Sunday, February 17, 2013

Jakarta International School–home away from home

jis000Kurt Vonnegut’s fictional religion Bokonism holds a tenet known as a Karrass.  A Karrass is a grouping of folks sort of like a tribe although the members may not be aware of each others existence.

Sara and I have had the opportunity to run into members of our Karrass all over the world. These are the folks that you just form an immediate connection with –people who just by happenstance you have met and immediately became friends. That’s how it goes with us and the Hodgsons – Kate and Murray.

Kate is the middle school librarian at the Jakarta International School and Murray is her husband and soon to be vice principle of the elementary there. Whenever we are in the neighborhood we drop Kate a line and always manages to find a way for us to drop in on JIS.


This trip was no different we did a quick two day drive by visit, our fourth trip to the school in the last seven years or so – so this really was like a homecoming. we worked with seventh grade classes and teachers. This gave us not only the opportunity to run some of the lessons from our book (coming out with Corwin this fall) but also to reconnect with the Kate and Murray.


Well, everything went great. The lessons with the kids couldn’t have gone better and the sessions we had with the teachers turned into a mutual learning session. I think we convinced them that poetry can be used across all grade levels as a writing tool and they showed us a well run team approach to teaching and assessment works.


In our off hours we had new glasses made, enjoyed the best massage ever, sat for hours in the clotted and coagulated traffic that is – as I was informed by a taxi driver – traditional to Jakarta, went to the hairdresser and had several tasty meals.  Not bad for two and a half days.


Mud Sweat and Gears


The mountain biking in Duri may not have included as many climbs as the riding in Balikpapan – but it made up for it in mud.

I had a much easier go of it keeping up with the pack here in Duri. The ride was more cross country than climbing and better suited for a rider of my experience. That’s definitely not to say it didn’t raise it own challenges.

We biked through palm plantations, two foot deep puddles, carried our bikes over fallen trees, forged across rushing ditches and crossed dubious bridges.


Thanks to my biking hosts Brian and Brenda I got my share of Sumatran mud treatment. I figure I fell a half dozen times during our two rides. The first led by Brenda included the ditch crossing and tree scaling the second fronted by Brian included the extra deep mud hole action.


During the second ride one of my compatriots was the camp's doctor – a South African guy who sounded a lot like Eddie Izzard and had a similar sardonic sense of humor, “ Having a bit of a laydown in the mud are we Michael? Yes that can be quite therapeutic – but, I’d consider unclipping that foot from the pedal – you may be cutting off circulation there.”


Mud baths aside, I really enjoyed the jaunt through the jungles of Sumatra and am indebted to those Duri mountain bikers.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

It’s only scary when you open your eyes

We were warned about the bus ride.

The trip from Rumbai to Duri is around 75 miles – so on an interstate in the States it might take one a smidge over an hour to travel – on the autobahn in Germany – 45 minutes or so. In Sumatra – as the saying goes, pack a lunch. The trip is three and a half hours on a good day.


The students at the Rumbai campus warned us of what was ahead – bumpy roads anaconda winding up and down hills – oncoming traffic of palm oil and lumber trucks swerving at the very last moment before we become that single line in the New York Times, “Two Americans die in Sumatran bus crash…”


The pack your lunch bit would have been good advice as well. We were also warned by the students not to eat the food at the rest stop half way there (a place called Kandis which the kids called Kansas) they promised us our digestive system would unfriend us if we did.


This proved to be a bit of a problem as we had lunch at school at noon and then climbed on the bus at four with no provisions before or for the journey. In the end, considering the excitement of the ride – it might have been a good thing we were traveling on empty stomachs.


So, after all the bad press given our journey before we embarked one might wonder what could possibly make it seem more harrowing. How about an extended cloudburst version of a torrential downpour from the heavens? Check – delivered exactly five minutes before we had to drag our bags across the parking lot to the bus terminal.


