DL 1803, DL 2958 and Home

My last post in this series involves packing suitcases, flying home through Atlanta and recovering from landing after midnight. The packing went quickly; the drop-off at the airport was a breeze; check-in and security went smoothly; the flights were basically bump-less and comfortable thanks to a couple of upgrades; customs and immigration benefitted from Global Entry; my brother-in-law picked me up at the Omaha airport; and I waited more-or-less patiently for Meredith to drive up from Lincoln on Monday and take me home. A painless way to end a wonderful trip.

Here are some memories from that final day.

I’ve described a Dominican breakfast and an American breakfast in my last few posts. This was what Miquea and I ate after I told him just to grab something convenient. So, we had a desayuno de colmado (a quick-shop breakfast): saltines, coffee, juice and cheese. Tasty but likely a dietician’s nightmare.

Lots of gorgeous scenery in the DR. On most days, all you need to do is look up.

Dominicans love their baseball. The parkway leading to the Santo Domingo airport has been named after Sammy Sosa, legendary home run hitter for the Chicago Cubs. Incidentally, the Spanish word for home run is jonron; remember that a “j” in Spanish is pronounced like an “h” in English. I like this word.

Agents working for Delta Airlines take Mothers Day seriously. This sign greeted me as I checked-in for my flights.

And now I am home in Lincoln, Nebraska, reflecting on a impactful and positive trip to work with Dominican colleagues. Our team came away most impressed by the flexibility of administrators that allowed us to work directly with students in classrooms. We shared interactive lessons that allowed young people to communicate, deliberate and take action. Great stuff!

I am back in the DR in mid-September. The team returns in December. After this past visit, we can’t wait to get back. Expect regular updates on educational goings-on in the Dominican diocese between now and September.

Adieu, My Friends, Adieu

After a productive week, our team separated for flights home. Interestingly, we all took the same flight to Atlanta, just on different days — Carrie, Cindy and Joe today (Saturday) and me on Sunday. The flight departed at 2:59pm, so the team had time to pack and get together for a lovely breakfast.

Yesterday we ate a desayuno dominicano (Dominican-style breakfast). Today, in a return trip to Bocana, we had what our waiter described as a desayuno americano (American-style. breakfast). No plantains this time; instead, we had scrambled eggs, toast and two kinds of meat; just what every American eats every day. Or, maybe not . . . but it was delicious.

We ate a ton, posed for a beach-side photo and climbed into the SUV for a ride to Aeropuerto Las Americas. Note two versions of the beach-side photo, one traditional, the other a Dominican objet d’art (no idea why many folks there pose shots at a 45-degree angle, but they often do).

We dropped teammates and returned to the Skilton Center. I encouraged Miquea to take the afternoon to work on his own things, including time with his family. Meanwhile, I read a book, checked email, took a “napocito” (Spanglish for a short rest) and packed. Miquea and I couldn’t resist one more fried fish dinner. Let me recommend Buxceda, a restaurant in Boca Chica that serves amazing seafood with fried potatoes that are almost as good.

With my time in the DR drawing to a close, I packed my things and got a good night’s rest. Homeward bound tomorrow afternoon. Such a terrific trip on so many counts!

A Day Off? Maybe not . . .

With planning days and school visits behind us (and leaving us with a very, very good feeling), we turned to Friday, what was once intended to be a day to ourselves. A trip downtown, some shopping, a little packing and the cena despidida (farewell dinner) in the evening.

But, we could not pass up an invitation from Directora Miguelina to attend San Andres’ annual Mothers Day extravaganza. Mothers Day in the DR is the last Sunday in May, so our team celebrated twice. The staff plans for weeks to identify a theme (this year: Queens of the Flowers), have students create artwork as gifts for their mothers and turn the patio into a student-led market. As a famous master-of-ceremonies said many times in the 50s and 60s: “It’s a rilly, rilly big shew”.

Moms enter the school to multiple artistic displays, all with a flowers theme.

Miguelina presents Carrie with a flower and crowns her Queen for the Day.

Opening ceremonies on this special day featured Profe Carlos, secondary science teacher for 28 years, rouses the crowd with a performance worthy of a professional cheerleader.

