Back Home Again . . .

I spent a quiet Tuesday running an errand and packing in preparation for my flight home on Wednesday. Charlie and I picked-up some materials from the retreat in what resembled an Indy500 pit stop (we arrived and had this exchange with the Camp Rector, Padre Canela: Hola Padre, como esta? Tiene la llave para la habitacion? Gracias Padre. [Charlie and I go to one of the casitas and return with 5 boxes]. Estamos terminados. Gracias Padre, hasta luego). 12 minutes and then back on the road.

I thought I might catch a Dominican League baseball game Tuesday night, but that didn’t happen thanks to a case of La Gripe. So, I went to bed early and woke-up early for a busy Wednesday.

I went out to the airport for my flight via a slight 85km detour to La Romana. Miguelina (mostly) and I (in a supporting role) did a motivational talk for the teachers at Colegios Todos Los Santos and Encarnacion. Here’s how that went.

Gotta share a photo that’s evidence of my connection to Todos Los Santos — my first missionary task was helping teach English for much of a semester about 3 years ago. Vaya El Rojo Grande! as we say in Nebraska.

We made it to the airport in plenty of time and I said my goodbyes to Miguelina and Charlie. As these photos show, parting is such sweet sorrow.

Now I’m home and getting ready to be Grandpa at Christmas. I’m headed back to the DR on February 5, in time for the Diocesan Convention. Take care and my best at the holidays.

Bendiciones.

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Christmas in the Dominican Colegios

I spent today (Monday) at the Oficina Diocesana and also at Colegio San Jose in Boca Chica/Andres. I visited classrooms and had a chance to talk with the school’s new principal, a participant at last week’s leadership retreat. We never miss a chance to eat lunch at San Jose; if I had a more entrepreneurial spirit, I might help the cook staff to transform the school’s comedic into a restaurant; the food is that good (in the DR, the North American sense that school food must be horrible isn’t in any way justified).

My focus today is on Christmas decorations and the sights and sounds around the school building as the holiday approaches. I vividly remember my days teaching elementary school and what the week before Christmas vacation was like. It was essentially a crash course in classroom management. Enough said. Enjoy these fotos.

The Diocesan Christmas tree in the building’s lobby and a door to the finance department featuring a lovely hand-made crèche.

An outdoor crèche at Catedral Epifania.

No, not Santa Claus. His staff displayed a photo of Padre Sandino Sanchez, recognizing his recent award as Rector of the Year.

Perhaps one of the reasons that Padre Sandino was chosen for his award. A foto of the brand-spanking-new addition that houses the primary grades.

When your wife of 47 years is a librarian, you take fotos of school libraries. I must point out that this shelving displays student projects from the natural and social sciences.

Ah, Christmas. These fotos show a bulletin board already in place and a fifth grade teacher adding lights to her room decorations. In the excellent schools like Colegio San Jose, a bulletin board almost always has a teaching purpose; read the board carefully to discover that the Happy Christmas message introduces important historical events that occurred in the month of December.

The Return of the Natives

We did us some driving Friday — down the mountain from Jarabacoa through Santiago and then on to Salcedo to see the Casa/Museo of Las Hermanas Mirabal. From Salcedo, down through San Francisco de Macoris and back to Santo Domingo. Quite a drive and our hats were off to Charlie for making it all happen safely and surely.

Before we left, though, we had time to visit Colegio Monte de La Transfiguracion in El Pedregal — a small community that serves the tourist city of Jarabacoa. The school has a new principal and seems on the move after a few years of declining enrollments. I have great hopes for it now. Here’s some of what we saw.

An old school administrator Rule of Thumb: Never underestimate what a new paint job can do for school climate and appearance.

Preschoolers run and jump and giggle and shriek in excitement. Music for the Soul.

The principal and his lead preschool teacher pose for a foto. He attended our leadership workshops and was observed taking notes and asking questions of colleagues. Good signs!

