in Jamaica: February 2017

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This trip, my photos were about 10% sunset/sunrise/blurry pictures of the full moon, 10% food, 10% Bible quizzing, 9% sea urchin spine removal process, 1% cows on the loose, and 60% silly selfies. Which is a pretty accurate idea of what my week was like! 20170209_071825

We are kindred spirits, and always have been. 20170209_095837a20170206_134301a

It was a blast to have my friend Julie along with me! 20170208_123354a20170207_101850a

more from Jamaica

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My traveling necessities: pillow pet pig, nook, kleenex. 20160202_101015

Watching this school start its day was a highlight all week. As students filter in, different classrooms are singing or clapping in rhythms or doing devotions. Small groups of kids would be sweeping or washing out trash cans together. Even for those who may struggle first thing in the morning, it makes you smile and think, “Oh yeah, this will be a good day!” 20160203_075902

Every morning I’d watch the ocean for a bit, keeping an eye out for Billy’s van. 20160203_100416

Sweet girls!! I miss them. That was the best, having tons of small group time every day. We’d talk and study the verses together or ask questions. Just getting to know each other!20160204_102629

My love for yellow continues! Actually in the same way we say “red, white and blue” in America, the colors of the Jamaican flag are “black, green and gold.” So yellow, gold, whatever, I like it. 20160204_111405

Supreme is such a fantastic school, I always look forward to being there. This year they had a majority of boys on their teams, with STRONG PERSONALITIES and show-stealing goofiness. Which was such a blast (I’ll take high energy over bored/not caring any day) but also lead us to bring the girls outside for some confidence-building separate practice time.20160205_085054

With my new friend Pearline at the registration table on the morning of the tournament!20160205_103005

This old organ was outside the door of my quiz site. So cool! 20160205_152837

The church who graciously hosted us this year was Hillview Baptist. Perfect name although “hill” is almost not a strong enough word! How great it was to simply have one building to work with. In the past we’ve rented three churches right in downtown Montego Bay. In 2014, I had the kindest police officer in Jamaica assist me as scorekeeper, and he raised some concerns about security and safety- with school children crossing busy streets, lots of entrances and exits, etc. We all agreed about that, plus it was crazy expensive, and very tough logistically to run a tournament in that setting. We never could find a better option until now. This church, and the pastor who bent over backward to help us, was a blessing from God! 20160205_145133

Championship quiz! John Rollins Success (my original favorite school) came in first, Howard Cooke took second, and Chetwood took third! I get caught up in the competition, it is the most fun ever. My small team had practiced with the kids at Chetwood all week and it was SO exciting to see them come so far! Wow! We got to present their medals. So cool. What an awesome group of students. 20160205_152749

I love a happy aftermath! We were all celebrating. In fact in my mind I could just hear the “end of the movie” music start up! After many struggles and defeats over the past two years, the goodness of this week was not lost on me. My brain is full of ideas and my heart is full of hope for next time!

For more about my adventures in Jamaica:

Special
Jamaican Bread & Jam for Frances
Jamaica Video
Sixth Grade
It’s the same all over the world

Welcome back

“I just got off the plane.” -My text to Val.

“We just pulled up into the airport. We are walking inside.” -Val, to me.

(For us to get through two consecutive texts without a disastrous typo is rare.)

“We??” I wondered, since I was only expecting Valerie to pick me up. I walked faster, ready to be done with airports for the day! Who did I see as I began to descend on the escalator? Val, Hanner, Kay and Martin (one of my favorite almost-2-year-olds) were waiting for me at the bottom. They smiled and waved and tried to point me out to Martin, who couldn’t see me yet.

I waved wildly. Suddenly his eyes lit up and he yelled, “Fwancen!” (his current name for me) as he began jumping up and down. I should mention at this point, he was wearing child-sized cowboy boots. The excitement became too much for him and he started to run about in circles!

Yes, it was one of the cutest things I will ever witness. My dear friends, smiling and laughing with glee. The antics of a toddler who was amazingly thrilled to see me. All this unfolding slowly (yet too quickly) at the speed of the escalator as I balanced my luggage.

My tendency is to wish I had a picture but some things can’t be picked up in a photo. This was only meant for mental pictures and savoring the joy of the moment.

Isn’t that like joy? Meeting me at the end of a long journey. Surprising me and overwhelming me with grace. Pure and overflowing.

caregiving, mon

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Big smiles all around at the start of Bible Quiz season in Jamaica!!  From students, teachers/coaches, principals, the team in Jamaica, and me in Nebraska wearing a necklace from the island to remind me to pray! Today I’m looking through pictures posted by my fellow Jamaica travelers and I’m so there in spirit. And kindof pretending to be there by putting myself in the picture. Later I will probably have to woefully drink my last Ting, stashed in the back of the fridge, while scanning all the trip updates again and again.