The flag is raised and the Dominican national anthem is sung by everyone in attendance. Right hands are placed over hearts in a patriotic gesture so typical in the DR. And, before you ask . . . no, the adult on the right is not one of the Men in Black; he’s a language teacher.

We tour the many activities planned for mothers; Miquea talks with students managing the art display in the church; the team checks out pieces and chats with students about their artistic intentions.

The patio/playground area was filled with food stands, Dominican street musicians and a photo station where mothers can pose with their children.

After a Dominican breakfast (scrambled eggs with meat and vegetables, yucca and boiled plantains), we pose with Miguelina and Padre Estiven, Rector of San Andres.

Miguelina, in some sense “Mom” for her school, received quite a bouquet as activities came to a close.

We said goodbye to San Andres and headed downtown. Miquea planned a lovely day for us, with a shepherd’s good advice for his flock: Stay in the shade! He took us to El Museo de la Resistencia (Museum of the Resistance), moving proof that Dominicans did not “roll over” for the horrible dictator, Trujillo, but instead, fought his regime at great cost. The museum includes a lovely courtyard restaurant with umbrellas providing welcome shade. We also wondered how a street performer could pose absolutely still for long periods of time to earn usually small tips (no, readers, the guy in gold is not a statue).

The dinner was wonderful. I was so busy eating and schmoozing (no idea what the Spanish translation would be) that I neglected to give my phone to the waiter who was taking photos. Imagine great friends having dinner together in a nice restaurant. Better than a photo.

Tomorrow was that promised quiet day. Posting to follow soon.

Go East Young Team, Go East

A very busy Thursday awaited our team. Essentially a double-header — two schools in two cities, plus a trip into Santo Domingo. Our direction this time was eastward, from Boca Chica to San Pedro de Macoris, then back to Boca Chica. An engaging and productive day indeed.

The day started with breakfast-on-the-road at Parador El Tamarindo, a crowded rest stop east of Boca Chica. My father taught me that a crowded parking lot means good food. Excellent coffee made us smile.

We smiled again at the considerable renovations at the main entrance to Colegio San Esteban in San Pedro. The government-funded preschool has renovations and a new coat of paint; even the floors in the office area have been redone. Director Jeiky, with the considerable support of his Rector, Madre Milquella, has and will likely continue making a difference at the school.

While improvements are being made, repairs and renovations remain to be done, challenging the school’s leadership. Notice the damaged roof in this classroom. If you haven’t already, visit the website for Colegio Kids (colegiokids.net) and make a donation that will go directly to San Esteban.

As at Jesus Nazareno, we adjusted the plan for our model lesson to accommodate the somewhat limited English skills for the combined secondary classroom that we worked with. Here’s a tableau showing how the activity went. Note the engagement of the principal, his students and our team. Note also our discovery that our facilitator, Miquea, was a math teacher in another life who could jump into classroom management in a heart beat. Great stuff!

You cannot leave an Episcopal school in the DR without a group photo. Here’s our departure from San Esteban, immortalized.

As I mentioned, we scheduled a double header for today. We left San Pedro de Macoris and returned to Colegio San Jose, across the street from our rooms at the Skilton Center. We’d invited ourselves for a conversation with English and technology specialists at a very successful colegio, as part of our efforts to stay current with “wazz-up” in the Episcopal schools. We learned a whole lot from these excellent practitioners and their leader, Director Toribio. In a small-world moment, Toribio was Miquea’s teacher in elementary school.

Friday afternoon we took a little time off to drop Melvina at her house and show Carrie Old Town Santo Domingo. First, we stopped for a quick lunch at Puyer Pollo, a new fast-food chain in Boca Chica. It is excellent and joins the ranks of the approximately 7M chicken restaurants in the DR (well, OK — I’m exaggerating a bit).

That evening, the team enjoyed our traditional cena despedida (farewell dinner) with the Bishop and his wife, Jenette, at a buffet-style restaurant that we all enjoy. Then back to the retreat center to pack and chat a bit “up on the roof”.

Farewells come tomorrow and Sunday. Stay tuned for more postings.

Modeling Student Engagement, Round 2

Wednesday took us up north again, to Colegio Jesus Nazareno in San Francisco de Macoris. Under the direction of Padre Alvaro, with a new principal, Director Louis, the school is making a comeback after several years of declining enrollment. High energy teaching would make a difference in the revitalizing process. That’s where we came in.

