Aubrey Orne-Adams ’14, Mansfield Foundation International Fellow in Education
I am typing this blog from my home in New Mexico. I got back just in time for Christmas, with only one day to spare catching up on sleep after my 14 hour flight home. As happy as I am to be home with my family I am already missing the gorgeous New Zealand summer and all of the amazing people I met while I was there. My last week at school felt very surreal. Since it also happened to be the end of their school year everything was winding down. Although I took my small group for the first few days of the week, we were mostly working holiday cards and craft projects. All the students made Christmas decorations for the room, wrote cards to their parents, letters to Santa, and did Christmas counting activities.
During the week I got to go and observe Vanessa’s year 5 and 6 class. It was great to see the way this system, that I have gotten to know so well at the lower level, works for older kids. The difference was immense. When I was observing Vanessa’s class the first thing I noticed was the independence that these students had. I should have expected kids who were ten and eleven years old to be more independent but after so many weeks with five year olds I had almost forgotten that there were more independent students. When I was there the students were working on making clothes for teddy bears they had made out of paper mache. When Vanessa first told me about their bear project I thought it sounded a little bit…strange. However, after seeing the project in action I understood the excitement and multi-dimensional learning opportunity it provided. The students not only created and clothed their bears(each with their own theme) but they wrote a story about their bear, and created a video game about their bear. All the students were buzzing with excitement as they each worked on completing their bears, stories, and games. It was great to see so many kids excited about writing and it gave me a great look at what older students can do with a bit of creative teaching.
The end of the week was filled with performances and assemblies. The day after my visit to Vanessa’s class they held an impromptu fashion show with their completed teddy bears. Two of the students volunteered to write a script and all the students dressed up in costumes to match their bears. I went to see it with my class and they all loved it. On Thursday the school had their final assembly of the year. It was a beautiful community-building experience. The whole school came and watched as a few of the students who had won the school talent show the previous week, performed. After that some of the students and teachers were given awards for academic excellence. After the students and teacher awards the principal called me up and gave me a card from the staff and traditional Kiwi necklace. It was such a beautiful and a touching moment to be recognized by the school. I was fighting off tears through the entire assembly.
I thought that I couldn’t get more emotional than I was at the assembly but my last day of school was definitely more difficult. I had a hard time saying goodbye to the students I was teaching in the States but this was 100 times worse because I knew that it would be a long time (if ever) before I would see these children or some of my colleagues again. In the afternoon we had a party where the students, my mentor teacher, and I exchanged gifts. When the end of the day rolled around I was pretty emotional to say the least. I probably gave out more hugs in those last fifteen minutes of the day than in the rest of the 2013 combined.
The very next day I left for a trip to the South Island, where I stayed in gorgeous Queenstown. I have never been to a place so stunning before. In addition to spending five days soaking up the scenery I was able to meet people from all over the world, through the hostel I was staying in. My first night there I was in a room with a teacher from Singapore and two girls from Holland. I had some great and eye opening conversations with the teacher about Singapore’s education system. Later on I had a conversation with the girls from Holland about the education system they grew up with. It was amazing to see the differences and similarities between the U.S system and some of these other countries.
I got back from the South Island with just enough time to celebrate Jacob’s birthday and spend some quality time with Vanessa and all of her family members who I have gotten to know. I left on Sunday after a very emotional goodbye to Vanessa and Jacob. This experience has been truly life-changing. I have met so many wonderful people and fallen in love with the breathtaking country of New Zealand. Additionally, I have learned so much about their education system, and different methods of teaching. I feel so grateful to have had this opportunity. It has helped me grow as a person and as an educator. I can’t wait to come back to Cornell and share all of the experiences and knowledge that I have received from this fellowship.