When my school divided the student body into clubs, at the end of the process, all the proposed clubs had been filled to capacity but 90 students were left standing dejected in the assembly ground, with nowhere to go and no club. We had ourselves a problem. I had already raised my hand to take the Table Tennis Club as it was one of the highlights of my time in Rangjung. I had my plan written and had selected eager players to join but thanks to Andrea Chisholm, I also had another idea on the back burner.
Since 3 of us had expressed an interest in running the TT Club and there were only 12 students involved I felt sure I could abandon that ship and put forward my peer support learning idea. I had seen older students supervising and assisting younger students with their reading in the library in club time, in the few days we spent in Chumey last year and though it wasn’t the first time I had seen that concept working, it was obvious that it was a huge success and a ‘win win’ situation. I loved it.
I had originally hesitated as I knew that my school’s club time is second period on Saturday while the primary school like most schools in Bhutan runs its club session after school on Wednesday. Ian and I had talked about how difficult it might be to coordinate a paired session, even though the 2 schools are a mere 10 minute walk apart, given this stumbling block.
Eventually we came to the conclusion that we might be able to utilize the library period of any class that might have one at the time the middle school club time was scheduled on Saturday. Thus I decided to bite the bullet and propose the club to my principal, who was thrilled to have 20 odd students accommodated in a new club. Next I sought the support of the primary principal. His concern was the timing. I assured him that we would honour our commitment and he thought it could work and gave me the go ahead. At the time I didn’t realize that what he was probably referring to was the number of special programs that are conducted on Saturdays in both schools!
Our next hurdle was the dearth of actual books in the primary school library. It soon dawned on both Ian and I that the generous donation given to us just days before departing Adelaide would be best spent on this exact project. Thanks to Paul and Robyn Brown and their generosity and faith that we would chose an appropriate cause, we knew we had enough money to buy books at a suitable level and headed off to Thimphu for the Losar (New Year) long weekend to do just that.
Of course the first club session for me occurred before that purchase had been made but since I cannot resist a good children’s book, I had fortunately purchased a few set in Bhutan and by one of the most famous writers in the country, during orientation in Thimphu.
My new group of class 7, 8, 9 and 10 club members were thrilled with the idea for our club. As it turns out nearly double the 22 students I stipulated could join, would have loved to be part of the club, but by luck I ended up with a mixed aged group of avid readers, keen to get started. After some discussion about why they loved reading, how they select books to read, and what they thought would motivate students to read more and better, I distributed my few books and challenged them to decide what age the books were suited to and to read them and come up with activities and questions they could use with primary students, to match the book they had been given.
With groups of 4 sharing a single book, complete silence fell and they took to the task with gusto. They had great ideas, were completely focused on the tasks and eager to share their thoughts. I had to chase them from the room when the session ended and battled to get my books back. In fact I lent one book to the persistent class 8 boy, who argued that we had all decided that it was too difficult for primary school so could he just borrow it for the weekend! I couldn’t argue with that or someone so keen to keep reading on the long weekend. True to his word he returned the book to me the moment I set foot in the schoolyard on Tuesday morning and promoted it to his classmates in my English class 2 days later.
Now that we are all set to go the truth in the primary principal’s words dawns on me. This Saturday the primary school has a parent teacher meeting and the following Saturday the same event will occur at my school! At least this week, thanks again to Paul and Robyn we have 62 books, 5 sets of flashcards, and 15 posters to label and peruse so there won’t be any complaints from my club, especially as they will get to visit our home to do it, when they as boarders are almost never allowed to leave the school campus. I am also sure we will find a way to get this project up and running before the club members become disheartened, especially now that Ian has engineered the library schedule to ensure that the most needy class 4 group are about to get reading buddies!
Given the vagaries of our Internet we have been trying to post this for sometime so the last 2 photos show the second meeting of my club in our home. It has now been conducted and the students engaged equally enthusiastically and we have an additional 2 new members.