Well our travel advisors may have exaggerated a little. The ride was somewhat exhilarating – but I think maybe they overplayed the whole terror aspect of it. In fact there was only one time when the whole bus collectively gasped as an looming logging truck cleared us by the width of a gecko’s eyelid (you know you’ve experienced something good when even the locals get pie eyed).What was scarier than the ride was the miles upon miles of jungle that had been shaven from the countryside in order to be replaced by row after row of palm oil plantations.


In the end, obviously, we survived and on the trip back we knew enough to pack snacks. Live and learn to ride another day.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

International School Duri

duri001Some places just exude a sense of welcome. This is what greeted Sara and me when we disembarked from the exciting three and a half hour cross country Sumatra bus ride from the Chevron Rumbai camp to the Duri camp (more about the bus ride later). What this place lacked in monkeys it made up in hospitality.

We were met at the station by school principle Jeff Crawford and whisked to our guest bungalow and then walked to his place for dinner with his 1st and 2nd grade teacher/wife Susan.

What followed was three days of classroom workshops and a couple assemblies. The schedule was perfect – that opening assembly makes so much difference in that it allows the students to learn a little bit about us before we come into their classrooms.


The Duri organizers split our assembly between the little guys and the middle school. The elementary were scheduled for our first day and the older kids for the last. This was a good plan but Sara and I worried that the older kids wouldn’t have had a chance to meet us before we came into their classroom the first two days of work.  So – true to any great educator they improvised – the older kids joined the first assembly for the first 15 minutes or so and then split off. We continued on with material specific for the younger crowd and then were able to present another show aimed for the older guys later I the week.


Again, this was a little school with big ideas. We got to see each class three times and really got some good work done. I even got some poetry out of the 3 year old pre-K class by taking them out on an image gathering expedition armed with iPads. people that know me should get a good chuckle out of the image of my working with these tiny folk. One of my favorite memories is a kindergarten student asking me if I was angry with them.  My voice was too loud and deep and sounded scary. I assured the guy that no way was I even slightly upset and he chilled out.


Dinners were had in teacher’s homes and we laughed and marveled at what a small world it is as we shared stories of our mutual travels and of the friends we had in common all over the globe. Sara even had a glitch repaired on her computer that had been previously worked on in Kuala Lumpur. Turns out the guy who looked at it here (who you will meet in a later mountain biking post) had worked with the guy who worked on it in KL and had inside info on the custom configuration that was causing the dilemma. Like I said – small world.


Sara and I also got to test drive several of our projectable lessons and we were happy to see them perform satisfactory – but we are going to add some tweaks once we get back.

What doesn’t need tweaking though, is the atmosphere that permeates the Duri campus like the aroma of orchids. Thanks for a great visit!


Saturday, February 9, 2013

International School of Rumbai

RIS000Sara and I continue our swing through Indonesia. This stop we find ourselves in Rumbai, Indonesia on the island of Sumatra. Like Pasir Ridge – this is a boutique school with very small classes which allows for some pretty personal attention while teaching.

We were so happy to find the teachers and students so receptive to us. Here we worked from kindergarten through 8th grade. There is no high school at the three Chevron schools that we are visiting on this excursion.

Being a compact campus we were lucky enough to be invited into the homes of teachers for lunches who live just a few steps from the school. We also went out to dinner with a teaching couple to a sushi restaurant (which was out of sushi).


We just laughed off the sushi-less sushi joint along with our dinner companions. Sumatra is not the most developed place on the planet and it takes a special dedication along with a little bit of humor to succeed here. All the teachers we met in Rumbai were certainly up to this challenge.


The students' enthusiasm is an artifact of the instructor's indefatigable spirit. I don’t want to sound like I am saying that there is nothing positive about living in a place like Rumbai. It is a tropical paradise in numerable respects – but everyday conveniences that many of us are used to like berries, good coffee (all the good coffee in Sumatra is exported) or a yard free of poisonous snakes and scorpions may be a bit hard to come by.