Because I’m a caregiver, I get to go to Jamaica once or twice a year. I am not thinking that too many people have ever said that sentence before. Because I’m a caregiver, I’m freed up to give some of my time so that students on a gorgeous little island can put God’s Word in their hearts and feel awesome while doing so. Because I’m a caregiver, I’ve collected a treasury of experiences that I will no doubt still be talking about when I myself am old & gray. Because I’m a caregiver, I get to be a tiny, small, little part of several priceless ministries.

What a random set up I have going.  (Or, what a perfect plan God has going, that’s what.)

I like it.

(Go here, here,  or here for more Jamaica posts.) 

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monday gifts

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Thankful for… 

mosquito bites under tall warm socks cause it’s freezing outside, a suitcase full of dirty clothes, a pile of coats and scarves and a beach towel – the confusion of life currently.

a big Christmas tree in downtown Montego Bay, it was just fun to see.

being still on Jamaican time/schedule so I was up to see an awesome NE Colorado sunrise.

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my brother visiting this week!

safe and smooth drives and flights. (Yes, I-80 and I spent another 13 hours together.)

all the amazing people who helped me go and prayed with me before I left and prayed for me while I was there. I’ve been overwhelmed by all that, in a good way!

homes for the holidays, a progressive dinner type thing my church puts on. So much good food and lots of fun! Picture for yourself: a cheese house, a bread and soup house, a cookie house, and each of them about as good as they could possibly be.

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my amazing origami pineapple ornament, handmade by Anna. Yeah, wow! And she gave it to me just in time for watching the Psych musical on tv! Bonus: Gus did his “Jamaican Inspector” number which was timely for me. I love the silliness of that show.

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seeing Iron Chef Zakarian in the airport (he’s also a judge on Chopped). I was totally chill about it but I may have left bruises on Kalyn’s arm from punching her in the excitement of recognition. Val and I were 50% cheering for him to be the next iron chef, way back when.

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my traveling buddy Kalyn. We had a lot of fun together. Including getting up early to eat hardo bread toast with guava jam (yummm) on the beach. And taking a picture of ourselves doing so and smiling our dopiest morning smiles. Ha! We are dorks.

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Quiet time when I’m reading this book. It’s been a nice constant to read it (almost) every day wherever I am!

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relax

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I took these pictures on my second trip to Jamaica. We spent one evening on a small public beach and had quiet time and watched the sunset. A boy splashed in the water, people came and went and smoked and played reggae, and a little crab dug in the sand and glared at me for being there. It was very relaxing*.
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*Relaxing like: take away those things in the back of your mind that you need to do. Clear away that clock, unstrap your watch. Forget your phone. Put that planner in a drawer along with everything you’re anxious about. No hurry, no rush, no tense feelings. No problems because it’s just a situation mon, it’ll work itself out! Ok, now, just wait around on the sunset and remember you have no control over it, all you can do is enjoy it.  DSCF0486

*Relaxing like: “Be still and know that I am God.”

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(this picture was taken by one of the teens on the trip and it’s blurry but I like it.) 

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6th grade

When I was in grade 6… 

I spent hours sprawled around the house, reading books of my choice.

I climbed on hay bales with Cherry, built forts outside with the boys, and made paper dolls for my cousins.

I practiced my violin but was not overly disciplined. I went to AWANA but was not great at it. I went golfing with Dad mostly to drive the golf cart.

In school I know I dreaded math, but everything else was pretty great. I had a fun workbook where I looked for editorial mistakes in fake news articles. I made a salt map of Egypt. Since I was homeschooled I was usually done for the day by early afternoon. I took a standardized test maybe, but it was more for my mom’s reassurance and it wasn’t a big deal to me.

My life was largely carefree and I had endless time to just enjoy being a kid.

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A Jamaican 6th grader*… 

Stays up until late at night and gets up early the next morning to study, in the weeks or months leading up to the GSAT (grade six achievement test). Perhaps their schedule looks like this:

“Right now, I am feeling very excited, I wasn’t nervous at all. I knew I would get into my first choice,” [a student with a top GSAT score] told the Observer. When asked why he was so confident, he said, “I went to school seven days of the week, I went to extra lessons and I cut my television and computer time.” 

