteer and Honduran teachers). Throughout the year, students can earn points toward their house for various achievements. There are daily and weekly points awarded for good behavior, work ethic, etc. but we also do school-wide events like Olympics and Academic Olympics. The winning team gets a lot of points toward their overall total. The house with the most points at the end of the year gets to go on a school-funded trip. Last year it was a water park in San Pedro Sula. This year I am thinking the beach…we’ll see! amanda olympics blog We will be posting updates on life in Cofradía and at CBS each week, so stay tuned! Comments and Shares are welcomed. Thanks for reading!