On Thursday 3rd September the wide hallways of the American School of Tampico
rang to the sounds of 200 footsteps heading towards the presentation hall. A rather diminished Atlantic Rising (consisting of Will) had arrived to start two days of workshops with students from 5th-12th Grade.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a wee bit nervous. Usually there is the comforting sight of Tim hunched over his laptop and Lynn fixing the projector when we start preparing for these workshops. But this time it was just little me, and an army of helpful teachers facing 100 middle school pupils. Lula Garcia was the lead teacher from Tampico and she had done a fantastic job at organising everything at her end. Projectors, laptops, board markers, even a little laser pointer to shine at the board were available. Let battle commence.
We started with a 40 minute introduction to the project. As expected, I ran out of things to say after 15 minutes, and then faced a barrage of questions from students who wanted to know everything from “How wide is the bed on top of the car?” to “Tell us again what about getting stuck in the Sahara desert”. I think there was a question about sea level change, but I can´t be sure. As the younger students left, shaking their heads in disbelief that anybody would choose to just have cold showers for a year, we started a series of more intense workshops with the Year 8 students.
When we start these workshops, there is always a period of ascertaining levels of knowledge. Do they know why sea levels are rising? Is climate change on their radar? These kids were well up to speed. Hydrogen fuel cells, the Milankovitch wobble, the breakdown of the thermo-haline circulation system. At one point I had to sneak to the loo and look something up in my little book to answer a question. They were sharp. And full of good ideas.
So we explored our way through the impacts of sea level rise, argued fiercely about climate change responsibility and then wrote long letters to go into the Message in a Bottle capsule. Their thoughts were peppered with digested questions into our strange way of life. So by 2.15pm, I was soaring on a cloud of caffeine and fully prepared to explain once again how one can survive for a year with only four pairs of pants. We finally left and I slept deeply in Lula’s son’s bedroom, underneath a Wall-E duvet and surrounded by Spongebob Squarepants teddies.
The second day began with a similar interrogation by high school students, less interested in my underwear and more focused on testing the validity of climate change solutions. Would hydrogen fuel cell cars ever work? How many problems can we solve with solar energy? What had we found about sea level change that is relevant to Tampico? I wished I had had stronger coffee on the way to school. They were excellent students and after an hour we had thrashed through a wide variety of different issues. At 11am the 5th graders arrived. A fierce army of 11 year olds who had heard about the Message in a Bottle project and wanted in on the action. Forty five of the little varmits turned up, chewed pencils for an hour and wrote remarkably candid letters.
12pm brought us to the big event for the day, a live link-up with the Pan-American School of Bahia
. Both schools had prepared short presentations on their local environments and what action they are taking against climate change. The skype link worked. The projector flickered. And six Brazilian girls suddenly appeared life-size on the white board. For an hour students asked and answered questions about their different lifestyles and hopes for the future. It was really buzzing. The connection held out, I managed to hold the camera steady and at the end both schools decided to work on a joint project about recycling in their schools. So we hope this marks the start of something bigger and longer term.
And by the end of that I was whacked. 2.15pm came around and we dribbled home to collapse in front of a Spongebob Squarepants cartoon. Tim and Lynn got in touch to say that customs had been procrastinating again and it looked like they were going to have to stay in Veracruz. Lula´s son challenged me to play computer games with him. But I was beat. My mind was racing and my feet were sore. Two days with two hundred students had taken it out of me. And I suddenly thought, perhaps this is what being a real teacher must feel like?