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Has a test prep book the size of a large dictionary and carries it around to squeeze in review during any spare moment of the day. 

Is trying to understand 9th grade+ level concepts.  

Pulls from the newspaper a section for kids with GSAT practice questions and does those on a Saturday morning. (What I’ve seen before looks like a cartoon section or kids puzzle section, but it’s test prep.)

quizzing looks like 1

Has their parents help them select their 5 top high school choices. They probably do this with crossed fingers and lots of prayers. There are a limited number of high schools, period, and an even smaller number of good ones; and depending on where you live, they may not be close. 

“In 2012: According to the Ministry of Education, of the 43,300 students who took the GSAT, 28,315 were placed in schools they selected, while 13,343 were placed based on the proximity of their homes to schools. The remaining 1,642 were manually placed.”

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Feels pressure. A lot of pressure. From family, from teachers, from society. And the family, the teachers, the society feels the pressure, too.

“It is not about the test; you need enough places of suitable and available quality.”
-Dr. Russell (a creator of the GSAT)

          “The children are crying. They feel as if they have failed.. I know the Ministry [of Education] is trying and they will say all our schools are viable, but we have to be realistic,” [a school principal] said. “The concern for parents is not so much the academic standard of those schools, but the social fabric, because the cultures of the children are very different.”

She said, for example, she had two non-Jamaican, second-language students placed at Tarrant High. [A school that in the past has had trouble with crime.] “One is from mainland China and the parents are not even sure what to do at this stage. My concern is, will they be able to manage socially and emotionally?” the principal lamented. (Full article here

Knows that this is going to determine the future course of their life. A sixth grader has this weight on their shoulders.

Critics say it is unreasonable to subject 10-to-12 year-old students to a “one-shot” exam with such huge implications for their future education.

Hopes, hopes they get a good score.. if they don’t, hopefully, hopefully they have a supportive family and take the news well. Some don’t.. and it’s tragic:

“Important evidence is when a child takes his GSAT and is not placed where he wants to go, the child is threatened with bodily harm; and instead of the child waiting for the parent to inflict that bodily harm, he pre-empts it and does it himself, because a lot of children hang themselves and take poison when they are not placed where the parents want them to go,” Dr Russell [GSAT creator] stated.

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This week, on Thursday and Friday, the 6th graders of Jamaica will be taking the GSAT. Will you join with me in praying for them? And for the parents, teachers, educational system, and the whole wonderful country of Jamaica?

I’m praying especially for the students who chose to continue Bible quizzing this year even with the mental challenge of GSAT study on their plate. Their teachers discourage them from doing this, out of concern for them being overloaded. But some chose to do it anyway, because they love Bible Quizzing, they want to do it for their last year, and because they love God and learning His Word. Praying that the memory work and the encouragement of Scripture will strengthen their minds and hearts as they take the test. And that they will hold on to the true hope for their future no matter what the outcome is. 

I’ll finish by quoting this prayer from an email I received from my friend, a former teacher who helps with the Bible Quiz:

“SOME SCHOOLS ARE SO DIFFICULT ,WE CANNOT HAVE THE CHILDREN TO  PRACTICE THEM, THIS GSAT SCHOLARSHIP STUDY, BLOCKS  EVERYTHING.
I KNOW  THE BIBLE QUIZ HELPS TO EXPAND THEIR THINKING, AND  GOD WILL OPEN   UP THEIR MINDS AND BRAINS, THEIR INTEGRETY IN LEARNING.”
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Some of the newspaper articles I quoted / for further reading:

GSAT Joy and Grief
GSAT Defence 
GSAT Problem 
Letter to the editor: GSAT changes
Just a cool story
Optimistic GSAT student
Jamaica Ministry of Education on facebook

*A LITTLE DISCLAIMER: this is based on things told me by teachers I’ve met in Jamaica, my own observations from being there, and some online research. I know I only have a tiny grasp on this complicated issue and I probably got some things mixed around! So I apologize in advance! I’ll keep looking into this because I’ve come to care about the students of Jamaica. 

I’ve learned of the efforts many are making to improve the educational system there. It is definitely not something that can be fixed overnight. And of course as you compare education in Jamaica with the education children get in other countries of the world, well basically it becomes a much bigger thing than I’m able to wrap my head around! There are both positive and negative things everywhere. 

The majority of students I’ve met in Jamaica are incredibly bright, talented, disciplined and successful in school, with the help of their hard-working teachers. It’s no wonder that these children are valued as highly as they are by many Jamaicans. I value them too and appreciate you reading my thoughts. Thanks!! ~Frances