A preschooler checks-out the teacher “parking lot”. On a teacher’s salary, most can afford “motos” rather than automobiles. Sound familiar, teachers?

Melvina cannot visit a classroom without spontaneously teaching a lesson. Something in the blood, maybe in her genes. Below is a shot of a bulletin board to meet government directives for displaying student work in each subject area.

Then, we left Jarabacoa . . . sort of. About halfway through the town, Melvina remembered that there is a high quality/low price farmers’ market there. So, we parked, climbed out of the van, walked a bit to the market and watched La Maestra give the vendors a lesson in “take no prisoners” bargaining (in a Christian way, of course). Melvina was pleased with her haul of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Our next stop was a grocery store in Moca where we checked out brands of Dominican coffee unique to the province of Cibao. They are excellent and you can only buy them near Santiago. Los NorteAmericanos loaded up on unfamiliar but exceptional brands.

Then, La Casa/Museo de Las Hermanas Mirabal. I encourage you to get on the Web and check-out the story of these sisters who were murdered by agents of Trujillo’s secret police in the early 1960s. Trujillo himself was assassinated within about a year after their deaths; most Dominicanos credit the Sisters with providing an example of courage sufficient to bring down a dictatorship. It’s not a “fun place” to visit. But, it is an inspiring one. A bilingual guide takes you through the family home, the outbuildings where servants cooked, the beautiful gardens/grounds and finally the final resting place of the sisters and the husband of Minerva, a revolutionary organizer/lawyer. I captured our tour in these fotos.

I often refer to our sense of timing as “impeccable”. Here is another example of our timeliness. We had only a vague idea that most schools take students on a field trip just before the Christmas holidays. So, the line of school buses down the road in front of the museum startled us a bit. Here’s what the approach to the ticket window was like. And, a foto of Melvina relaxing away from the chaos.

We arrived in Santo Domingo and headed downtown for our Cena Despidida (farewell dinner) — a custom at the end of every workshop series. We ate at Angelo’s Ristorante (a favorite place) and walked El Conde at sunset. The ability of an IPhone to capture subtle lighting changes and focus at a distance amazes me.

Saturday our team returned home. Today (Sunday) I am blogging and reclining and reading. Tomorrow brings a school visit. More later.

And, the Academy Award for Leadership Goes to . . .

I wanted to create a separate post for this next set of photos because they are so important, in view of efforts to improve the quality of the Episcopal education system.

Bishop Quezada and the Junta de Educacion has wanted for some time to recognize great leaders among the administrators of the Episcopal colegios. This year that dream became a reality. These schools and individuals were recognized for greatness — in the past year, but more importantly, over time. Outstanding achievement. A body of work.

There are not too many missionaries to the DR who do not know Padre Sandino Sanchez for his outstanding leadership, contributions to educational quality, great sense of humor and compassion for his congregation and “us visitors”. Here he receives the first Diocesan award for “Best Rector in a Leading Role” (OK, not really; it was contributions to education by a parish priest). He followed this presentation with an impromptu talk that moved a whole lot of people (and himself) to lagrimas (tears). Off the top of my bald head, I cannot think of anyone more deserving of just about anything. Guess I am a fan.

I’m a fan of this lady as well. Miguelina Jorge Corporan received the award for outstanding leadership by a school principal. She accepted the award from the Bishop and the Junta with her Rector and assistant director, the folks of whom she often says: No puedo hacerlo sin ellos (I think you get the idea). Besides raising standards and expectations at a school in what I might politely call “not the wealthiest of neighborhoods”, Miguelina has become a system-wide leader for educational change. I am also a Miguelina fan.

Two colegios were honored for excellence and for serving as models for school improvement efforts. Padre Tony and Directora Iris accept the award on behalf of Colegio Anunciacion, Santiago; Padre Sanchez and his administrative team accept on behalf of the faculty of Colegio San Jose, Andres/Boca Chica. I think I can safely say that Padre Sandino had a pretty special day on Thursday.

