Today is my last day at the Taktse International School, a community that in some ways feels so familiar to schools at home, it's hard to believe the distance that separates this place from home, until I look out the library window at a 15,000 foot mountain range. A school in its infancy, Taktse began four years ago as this quiet state of Sikkim became inundated with factories and controversial hydroelectric projects. As peaceful as this land is, it has not supplied an education to locals adequate enough to stand up to these external forces. More, little job training is available to supply inhabitants with the skills to compete for employment, locally and beyond; the majority of positions these large scale projects create are given to people outside the community. A school of 150 students ranging from kindergarden to 9th (eventually 12th), Taktse's plan is to create a new generation of leadership for the community, environmentally aware, socially thoughtful, critical thinking problem solvers. It's a far cry from any normal government school. Students lead morning assemblies with book talk and reading time, they challenge each other in speed typing contests, and attend classes, more often than not, sitting in a circle
on the center rug in their classroom. Their teachers, a young, dedicated staff, act not like the lecturers they once had, inflicting physical punishment for classroom mishaps, but instead engage students in dialogue, challenging and provoking thought. Even more impressive to me, however, is that the driving forces behind this school wish not to simply give their own students an education to ready them for college and beyond, their goal is to change the style of education in the entire region. They hold computer classes for local teachers, bring in parents to teach them how to read to their kids, and soon hope to create their own teacher training program. If you have an extra moment, follow the youtube link below to check it out in their own words.
First Grade Some experts claim that the transformation from a child to an adult is like a sapling to a tree; others argue the process more resembles a tadpole growing into a frog, completely unrecognizable to each other. The genius who coined the latter term was obviously a 1st grade teacher. I had the privilege to observe a first grade art class, conducted by a
part-time teacher, full time yoga instuctor, as she tried to teach yoga poses and mantras to the hyperactive bunch. As she attempted to locate her inner chi, one boy was on the ground kissing his own knees, another was minding his own business, slapping himself in the face, two girls were dancing to their own mental music in a corner, and one young lad was chanting in a tone that could only be considered demonic as he flung his tiny body around the room. And there is something a touch comical about a frustrated yoga teacher.
Tug-O-War Gonna be honest here, I'm a competitor, be it a friendly match of scrabble or recess kickball (a highlight of my recent short stint teaching at Applewild was an inside the park home run lofted high over 5th grader Julio's head, a deafening crowd of one Mr Mullins cheering from up the hill, my tie flapping in the wind running the bases). You could imagine my excitement, then, when I learned that every Thursday afternoon, the entire school competes in competitive tug-o-war matches. My team was called the Fantastic 12, and I can't say we were the powerhouse on the playground, but
4th GradeStarting the day off in their morning circle
after teaching them how to make an intimidating "game face," we were an opponent no one else wanted to face. Don't want to gloat, but a third grader did ask to see my muscles after one contest, though there's a rumor she was a scout for another team searching around for any sign of performing enhancing drugs, must've heard about a "man" that used to spend his time in Boston whom was recently suspended in another sport.
When off the playground I did manage to stay busy as well, got to help set up a tutoring program at the school, giving struggling students more opportunity to strengthen their skills. In a school where many days we look down the hill to see the clouds, it's an inspiring place to see students reaching as high as they can.
Beyond that, the last few weeks have been both routing and exciting. Annie arrived safely, after an extended Swine Flu interrogation; we made it out to West Sikkim where among other things saw some spectacular views of Kachenjunga in a post-rain evening, and met a old Buddhist man who has spent the last 51 years of his life etching prayers
Tug-O-WarIf you zoom in real close, you can see my carotid artery, bulging an unhealthy amount from my neck
into stones at one of the area's oldest monasteries, Tashiding. And the last few days have been spent recovering from a bout of severe dehydration that put me in a foreign hospital for the first time- got to experience what a pincushion feels like as a crowd of doctors and nurses tried seven times to blindly locate a vein that could provide me much needed fluids. After an overnight stay, lots of IV bags, antibiotics and Discovery Channel TV (which happened to be showing shows about the solar system, with Applewild's 5th should appreciate), I am feeling better (though sticking to bottled water once again), and ready for the next stop on the tour- provided election strikes don't impede our progress, Bhutan tomorrow!
Hope you are all well, bring the C's come luck in game 7!
"So far as I am able to judge, nothing has been left undone, either by man or nature, to make India the most extraordinary country that the sun visits on his rounds. Nothing seems to have been forgotten, nothing overlooked."
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The Indus Valley civilization, one of the oldest in the world, dates back at least 5,000 years. Aryan tribes from the northwest invaded about 1500 B.C.; their merger with the earlier Dravidian inhabitants created the classical Indian culture. Arab in...more info
Photogenic leopardFace to face with a leopard. Granted there was a fence between us, but couldn't resist the shot
KachenjungaSacred in the region, no one is permitted to summit the world's 3rd highest peak
DedicationThis man, 89 years young, has been etching and painting Buddhist prayers into stone at one monastery for 89 years. His office, this 4x8 space adjacent to the place of worship, doubles as his home
Going IVSonam, on the right, is a graduate of Brown University. And that's me below, joining the IV League and celebrating the successful seventh needle prodding