Let the Games Begin!

Thank goodness for corporate types with money to throw around! The PWC folks are helping me make a first [slightly less complicated] attempt at freeing the puppets. [not cutting the strings per se, just giving them a chance to move themselves a little]

Apparently, the PWC teams from the past [this is the third to come and work with FP] created something called the “Ulysses Cup”—a soccer tournament complete with entry fees, food vendors and prize money. As seems common around here, the first year it was just for students, the second year they included staff and teams from the foundation central office, and last year [when there wasn’t a Ulysses team here at all] the tournament was no longer open to students. LAME.

Y por eso, this year’s team wanted to start a new tradition; something fun, something entrepreneurial, something exciting, something for the students, by the students. So, over a truly delicious dinner [working with them has ruined me in terms of the school food. sad day.] we came up with a plan:

Teams of students work together to develop a plan for an income-generating party. The teams write up a proposal and make an oral presentation, complete with PowerPoint, to a panel of judges [not school administrators or staff] who choose which party plan will be executed. [Citeria include: creativity, potential for profit, thoroughness of plan/risk management, and of course the professionalism of their presentation] PWC provides the budget [1,000,000 Gs : I know, it sounds huge, and it is, but just for perspective, it’s only about $250] and the whole student body works together to execute the plan. The first 1,000,000 Gs they earn from the party becomes the prize money for the winning team. The rest [and the students I pilot tested the idea on were pretty confident they could make about 3,000,000 Gs] goes to purchasing something for the student body; sport equipment, a stereo, software etc.

[My dogged American individualism got challenged again here. We had originally decided that the profit above and beyond the prize money would be divided equally among the rest of the students. Even if it was just 10,000 Gs, that’s more than most of them ever have in pocket at any given time. But with every student I ran it by, the response was the same: “Why would you split it up? We would much rather use it together for something we all want.” I guess I am not certain what the response would have been in an American High School, but I have my guesses.]

Anyway, we announced it last night—and with the exception of the headmistress’s remarkable talent for turning absolutely anything into a lecture [the word in Spanish is “sermon,” and she probably spent a good 20 minutes sermonizing about the evils of celebrating birthdays without including the whole student body, etc.] – it went pretty well. I think it’s sadly indicative that even though they gasped quite satisfyingly at the budget and the prize, they seem wary of getting too excited. Like they can’t quite picture it going the way I said it would.

But, it feels like progress, and I’m determined to do all I can to get the puppeteers to hold still long enough to see these puppets dance.

Puppets and Puppeteers… or, Deep Thoughts from Home

Count on Ellen [one of my amazing little sisters…I have five of them :)] to come up with this one:

“As I’ve seen in my experience (with our student council and also with “taking stewardship” of the hay fields at home), we are set up in a relatively superficial system of “student leadership” or “being our own boss”–there is ALWAYS someone with higher authority playing a prominent puppeteer. It’s a bad relationship because the kids know it, so they loosen their grip on whatever influence they hold and become lazy–relying on that puppeteer to jerk their arm where it needs to go. And the puppeteer gets so set on the “system” of strings attached that they lose sight of the fact that they are only supposed to hold the limbs of the puppet upright and watch them move themselves. If a puppet becomes less aware of the strings attached to it and more aware of its ability to direct its own movements, it will move more (that just seems natural in my mind–I even picture the puppet growing muscular from use. And as the puppeteer twitches the strings less, they will find that their shoulders ache less from holding the system up and they will be able to enjoy the smoother, freer movements of their show.”

Who knows, the puppets might even come up with a brand new dance that makes the audience go wild and the show will be sold out for weeks!

A “Self-Sustaining” School

I’ve spent most of the last week working with the Ulysses team from PWC [thanks Marisa for the clarification on that] and I’m struggling a little with the semantics. The tagline for Teach a Man to Fish [the umbrella organization/network for this new paradigm of education for the poor] is “Education that Pays for Itself.” Hence, “self-sustaining education.” So, pretty logically, most people call San Fransisco a “self-sustaining school” and what we’re working on is a plan to create more “self-sustaining schools.”

But here’s the rub:

A school is a thing. Having no agency, no volition, no energy, nor light, it is utterly incapable of sustaining itself. To borrow a phrase from Nephi, it is a “thing to be acted upon” The school is sustained by the people inside it. The instructors, the administrators, and especially the students sustain the school. Their agency, their volition, their energy, is responsible for everything the school produces; tangible and intangible.

Especially in the case of the students, I feel like that agency isn’t being engaged like it could be. These kids are smart. They’re innovative. They’re passionate. But, here, they’re kinda stuck. I feel like the school relies on students for work, nada mas. There isn’t really a feeling that they can contribute much else. Right now, the school is actually making enough to cover costs, but just barely. In talking with each of the technicos, the potential production of the resources we have is somewhere on the order of double what we’re getting currently. Some of that gap is a lack of money, but much of it is a lack of productivity.

So, I want to try an experiment. I believe that if the students truly had some ownership in the school; were involved in the business development, the financial tracking and analysis, the budgeting etc; if they had some say in decisions about their education and got to do some of the problem-solving, they could quite easily increase production at the school by 50%.

My plan at this point is to form a student council and start with the least productive area of the campo [the huerta] working on the premise that whatever they can get that area to produce above and beyond the current level, they get to allocate. The money stays in the school, of course, but if they decide that it gets added to the food budget [as I imagine they will], that’s where it goes.

I think they will surprise us.