September 29th is the anniversary of the tsunami that hit Tutuila (the main island) in 2009. Something like 34 people were killed and one entire elementary school building was destroyed. Even though the tsunami did not hit our island, Ta’u, nearly everyone here is related to someone on the mainland who was affected by the storm. (Sidenote: everyone in American Samoa is related. My 2nd grade students can tell me the names and genealogy of their third and fourth cousins, for real.)
We were supposed to have an earthquake/tsunami drill today but it didn’t happen. Our instructions are to listen for the bell to ring 10 times. The bell is really an old rusted-out oxygen tank hanging from the awning outside of the principal’s office. The principal or the secretary or whoever hits it with a stick to make it ring. Sometimes you hear the bell, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes a strong gust of wind blows the bell into the roof and it rings on its own. Eh. So, we are supposed to listen for it to ring 10 times, then all the kids get under their desks until the bell rings again. Then we get in a line and walk up the road to the top of the mountain (the top of the mountain, and everything past it, is referred to here as “upstairs”; we live “downstairs”). There is a mountain trail behind the elementary school that Wes and Mitch usually take home from the high school. The trail is our actual evacuation route, but for some reason we are not using the trail for our drill. So that’s confusing for the kids. I don’t even know where the trail is, but I can tell you that if the ground starts moving or the water recedes, I am grabbing all my kids and running up the mountain–trail or no trail. Just getting to the road would take an unnecessary 5+ minutes, and then it’s at least another 15 to the top.
On the 29th, we will have an assembly to remember those who were lost (or they may cancel school–we are planning for the assembly but who knows?) So we began the month with a 9/11 assembly and we are closing with a tsunami assembly. September is such a depressing month. I’m on the English committee so it’s partially my fault; each committee is given one month out of the school year to organize events for the students that month. We came up with the 9/11 day, the tsunami day, and a pep-rally (even though we do not have a sports team, haha).
Anyway, just like the 9/11 day, we have to create banners and songs for the assembly. To introduce my kids to the topic, I asked them to free-write about the tsunami. Here are some of their (unedited) responses:
As you read these, please remember that English is not their first language, and that the tsunami never reached Manu’a (the island group that includes our island).
AA: the people is dae. the tsunami is skare. the tsunami is so so skare. I like the sunami. the sunami is come to September 29.
AL: Tsunami. Tsunami is so bad, many people died. My dad come to our house when we are sleeping in the house, my dad knock our door than my mom open the door, my dad said the Tsunami is coming in Manu’a, the tsunami is on the way, then we go up to luga [the name of the top of the mountain], we see down on luga, theres no Tsunami, than we come down to luga, than we go to sleep to our house. That is a lier people hwo told my dad. That was a lier people. The End.
LM: The people died. because she is scared. The people hike up the moutain. I love people who died. I not love the tsunami. Because he is coming to punch.
LV: people was scared. people was scared because the sunami is hear. I scared beacuse the sunami is comeming. I see many people was died. A lot many people was died. I love many people was died. The sunami is hear. people was sad beacuse the sunami is hear. people was scared beacuse the suname is hear.
SS: Tsunami is a sad day. Tsunami is come eat the pepole. Tsunami is so so bad. if the Tsunami is come eat you you gona scer. I scer my famile becuse the tsunami is come. I so scer becas the tsunami is come. if the Tsunami come the Tsunami come give you and eat. I the pepole is died becuse the Tsunami come. If the Tsunami come I can go up to the ECE [Early Childhood Education at the top of the mountain.] I say to my Pap! come the sunami is come and he siad I whant to stay orvar her. I whant to go up becase the Tsunami is come. I want to go up.
I know that this is a very serious topic, but some of their responses made me smile. (Especially the one that said the tsunami is coming to punch.)
We write journals every day after lunch and reading those is probably one of my favorite things. For one, I can look back whenever I feel discouraged and see how much their English has improved since the first day of school. I don’t grade their journals but I do look-over them and try to get them to self-correct. They are really adorable when they realize what they need to change. I can’t tell you how many times a day I hear “oh! I know it!” Journaling also helps them think and write in English. At the beginning of the year they wrote four or five sentences and numbered all of them. If the topic was “What is your favorite game?” then the majority of the responses looked like this:
1. my favorite game is volleyball.
2. my favorite game is basketball.
3. my favorite game is football.
4. my favorite game is volleyball.
Now, they write for the full fifteen minutes, and–get this–they write in paragraphs! Paragraphs! With related sentences! It really warms the heart, eh?