Steven: Does anyone know what this animal is?
Me: Steven, do you know what this animal is?
Steven: No, it’s really big! This is a moose!
Me, stealing microphone: No no no no it’s not. This is a caribou.
I’ll be honest, I don’t even know where to begin with this post. Access Camp was a wonderful whirlwind, and there is no way to fully explain how awesome it was, but I’m going to try.
The Access Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and gives students the opportunity to study English. For 2 years, students attend Access classes 2 hours/day, 5 days/week in addition to their regular school day. About halfway through the program, they have the opportunity to attend an awesome summer camp! I had the privilege of being a counselor, and it was the best experience.
These kids are so dedicated to learning English, and they have made awesome progress in their year of study. When I first saw the lessons for the week, I was nervous. Self-esteem? Social media addiction? American holidays? These are high-level topics that I could never dream of teaching in most foreign language classrooms, but Access students are rockstars. They have devoted a lot of extra time and effort into English, and it shows.
This was also the first time that the camp was held at a real camp, and I got to share a cabin with fourteen wonderful girls. We woke up around 5 a.m. every day, took freezing cold showers, and slept in bunkbeds. It was exhausting, but so much fun.
Steven, Freddy, and I also taught lessons to the 29 students in our state group. Our state was Alaska! Steven and I chose it in large part because we couldn’t agree on anything else (he’s from California, and I’m from Missouri.) Also Alaska is the bomb, and choosing it gave me an excuse to show everyone beautiful pictures of mountains and bears and caribou and moose.
We had a packed schedule from about 6:45 a.m.– 10 p.m. We played games, watched and gave presentations, had a talent show, learned about addiction, self-esteem, and other important topics, and participated in daily electives.
The elective that I helped teach was ULTIMATE FRISBEE. We had so much fun teaching students how to play and watching the games! (Also, when the teams were uneven, I got to join. No big deal, but I threw the first game’s winning pass into the end zone.)
A lot of boys came up to me afterward and said, “So you’re a strong girl?!” or “You like to play sports?!” Now, there are plenty of girls in Nicaragua who enjoy playing and watching sports, but it is often a male-dominated space. I like using casual conversations as an opportunity to reinforce that yes, girls can enjoy and excel at “boy” activities.
During our self-esteem lesson, we showed the Verizon “Inspire her Mind” ad, hoping to start a discussion about how listening to the negative words of others can impact the way that we choose to live our lives. It sparked a wonderful conversation between Nicaraguan teachers and students. They talked about how they had felt societal pressure to be wives and mothers and to avoid male-dominated fields of study.
One of my students in the Alaska group talked about how she wants to be an engineer like her dad, and said that a lot of people have told her that engineering is a man’s field, but her dad supports her and tells her she can follow any dream that she has.
Similarly, in a conversation about people we admire, I talked about how all of my parents support and believe in me, but I talked specifically about how my dad grew up during segregation and had barriers that I’ve not had to face, but he always believed that I could do anything I wanted.
Some of my students talked about their admiration of Martin Luther King Jr, Barack Obama, and Nelson Mandela.
They talked about how social media allows them to communicate with people far away, but said it can also distance us from the people who are close.
I really, truly appreciated the opportunity to talk about some of these issues with my students. I know that the Access classroom is not the typical English classroom. I’ll spend most of my class time teaching grammar and vocabulary (hopefully in fun, student-centered, communicative ways!) but I’ll rarely be able to have these sorts of deeper conversations in English with teenagers.
We also had some fun, active sessions. First aid! Survival skills! Self-defense! Not to brag, but Alaska made a pretty solid shelter and fire.
I was blown away by these students, and I’m hoping I’ll have the chance to be a part of Access Camp next year.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention something important. Ambassador Laura Dogu came to see our final ceremony. (Remember last month when I had Thanksgiving at her house? What is this life, y’all?) There’s a picture of the two of us somewhere on someone’s memory card, but I’m about 90% sure that I wasn’t looking at the camera when the picture was taken, in traditional Jade fashion. But not to worry, a lot of the kids got selfies with the ambassador, because she is the coolest.
There are a lot of other wonderful pictures from camp, some of which are included in this video slideshow. There is so much that I’m forgetting to say in this post, but my mind is still spinning from the experience, so I hope you’ll forgive me.