No delays this trip — Miquea took us on a longer-but-quicker route around Santo Domingo, so we arrived brighter and earlier. We spent most of the day offering several lessons, variations on the one taught at Colegio Annunciacion on Tuesday. Students at Jesus Nazareno don’t have the English skills to decode multiple readings, so Cindy adapted the lesson to feature a single, more basic selection. Here’s how it went.

Some pre-game activity introduced us to the Jesus Nazareno leadership. I took a photo of Miquea taking a photo of our group. Rector Alvaro and Principal Louis talk with Melvina and begin the process of signing the official visitors log (kept current at every Episcopal school). Padre Alvaro had breakfast waiting for us.

As colegios add more technology, a key addition is a set of security cameras, to protect students and watch over the premises when school isn’t in session.

Louis is young in years and new on the job, but he has a sense of what principals do and the need to stay in communication at all times. Here he steps away from our lesson to take a phonecall.

Cindy completed her engagement activity and the small group work began. Like at Annunciacion, students dug into the English reading and uploaded their interpretations of the text. I am proud to report that our entire group, plus the teacher and principal, mentored students and supported them as they worked.

At the students’ request, we posed for a group photo, complete with lots of hand signs, big smiles and the old guy in the middle wondering what’s happening.

One more group photo, this time of our team and the Jesus Nazareno leadership group (principal, administrator, instructional coordinator and Rector). We went for lunch at a neighborhood restaurant that introduced several members of our team to real Dominican cooking where “good beer is always sold cold” (as the sign on the wall says). A lovely gesture that we all enjoyed tremendously.

An easy drive home, a very light supper (no room for a big one after that lunch) and conversation. We’d have a later start tomorrow because our destination was to the east and a lot closer than Santiago or San Francisco. So more time for conversation up on the roof of the retreat center in the cool breezes.

El Trafico Almost Did Us In

Many legends persist about driving in the Dominican Republic. Metaphors for driving include: “it’s like bumper cars”, “manejando loco (crazy driving)” and the sense that traffic lights are “merely a suggestion”. All these references to mayhem stem from the unbelievable traffic. 24/7 this traffic.

We headed north to reach Colegio Anunciacion in Santiago de los Caballeros. Our plan was that it would take 2.5 hours; that’s what the GPS said. About 3.5 hours later, we arrived. Our teaching time was cut, but we improvised and squeezed-in two lessons. Here’s how they went.

Melvina handled the introductions, essentially throwing the first pitch.

Cindy then hit a home run — not her last this week. She asked students how/why they should study English, recorded responses and effectively turned control of the lesson to them. In a classroom, Cindy is The Natural. [BTW: Yup, I am using baseball metaphors; after all, we were in the Dominican Republic].

Cindy gave students a brief text in English. They worked in small groups to pronounce words and ask our team members about words they didn’t understand (gotta admit that “straggling” is a toughie). All of us pitched-in and marveled at the levels of engagement.

Joe introduced the second task — using one of our donated computers (THANK YOU, Geary Gaston and your congregation) each small group recorded and then uploaded their dramatic rendering of the reading. Joe stressed that the website they were accessing was secure and anonymous. The groups took this seriously; one group even moved into the hallway because they thought classroom noise would distract them.

We moved to another classroom for a second lesson. This one was shorter, consisting of a presentation by Joe about using good sense when accessing the Internet.

Melvina introduced us, Joe presented and, clearly. Joe stole the show. I plan to manage his Dominican fan club.

We adjourned to the teacher work room for conversations about our model lesson. The teachers (and coordinators, principal and the Rector) asked questions; we asked plenty back, learning a lot about educational methodology in the process. Miquea placed himself strategically in the corner to translated whenever necessary.

We had a lovely lunch (Principal Iris hit a home run in her choice of restaurants), stopped at a supermarket to look for Cafe Cibao (a spectacular coffee that you can find only in the northern part of the DR) and then headed back to Boca Chica, stopping at a popular parador (rest stop) for a break and some Dominican treats (lots of candies purchased that afternoon). That’s Miquea heading back to the SUV with his bag of goodies.

