Saturday, July 16, 2016

Kyonne R. ILR'18, Viveka Tribal Centre for Learning: Heightening Our Capacity for Global Service

My name is Kyonne R. ('18) and this past summer I had the distinct privilege of participating in the ILR in India program. After completing some introductory courses on gender, culture, language, and labor in this new context, I was able to join one of India’s premier non-profit organizations, which has set out to address the needs of the nation’s most vulnerable populations. This partnership was an opportunity for change makers from across the globe to coalesce for one singular purpose, which was to heighten our joint capacities for public service.
Kyonne and Dr. Ramkumar, his mentor and supervisor at VTCL
This year, the Viveka Tribal Centre for Learning launched a new, cutting-edge dual immersion program to increase rates of English proficiency amongst tribal populations. I had the honor and privilege of assisting in the management and development of this program – an endeavor which I would say was rather successful. Relying on my previous experiences documenting effective practices in K-12 schools across the U.S., I joined a team of educators in their efforts to develop innovative communication strategies for student-student and teacher-student interactions. After a period of both active and passive classroom observations, I hosted training sessions to explore strategies for taking this newly established English-instruction program to the next level. Throughout this experience, I felt as though my skill sets were welcomed. I felt like part of a team. And beyond our efforts to meet this primary goal, I was also able to engage teachers and administrators in discussions that I believe will continue to spur organizational success for this esteemed institution. 

Playing games with the youngest VTCL students.
Although my primary focus was on communication strategies, the overarching goal for this partnership was to build the capacity of teachers and administrators as they continue to meet the needs of India's tribal student populations. With this broader goal in mind, I advocated for the use of employee self-assessments as an opportunity for teachers and administrators to regularly evaluate their own professional development. I also discussed the potential benefits and challenges associated with collaborative teaching environments – hopefully so that administrators could make more informed decisions on how to utilize teams as part of their approach. Lastly, I shared some effective practices for increasing extrinsic motivation for students with disabilities – students who have the potential to be left behind if they aren’t engaged in ways that are palatable for them. Looking back, I think that my professors from the ILR School's OB and HR departments would have been proud of my contributions! 

I was surprised by how open the teachers and administrators were to my suggestions, but what I took away from this experience was the importance of honest self-assessment in all realms of public service. Although I had expected some pushback, my colleagues at the Viveka Tribal Centre for Learning welcomed my analysis for its potential to help them in their quests to serve a marginalized community. They were less interested in praises and more focused on developing their own human capital - an approach which I will adopt and carry with me for the rest of my life. 

Having successfully completed this program, I am still in awe of the school's teachers and administrators, who continue to make strides in the provision of high-quality educational opportunities for a diversifying rural student population. This experience has deepened my commitment to making a difference for urban student populations back home, as I use these and other experiences to prepare for a career in education consulting and nonprofit management. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Deepa S. ILR'18, Viveka Tribal Centre for Learning, Hosahalli

Namaskaraa! For the past four weeks, I have been discovering the magic that takes place at the Viveka Tribal Centre for Learning, in Hosahalli. This school caters to children, from 1st Standard to 10th Standard, who come from a tribal background in its philosophy and its practice. From the open classrooms and flexible curriculums to the prevalence of song and dance throughout the bamboo and gooseberry trees, the administrators and teachers at Hosahalli are doing their best to encourage young people to learn. 

My purpose at VTCL was to bridge one of the gaps of knowledge between teachers and students. I was tasked to discover and document the games commonly played by primary school children so that teachers could use the games to involve and encourage students in academic subjects. My challenge was to lend my outsider’s perspective as a non-tribal non-Kannada person to the insider role of a child. As a 19 year old playing with 6 year olds, I was looking to understand the creativity and imagination of the children at VTCL. I wanted to become part of their interactions so that I could learn about the sparks of inspiration that allow them to think of a seed as a marble, a stone as a destination, or their campus as a home. While learning about and participating in a different cultural setting, I also sought to develop learning materials to document the local games played by the children at Hosahalli.

Deepa with Elise ILR'18, Whitney ILR'18, and VTCL students.
In attempting to complete this project, I first and foremost found myself making dozens of new friends. Both the students and the teachers welcomed me into the primary school classrooms, asking me to teach them songs and games that I grew up with. After sharing my personal favorites, the Hokey Pokey and Wah, I did my best to learn from my new friends. I got to run around the campus with the 1st and 3rd standard students, playing Kannada’s verison of Tag: Ju-ta-ta, and Haalu/Mosaru, or Milk and Curds, which is a chasing game around two poles. I would watch the boys throw stones and seeds and sticks playing games like Lagori, or Goli (Marbles) trying to dissect the rules and understand what excited them. In the classrooms, I learned their handshakes and dances, all the while thinking about how to make these elements of their days relevant to the traditional subjects that teachers teach. I would sit across from them at lunchtime, smiling and waving to the kids who I played with while speaking to the teachers and my fellow ILRies, rushing back to the playground so that I could play one more round of Ju-ta-ta before classes started again. Each student and child greeted me with a smile, or a handshake, or a shout, “Deepa-akka” (big sister) from across the field.

 While my time at Hosahalli is over, for now, I will always remember the smiling faces that called to be “Banni, Banni” (Come, come), inviting me to learn about the mind of a child at VTCL. For now, it’s back to Cornell, but don’t worry, Hogi Barutenne!
ILR  2016 Hosahalli Team with VTCL Mentors

Befriending Locals

By Kyonne R., BSILR'18

Kyonne R. ILR’18 & Ijeoma E. GH’17 with a family they befriended at the Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens.

My limited experience here in Mysore has helped me to develop a more nuanced approach to the unsolicited attention I experience as a foreigner in a new land. I am a 6’4”, 250-pound Black male traveling through Mysore, India. I assume that there aren’t many Mysoreans of my size and stature - evidenced by the inaccessibility of kurtas in my size. In my limited travels, I have seen people who are as dark, if not darker than myself, but my hair, my style of dress, and the company I keep seem to be dead giveaways that I am not of this land. And for that reason I’ve gotten quite a bit of unsolicited attention since my arrival - attention that somehow I didn’t expect, coming to a region of phenotypically black and brown people.
What I often take for granted, however, is that the local population might be just as enamored by me as I am by them. Out of fascination, I have taken countless pictures of individuals who are just navigating their lives as ordinarily as they ever have. That is of course unsolicited attention for them as well. Since my presence is both unsolicited and unanticipated at the local hospitals and grocery stores, I can’t blame someone for wanting to take a picture of me for the records. And at the end of the day when I am sharing an account of my day’s adventures with friends and family, it’s always pleasant to have a photo to go along with it!
Taking selfies while waiting in line for the boat to the Dubare Elephant Camp.