First thing Monday morning up on arriving in Conseulo, I told Dr. Rust that “my heart was home.” Automatically, I felt at peace surrounded by the beautiful children, language, and culture. As we wrap up our final day teaching at the National School, my heart is so full and belongs nowhere but with these sweet babies scattered throughout a variety of different Deaf schools in the Dominican Republic.
Our final day started at 8:30am with the first group of students who ranged from around 8 to 11 years old. Their desire to be taught and talked to in a clear, visual language they understood was palpable, and it absolutely broke my heart that it was not the norm for them to receive that level of education. The students were excited, happy, and motivated to get involved and learn in all of the lessons.
Luckily, Chris and Karyn were more than capable of teaching our lesson without me, because I spent very little time teaching with them. Instead, I used my time to learn about the school itself, the teachers, and many of the older students that would not be involved in our large group lessons. These students are some of the only Deaf high school students in the entirety of the Dominican Republic, as the National School is the only Deaf school that accommodates students after 8th grade.
The teachers in the upper grades appeared very lackadaisical in their teaching, often just leaving the students alone in the classroom when they no longer felt compelled to teach. In one classroom, I noticed students sitting around by themselves. Upon asking if they were on a break, I learned that their teacher had just left the classroom in the middle of the lesson for no apparent reason. So, instead of teaching the younger students who now had six excited and motivated teachers with them, I stayed with the high schoolers for part of the morning. While I did not formally teach them, we did spend time teaching each other our languages and simply letting them know that I thought they were important enough to not leave them in the middle of the school day. I also spent part of my morning with the youngest of the school! Their teacher was in the classroom, but for being a preschool aged classroom, it appeared she lacked any enthusiasm or excitement, very much just tolerating being there. The three little girls and myself played tea party and talked about how an anchor keeps a boat from moving.
At the National School, the groups of students were younger than at the previous three schools, because there were nearly 400 students in the school and we catered to the students who were mostly likely to benefit from our lessons, which were created for students on a 2nd – 6th grade level. All of the students, including those we didn’t teach, were wonderful. They invited us into their school and their lives and wanted to be taught and loved.
After we left our final school for the week, we stopped by our favorite bakery for lunch, headed back to the hotel to change clothes, and headed to the Colonial Zone to do some souvenir shopping and visit Christopher Columbus’ son’s house (Diego Colon), which has since been turned into a museum holding artifacts from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. There was so much history to be learned!
Finally, our day, and trip, was coming to a close. We went back to the hotel for one last swim, nap, or adventure before getting ready for our final dinner with all of our favorite people from the week. We celebrated our week in the DR with a wonderful meal and conversation with Hector and Belkis, Juana, Paulina, Tommy, and their spouses. The dinner was the perfect ending to our trip, even if the goodbyes were tearful.
The next morning, we packed up at 3:30AM to head to the airport for our 5:45 AM flight. The whole week was a beautiful and amazing experience that I know we won’t forget. Our lives have been permanently changed by the smiles and love we received from all our sweet babies from the week.
– Stephanie Voss (Graduate Candidate in the Deaf Ed Program)