Back at the retreat center, we realized it was so late that dinner wouldn’t make sense. So, we went “up on the roof” for a little debriefing in the cooler breezes.

Another school tomorrow. Stay tuned, readers!

The Week — Busy and Fulfilling

As you likely noticed, I haven’t written a blog post since Sunday. I’ve tried, honestly I’ve tried. A combination of long drives to schools, planning for the next day and the excitement of three successful days of school visits kept me too busy to do anything in the evening except sleep. I even missed a dinner or two. Whoa! Now that’s busy.

So, here’s a recap of Monday, brought to you from about 36000 feet courtesy of Delta Skymiles WiFi feature. I’m not a troglodyte, but I am sufficiently “technology dense” to be mystified as to how this is happening. Magic.

Monday was pretty durn swell. We got some logistical things done, including the swap-out of the Diocesan guagua (van) with broken A/C for una jipeta (Dominican for an SUV). In the process, we picked-up about 20 years and a working A/C that came in very handy in the extremely hot weather.

Once at the Diocesan Office, we had a couple of meetings. First, a planning session among ourselves. Later came a chance to talk over our ideas with Melvina (who would be accompanying us) and Miguelina (who wouldn’t because she’d be tied-up at her school).

Throughout all our preparations, Joe Gaston set up the 4 computers provided for our team by Joe’s father, Geary Gaston, and his church. We wouldn’t have been able to complete our activities without this gift.

At halftime in our preparations, the office staff surprised Ned Paulino with a surprise birthday party. Lots of fun. Great food. Good cake.

In a serious moment, Padre Diego gave a blessing for Ned’s continued health and prosperity. In a much less serious moment, our guide/translator/guardian angel who accompanied us all week, Miquea Santivil, took a selfie of all in attendance.

A good day followed by a seafood supper at Buxceda. In a small world moment, this was the restaurant at which I had my first meal in the DR about 8 years ago. Memories.

News from Tuesday to follow. Magic.

A Complicated Sunday

The day dawned bright on the Sabbath morning. Birds chirping, clouds heading away from Boca Chica. A sumptuous breakfast prepared by Margarita at the Skilton Center — scrambled eggs, bread, fruit, freshly squozed juice and lots of cafe con leche. We walked back to our rooms happy and then the fun started.

Miquea attempted to move the guagua (mini-bus in Dominican Spanish) and found that no va (it wouldn’t go — perhaps the translation behind the legendary story of why the Chevrolet Nova never sold much in Mexico). A team of mechanics arrived Monday morning to tackle the problem:

Joe and I crossed the street for church; Miquea joined us between phone calls to make alternative arrangements. The service was wonderful. Padre Isaac was away at another church, so Deacon Susana officiated. Her sermon was a tad long by Nebraska standards, but moving and emotional. She distributed pre-consecrated bread and led nearly continual singing. She also showed that the term “evangelical Episcopalian” is not an oxymoron.

Like most Dominican churches, brightly colored, home-made banners decorate the walls.

We checked-out the San Jose campus that has included a nursing home for some years now. It has been renamed in honor of Rdo. Telelsfero Isaac, the first native Dominican Bishop of the diocese and considerably renovated under a new medical director.

In the afternoon, Miquea secured the services of Alberto the Driver, so he and I could pick-up two members of the team, Cindy and Carrie, at the airport.

After our newcomers had rested a bit, the ever-resourceful Miquea found a way for us to get into Boca Chica town for dinner. He borrowed his brother’s full-sized Honda Accord, so off we went. We ate at Buxceda II, a seafood restaurant owned by a member of Iglesia San Jose. The food was amazing (I had fried fish that lived-up to the reputation of pescado de Boca Chica [Boca Chica-style fish]). We walked down to the beach to make sure the Caribbean was still operational (it is). Then, back to our rooms.

Quite a day. Tomorrow will bring a new vehicle while the old one is being fixed. Thanks to Miquea we are rockin’ and rollin’ once again.

A Big Deal, New Digs

By coming in a couple of days before the team arrived, I had the opportunity to attend likely my favorite church event, the ordination of new priests. I loved this service even more, as I know all the candidates and consider them friends. I’ve also got a few unrelated moments to share with you. Interesting things that happened Friday and also my living arrangements for the coming week.

