Goodbyes are never easy
Today was the last day of school at the National Institute for Special Education – School for the Vision Impaired. The participants of this incredible trip choked back tears for two days as we said our farewells to the staff on Wednesday and then learners on Thursday. The emotions flowed freely throughout the lodge as reflections upon the last three weeks at NISE were shared.
It was break time on Wednesday and in the staff lounge gathered all of the UW-Stevens Point participants and the NISE staff. We, the participants, all brought coffee mugs that represented the university, Wisconsin or America; they were distributed so all of the teachers would have something to remember us by. Professor Patty Caro gave a speech on behalf of all of us stating how much we appreciated everyone at NISE and what our favorite moments were. It was then the staff’s turn to speak up if they had anything to say.
When the assistant principal and 9th grade math teacher Mr. Engelbrecht stood up he thanked all of us for our dedication to their school. He then went on to explain a challenge that arose in his classroom when I was observing. The lesson was currency exchange rates and the debate was how to properly multiply and divide to get the most accurate answer. I agreed with the learner’s method but that was not how it was being taught. After two days of going back and forth on this topic I discovered that what the learners and I thought was right, was in fact incorrect. I gave Mr. Engelbrecht my U.S. to Namibian dollar exchange rate chart and showed him that the figures match exactly his way of teaching. He was very happy to have been challenged by both the learners and I, he accepted the challenge, researched it and reassured me that the best way to learn is from your students. What a wonderful lesson to take away from this trip.
Only one other staff member stood up to speak; Mrs. Louw, the kindergarten teacher that I worked with directly, cleared her throat and looked in my direction. She is a very soft spoken women that retired many years ago and came back to teach because she is so passionate about teaching children. She said, “I would like to offer my appreciation and thanks to Becky for inspiring me in so many ways.” All I could do was smile and shed some tears of happiness and joy. It was at this moment that I realized that I not only impacted one teacher, but multiple teachers. It also became clear to me that making in impact on someone’s life is the most important thing you can do.
When preparing to leave the children for the last day of school with them I drew many pictures on plain white paper with crayons. I knew that the students with very poor vision could at least feel the crayon pictures and have an idea of what I was leaving for them. I personalized each drawing with a happy, inspirational message that was personal to each child. In return, many of the children wrote me letters back, gave me small tokens of appreciation and shared with me some intimate memories of their time with me. All of these things made my smile grow and grow while choking back tears of love and sadness.
After morning break we, the UWSP participants, arranged stations including soccer, parachute games, fake snow, and chalk drawing/jump roping for the children to participate in. It was our way of letting them have fun with us before the departure. This brought out many smiles and allowed many moments to capture some lasting photographs with the learners. As we wrapped the activities up the students prepared for an assembly to say farewell.
The assembly was so much more than I could have ever expected. I was thinking that the choir was going to perform for us and maybe a few more speeches. Instead, we were given a show that included dances to hip hop and pop music, songs that were voiced over by some very talented learners and a skit as well. It truly was made just for us by the learners and presented that way, too. Tears welled up because I was so happy to see the smiling faces enjoying themselves. We danced, ate lunch and then the hardest part of the day – gave hugs to all of the learners that we will possibly never see again. It was hard to hold back tears but we stayed as strong as we could to make our departure as positive as possible for all of the learners and staff at NICE.
What I have taken away from this trip is that I have made an impact of the learners and staff at NICE and they have made an impact on me. I have hopes and dreams for so many of them now and see so many shining stars throughout the different age levels. I know that our presence at the school will last for a long time as we felt the presence on the first day of school from the last group that was there a year earlier. I have many positive and wonderful memories that will last for my lifetime as well. NISE will always have a piece of my heart.
It really is true that it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. Thank you, Patty Caro, for this amazing opportunity and words of encouragement and support throughout the trip.
Rebecca Wagner, a junior majoring in early childhood education at UW-Stevens Point, is blogging about her study abroad experience in Namibia, Africa.