What wasn’t hard to come by at the International School of Rumbai were super teachers and students.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Mud Hogs, Crocodiles, and Mountain Bikes–Oh my.

bike001I type this post as we ride a bus through the jungles of Sumatra. Sara and I have just finished two days at Rumbai International School and are headed to their sister school in Duri. More about Rumbai later. But now let's return to Borneo.

One may take pause when one is informed that the mountain bike ride starts at the crocodile farm.

Well, after three bi wheeled excursions with the pedaling maniacs - affectionately monickered, the Mud Hogs - I began wondering if I would have been better off with the crocodiles.


Brent, Matt, Ben, and Linc proved gracious guides to the jungles of Borneo as we rode through ultra steep urban alleys, up paved climbs to radio towers, from the crocodile park through rubber and tapioca plantations - atop earthen pathways separating ponds in shrimp farms. That is or course, if one includes being ground into dust in the jungle gracious. I do.


We rode with a pack of about twenty riders and every time a climb did me in they would wait at the top allowing me to catch up. But of course I suffered the curse of all new riders to an established crew. I was shown the double edged mercy of a no drop ride. No drop meaning the last rider is not left to fend for themselves, which is definitely a plus when cobras and venomous spiders are a part of the equation. On the other hand these guys also adhered to the once the last rider finally catches up at the top of the climb - hit the road (or in this case, the trail) rule. This means my lagging allowed the lunatics up front the chance to rest every now and then and start out fresher each time they waited for me. On the road back home in flat Ohio - I am more often than not in that front pack waiting for off the pace riders to catch up and then secretly chuckling to myself when as soon as they do - zipping out again.


Karma is a bitch.

After awhile though, Brent encouraged me to take a little extra time recovering from climbs and coached me along with gearing tips that really made a difference and eventually we were out of the hills and I was with the pack again.

I'm not sure why I find sport in simply surviving things - but I am really glad I went on these rides. I almost backed out of the last one but thanks to the encouragement of the Pasir Ridge International School's Mud Hogs members I went for it.


I mean how many folks can say they went on a jungle bike ride in Borneo that started at the crocodile farm?


Friday, February 1, 2013

Pasir Ridge International School–Borneo

Cruise ships may be luxurious but it takes a lot of time and space to turn one around.
Sara and I have had the pleasure of working for and with principle Seamus Marriot and his super teacher wife Theresa in three different international schools. Shanghai, Cairo and Balikpapan, the first two being some of the bigger institutions that we have visited boasting thousands of students.

Well Pasir Ridge International School in Balikpapan, Borneo is no behemoth. The total student body hovers in the range of 60 pupils. While the place may be small in numbers it is big on learning. We had the opportunity to work in classrooms where sometimes the adults in the room outnumbered the students. Where individualized instruction is an everyday occurrence and the encouragement and safety of a close knit community allows students to risk a bit more than one would see in a more crowded environment.


It seemed to me that nobody gets lost in the shuffle at PRIS. There is no shuffle – instead there is room to sprint in circles, skip, or twirl to one’s destination. So instead of the Queen Elizabeth II steaming along and taking a battalion to change its course – this school is more like a ski boat skirting over the waves, turning on a dime. Fast and agile vessels can be a bit twitchy and one needs a steady crew who know when to lean which way to keep them afloat right side up.


The teachers here are a special lot. One needs to be a bit adventurous and self assured in the first place to come to Borneo and it is this type of confident individuality that enables success in individual instruction. In a small classroom successes are magnified but so too would be stumbles. Plus in a smaller institution instructors must take on multiple responsibilities. All the teachers we worked with have met and exceeded these challenges. Whether integrating tech into a social studies lesson, rallying a campaign to protect the sun bears, investigating the concept of freedom or comparing and contrasting ice cream flavors the teachers here are inspired, dedicated and entrepreneurial.


Thanks to all the stellar educators that let Sara and me invade their classroom not once, but up to three times during our stay and who made us feel welcome and appreciated during every bit of our voyage here. Extra special thanks to Brent – for being our guide to Balikpapan and for not letting me die on the mountain bike excursions.


PRIS – we will come back anytime you would have us.