The Retreat, Round Two

Thursday we showed our flexibility as bus schedules forced a change in our schedule. Several teams weren’t getting home unless they made the 3:10 from Yuma (or something like that), so we moved everything up a notch or two. As you can see from these photos, some sessions were rearranged but the quality and participation levels never suffered.

Two priests that so many missionaries have come to know and love handled the morning prayer that began our day. Padre Sandino Sanchez (who would be so pleasantly surprised later in the day) read the Gospel lesson and Padre Almonte led the service and gave a homily (his topic was incredibly fitting for our sessions — how Episcopal educators can offer hope in our so very troubled times, times filled with “malas noticias”).

We moved to our sessions inspiring words and a good breakfast. The sessions began right away and carried straight through till nearly noon.

I’ve been “talking” in these posts about a standing-room-only crowd paying rapt attention to our presenters. Just wanted to show some visual evidence that I wasn’t kidding you, my faithful readers.

Joe (with Michelle translating) introduced his topic — ways a school leader can move his/her faculty to introduce educational technology into the classroom. Joe began by asking participants that “might” have cellphones to hold up their devices. Once he’d established that a mobile is pretty ubiquitous, he proceeded to show how much great teaching can be enhanced even further with that phone in your pocket.

Pili’s presentation involved strategies that an educational leader can use to motivate a faculty to take the necessary risks to implement change. I frequently include references to Pili in my prayers of thanksgiving — first, that she became a teacher and second, that she joined our team. I believe that Pili could read aloud from a phone book for an hour and make it an exciting experience.

El Retiro, Round One

Wednesday morning mainly involved exploring our surroundings, polishing presentations, prepping the meeting room and welcoming incoming participants. And, there were lots of them, representing just about every colegio in the Diocese. They came as administrative teams, typically the Rector (priest), Director/a (principal) and Administrador/a (business manager). By noon, we adjourned for lunch (a workshop series, I’ve learned, travels on its stomach). By 1:00pm, the sessions began.

Our kickoff was a rousing sing-a-long, led by Padre Bienvenido with guitar (and for any Spanish speakers wondering, yes, the Padre has heard the old joke: “Bienvenido, Bienvenido” more times than he wants to).

We shifted quickly into a moving presentation by La Presidenta de la Junta de Education, Melvina Dinsey, about what the Episcopal schools should stand for and her interpretation of the state of education in the DR. The President’s State of the Colegios address.

Presentations continued throughout the afternoon from our new, improved, expanded educational mission team. Here Pili motivates the crowd with a musical activity designed to maximize enthusiasm. I think she accomplished her mission.

A sign of Bishop Quezada’s investment in education was his presence at the retreat from beginning to end. Here he explains his vision for education and the ways in which this improvement plan will be financed.

Our team’s newest member, Michelle Guzman (a consultant with the Ministry of Education and a UNL alum), offers a rationale and strategies for involving community members in a colegio.

Miguelina Jorge Corporan wore an apron during her presentation — visual imagery for how the effective leader serves the public and her teaching team.

The first day went (as we might say in Nebraska) just swell. The room was full; people were engaged; the team once again convinced me that we’ve assembled a special group of people both in terms of expertise and motivation to have an impact on the quality of an Episcopal Education in the Dominican Republic.

Travels with El Equipo

Tuesday, the team spent the morning visiting classrooms at Colegio San Andres, enjoying a hearty lunch of chuletas de cerdo (pork chops) with beans/rice and salad. There are always so many great photo ops at San Andres. Here are a selected few.

We had a great lunch and at about 1:00pm, we were ready to head north and west into the mountains and the town of Jarabacoa. First, Melvina had to explain to her granddaughter why she was leaving. It did not go well. With the guagua (van) loaded with boxes of materials, luggage and people, there wasn’t much breathing room for the team.

And then we arrived at El Campamento. Here’s visual proof why just about every visitor loves the place.

Oh yeah. For those of you celebrating Christmas with lovely poinsettas, here’s a shot of how big they can grow in the right climate.