I’ll let photos do the talking in this post. Well, I might slip-in a word or two now and then. You know me.

A photo of engineering at work in the DR. A cement mixer working on the generator.

Here’s why you do NOT want to have a fender-bender with a police vehicle; police uniformed and plain-clothed appear out of nowhere.

Attendees arrive early and schmooze intensively; over 250 people came to the Cathedral for the event of the season.

Pregame planning before the kickoff.

The Bishop processes into the Catedral; rain prevented the grand processional with all the clergy present marching in; Padre Isaac served as MC, providing commentary.

Sponsors present candidates to the Bishop, candidates are examined according to long-held Episcopal traditions and the Bishop proclaims them priests.

The mother of one of the candidates, Madre Marivel (now serving in Connecticut) gives the proverbial “rousing sermon” that at one point brought her to tears. Mushy Tom was close behind her..

Four Bishops (past, present and visiting) completed the “swearing in”.

For me, the most moving part of an ordination comes when every priest present links spiritually with their new colleagues as the Bishops bless their work to come.

My personal mushiest moment came when a good friend, Newly Padre Pedro, administered his first communion. I should point out to any Yankee fans in the audience that the very large individual behind Father Pedro is a life-long Red Sox fan; I’d be careful if I were you (just a joke . . . a joke).

In their first official act, the newly ordained bless the congregation together.

The clergy “huddle-up” after the service for prayers and a little advice from the veteran bishops present.

The obligatory photo of all clergy attending was taken; a visiting delegation from Haiti was introduced by MC Isaac and included in the group photo.

The rest of the day was a blur. Miquea and I mingled at the reception, ate some sautéed chicken, transferred my things to the van and dashed to the airport to meet Joe Gaston’s plane. We were “fashionably late”.

Maintenance issues at the dormitory behind the Diocesan Office (the group stays there, usually, while I stay in the seminary apartment) forced us to move to the Skilton Retreat Center at Iglesia San Jose in Boca Chica. Frankly, it’s closer to the airport and a lot nicer than the dorm.

And, the food is a lot better. The cook-in-residence at San Jose, Sra Margarita, cooked great chicken (with a white gravy), mashed potatoes (I thought I was back in Ireland) and a salad. We went back to our rooms smiling.

Just a terrific Saturday!!

Friday Was Shorter . . . Only 30 Hours

Today was another jam-packed-schedule day. Much more enjoyable than multiple flights thanks to the “main event” at Colegio San Andres. Of course, Miguelina, Melvina and I had a very successful planning session for the coming week; we had to make some changes in our original plan from February, but we got them done.

But, the “main event” was the end-of-year evaluation of cuadernos (student notebooks) that go a long way toward determining promotion to the next grade. I was deputized soon after my arrival at San Andres; Miguelina figured that if I was an advisor to the school board, I was official enough to sign-off on teacher recommendations. As you’ll see in these photos, I signed and Miguelina kept the final tally.

Students mostly passed, although there were some incompletes handed out when more work was needed; students took the process very seriously, and were ecstatic when they got good news about their performance.

Revisiting this photo, I have no idea what Miguelina and I were staring at; I’ve ruled out making eye contact with a student named Kareem Abdul Jabbar and a UFO.

As we neared the end of our evaluations, a father delivered a very nice basket of goodies to his daughter as a reward for good work; he asked if he could sing a prayer for the students; we said that was fine, only to be blown away by his voice; he was magnificent. In the final photo, two Irish(?) tenors compare notes (yes, pun intended).

Here Miguelina and I share an exemplary piece of work; this student needed her backpack to carry all the notebooks that she submitted.

Miguelina shares a gift for the staff from a parent (she’s in the middle); Miguelina is a terrific principal and educational leader; maybe her greatest gift is finding talented people to support her.

In Miguelina’s school, you can’t begin a planning meeting without taking a selfie.

I’ve found in Dominican schools that you cannot get anything done/approved without an official stamp. This one is my favorite.

Tomorrow is another big day. Three deacons will be ordained as priests in the Cathedral; I will be there, along with a “few” friends and associates of the new priests (estimates range from 250 to 300 attendees; I’m advised to come early if I want a seat). Joe Gaston arrives in the afternoon. I’ll blog the news asap.