Hello to all of you out there following this amazing program!
My name is Kenton O’Donnell, and this is my first year as an Antigua Champion.
I still cannot believe that I am writing this blog while in my hotel room in Antigua. When I first heard about this program and decided to apply I had heard that there was a placement at a school for children with disabilities; I knew immediately that there is where I wanted to be placed. However, our professor and island mom, Dr. Sheppard, informed us that she would be choosing placements based on what she knew about us, and that in her 14 years of experience running this program, knew where we would fit best. Of course, she was right, and I am now spending this month at the Adele School for Special Children and Victory Center.
This past week and a half teaching these truly special children has been an experience where I am learning more than I ever could in any classroom. My first day of teaching was challenging to say the least. However, I am fortunate enough to be paired with my amazing teaching partner Kalyn, whom I immediately bonded with at the beginning of this program. I go into every lesson knowing that she is there to support me and that I can do the same for her whenever she needs it. Our fellow colleagues have already commented that we seem like brother and sister after only knowing each other for two weeks. As a person who becomes home-sick relatively easy, I can also say that having her and everyone else here with me is making this experience so much easier to be away from home (sorry mom and dad).
Today was also Unity Games day! We travelled to Urlings and Mary E. Piggots Primary Schools. This was our second Unity Games since we have been here and is a day I look forward to every Thursday night. For one day we get a glimpse into one of our colleague’s place of teaching for the month while also coming together as the team we are to teach fun and valuable activities to the entire school. Today made me feel like I was part of something that is much larger than any of us. This program has been coming down to Antigua for 14 years and each of the students can’t wait for the Canadian teachers to come to their school that Friday. It has really shown me why it is so important that we “push our practice” (a phrase Dr. Jo has burned into our minds) by immersing ourselves in such a stressful and unfamiliar environment that forces us out of our comfort zones so that we can not only teach these children valuable life skills, but to learn from them as well.
As I am writing this blog I am listening to the song We Are the Champions by Queen. While fitting for the title of this blog because we are the Antigua Champions, it is also a song that we performed at a talent show put on by the Victory Center tonight. During school yesterday, I was able to get a sneak peak of some of the other performances by students at the Adele School and Victory Center. Watching these students have the courage to sing, dance, and play instruments for us was very emotional. Although I have only taught these students for seven days, I care for them more than I thought I could. I want to know how their days went, what they dream to do and be in life, what they are feeling, and everything about them so that I can do my best to help them achieve these goals and simply live a happy, joy-filled life.
Tonight, at the talent show, I was able to finally see each of my students show off their talents that they have been practicing for weeks and even months now. One student in particular, Emmanuel, performed the song Halleluiah on the flute. If I am being completely honest it was the most emotional moment of this entire program so far. To see him up on the stage proving so many wrong when they use word can’t when talking about students or people with disabilities has inspired me to take this word out of my vocabulary moving forward and when I return home in two weeks. Each of these students greets Kalyn and I every morning with the biggest smile because they know that there are people who have flown all the way from Canada to teach them P.E. and Health, and that they are genuinely loved and cared for.
I lastly want to thank Dr. Sheppard for providing me and all of us with this amazing experience. I can’t believe how much I have already grown and learned after only two weeks. She cares so deeply for this program and wants to see each and every one of us succeed in everything we do. Thank you!
Kenton O’ Donnell
Adele School for Disabilities