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Looking through the eyes of an (Indian) American school-gal

I find Simrita, my 10-year-old niece who lives in Atlanta, quite a fascinating kid. She’s very sharp, naughty and has a great sense of humour too. Apart from a being a voracious reader (being a die-hard Harry Potter fan, she finished the entire series when she was in Grade III), she plays the piano and a blue-belt holder in taekwondo. From her, I learnt the word ‘Myrmecologist’  (somebody who is engaged in the  scientific study of ants and one of her close friends wants to be one in future). Interestingly, none of my well-informed and well-read friends have ever heard of this rather difficult word. On a Sunday morning (in June, 2011) during her visit to India/Orissa, she sat down with me and shared a day in her school life in the form of a long interview. I found the whole process of interviewing her (amidst she treating me to a cup of tea and banana date cakes) interesting and thus came this blog. I have put the entire interview in a first person account for making it an easy read.

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Hi, I am Simrita. I study in Shakerag Elementary School and my school mascot is SHARK. I just finished Grade IV. Every morning, I go to the bus stop at seven in the morning ( I talk with my friends as I wait for my school bus to come at 7.05am). I must sit at the backseat of the bus because my life is incomplete without occupying that particular seat. It’s exciting to be there because the last seat of the bus has a couple of windows and our favourite activity is to observe people driving behind us and wave at them. I once saw a woman putting on eye-liner and lipstick in her car. After she finished her make-up, we saw her having a cup of coffee in the car. She did wave back to us. Some people wave at us with a big smile on their faces, some are just polite and acknowledge our greeting rather sleepily. In United States, no vehicle can overtake a school bus. So, in that way, we are damn privileged. I reach school at 7.15am. My class is quite far away from the gate. We have to pass through hallways which are named like Blue Hallway, Green hallway and Red Hallway. In a class, we have 27 students. Every alternative Wednesdays, we can buy school notebooks, folders, pencils, sharpeners and key-chains from the school store.

STARTING THE DAY: We all are assigned one particular number in the class to hang our backpacks. When we first enter into the classroom, we find a Maths problem written on a piece of paper. Each one of us has to solve the problem and then write the way we solved it. Then there’s a language strip paper too. There will be some grammatically incorrect sentences and we have to correct it. All this happens before the actual school day starts. Our class starts at 7.45am and then the teacher picks up the strip, analyses it and discusses with us.

‘WRITE’ CHOICE: The first period is about writing. We have a Writers’ notebook. Whatever we want to write, we can write in that notebook. Some people write funny stories, some write poems and actually we are encouraged to write anything that we want to write. Then we all share our writing with each other and our classmates give feedback. No negative feedback is allowed. Suggestions are definitely welcome. But only positive feedback.

READ ME: Then we have the Reading period. We have reading period groups in our class. 1. On level: Green group 2. Advanced Level: Blue group 3.Accelerated group: Red group (Well, it’s a tricky situation here. I need to explain this. If you know Maths, Reading, Language of your grade (say for example fourth grade), then you can be accelerated for the next grade ( that is fifth grade). But acceleration is not allowed in science and social studies. The accelerated group is called Red Group. If you are wondering why the different groups have been assigned colors to identify them, well because it’s rude to address students as on level, advanced and the like).

We engage ourselves in reading and writing at stations. The stations could be at our desk, on a table, under a table, on the floor, on a carpet. Then we have a teacher’s group as the teacher helps us as a group in improving our reading skills. Sometimes instead of reading, we do language art which is basically grammar.

SNACK BREAK: We take our snacks outside and eat. Some students bring a 100 calories snack pack containing fruits, cookies and a little chips. The snack break is for 15 minutes and the recess is for 25 minutes. In the recess, we just have fun in the playground. We stay indoors if it’s raining or snowing. Sometimes, the teacher puts music on her laptop and we dance in the class.

FUN WITH MATHS: After recess, we go back to our maths class. Everyday we get homework for mathematics. Our teacher checks it and we discuss every single problem.We do practice sessions for longer period and then we also do unit tests. Sometimes, we have surprise quizzes (known as pop quiz) We have also brainteasers which are group activities.

‘S’ FACTOR; We have both social studies and sciences taught to us in two different periods. The Science classes include reading, fun experiments-activties and taking notes. For social studies, the teaching method is also the same. For example, when we had a class on revolution, we put up a play with half of the students acting as Britishers and the other half as patriots.

HOMEROOM CLASS: After this, we have home room class. In this we have reading, language art and the teacher who teaches this is known as our homeroom teacher.

LUNCH BREAK: Either we take our lunch from home or we take it in our school cafeteria. A month’s menu is put on the school website. The cafeteria has food like chicken nuggets, fruits, three types of milk (plain milk, strawberry milk and chocolate milk), sandwitch, little pizzas, pasta, yogurt. You got to taste the mouth-watering French fries available in our middleschool cafeteria. By the way, our parents can check what meal we have bought in the school cafeteria through our website. (So we just can’t cheat). On birthdays, we can buy fruit popsicles, smoothies, shakes for our friends. No cupcakes are allowed thanks to weight issues and also no chocolates as many are allergic to nuts.

BOOK IT: After lunch, we do Creative Reading. We just pick up any book we want to read. We can get a book from home, pick up from our class library/ school library/ public library. But you have to read for 50 minutes. (I asked Simrita (matching with my great Indian sensibilities) suppose one just stares at the book and not read. Simrita gave me one of those exasperated looks and said, “Well, how can you just stare at a book for an hour? You must be really crazy to do that. When you can pick a book you like, why shouldn’t you read?”

SPECIAL CLASS: After reading, we have special classes for 45 minutes. It’s divided into four parts: Art/Physical Education/Music/Free Time. On Mondays we have (PE), Fridays (Music), Tuesday (Art)….

PE: Jogging, aerobics, throwing, catching, kicking and dancing

Music: Sing, play instruments

Arts: Drawing, sketching, claying, moulding, weaving and painting

Free time: Outdoor Fun After special class, we go back to our home room and pack our bags and leave by 2.45 pm. One fun day ends@school.

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About Deepika Sahu

I earn my living through writing stories, editing what other people write (in simple terms I am a journalist). I dream of opening a cafeteria in the mountains, owning a beach home on the shores of Bay of Bengal... but right now, they all seem like wild dreams.. A gypsy at heart --- am passionate about life, music, words, cooking for people I love, soaking in the lashing rain and just looking at the changing colours of the sky.... And I am a great fan of the Indian Railways and I long to travel in First Class AC coupe across India.....with my man

3 responses to “Looking through the eyes of an (Indian) American school-gal

  1. Indira ⋅

    good post. ever wondered why indian schooling is so different from the US. why are we so scared of our teachers and why do they insist on us mugging everything. we don’t have the concept of relaxed learning or learning with fun… everything is based on percentage and not what you learn.

  2. Raksha

    Deepika, this seems so like MGIS!

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