Innovation on Earth

Global Citizenship Resources for Innovation Academy and Beyond

Dominican Sun, Beaches, and Chocolate

Today, I presented to my students about my trip to the Dominican Republic. After I showed the last post about very poor families and their homes, one student, Mariana, raised her hand and asked, “But did you stay in a nice place?” Great question! Yes, I did! I also dined in some lovely places.

Sosua Beach

Sosua Beach

When Mariana asked that question, I realized that I have been writing about the culture and way of life so much, I haven’t talked enough about the beauty and all the reasons why tourists go to the DR. Most tourists go because of the beaches!

I did spend a bunch of time on the water, of course. I’m not a big resort person, but instead chose to stay in two small bed and breakfasts. Both were lovely. Garden by the Sea was a new place close to the beach between two fun beach towns, Sosua and Cabarete. It was a perfect get away:

In Santo Domingo, I stayed in an equally lovely place, Casa Sanchez, right near the Zona Colonial. I’d never heard of a welcome drink before coming to the Dominican Republic, but I think all hotels should offer this! Here are some photos of Casa Sanchez:

Most tourists who go to the Dominican Republic focus on the fun stuff. They buy jewelry with the local stone of the DR, called Larimar. It’s very beautiful. Larimar

Many tourists also enjoy the delicious Dominican food. The DR is known for its chocolate, and I very much enjoyed a visit to Santo Domingo’s Chocolate Museum. I got to see a cacao plant, learn about the process of making chocolate, and even try a bar of 100% chocolate (no sugar or milk at all — quite gross actually)!

All in all, there are many opportunities to feel pampered in the Dominican Republic. In addition to learning a lot, I also got a chance to relax and enjoy myself too.

Sunset in Cabarete

Sunset in Cabarete

Home is Where the Heart Is

ToysWhenever I travel, I love to get off the tourist track and connect with local people to see how they live. That’s why I was so excited to get to visit student homes to see how these kids live in the Dominican Republic. As I mentioned in my post about Dove Missions, this was a real highlight of my trip.

The students who attend Dove’s programs do not have a lot. They live in very small houses that are right up next to each other.

They make use of all the space they have, even the little alleys between their houses.

Courtyard

Some have been lucky to get concrete houses donated by international charities, like WestJet in Canada. Most have to use simple materials to build with. For instance, here you can see the ceiling in one house, and a window in another, made with steel.

Inside, the people are really creative with not a lot of space. I was really impressed with how much they were able to fit in such a small area.

Another obstacle they deal with is electricity and water. ElectricityThey only get these things intermittently. In fact, we were told that water only turns on about twice a week. Often, it comes in the middle of the night, at 2 am, so they wake up to fill buckets so that they can save it for the next day. They have to be very careful with their water, because they only have a small amount to use for cleaning the house, dishes, laundry, cooking, bathing, etc. The water is good to drink, but you can boil it to kill any parasites that might be in the water. I don’t know if they do this or not.

Another problem is what to do with trash. They don’t have trash pick up, or even any good place to put trash. Some people collect recycling and make very very little money for it. Unfortunately, people need to throw trash just outside of their houses, because there’s no other option.

So, even though they live in a beautiful spot right on the ocean, the water near their houses is not so clean.
WaterDespite not having a lot, the people in these communities seem very happy. They take care of each other well.

Positivity

They even have pets. There are lots of adorable puppies around, but also cats, birds, goats, pigs, chickens, and more.

We met one woman who lost her niece, and she was raising the orphaned kids as if they were her own. Many people in this area really help each other out in these kinds of ways.

FamilyThe houses get very hot during the day, so people gather outside to spend time together and support each other. Dominoes is a really popular game in the Dominican Republic.

DominoesIt was a little strange for me to be a visitor in this small community. I wanted to be respectful of their privacy, but I also felt that it was really valuable to bring back these pictures for you to see.

TouringMy hope is to help people in the United States and other more developed countries to open their eyes to the diversity of ways that people in developing countries live.  I don’t want to gawk or sensationalize poverty. These people have tough lives, but they are also just like you or me in many ways. If one of you sees this and decides to go out and do something to help improve people’s lives, then I’ll feel that this blog entry was worth posting.

Any of us could have been like this little guy, born into a place like this. Can you imagine living here?

Baby

Dominican Driving: Scarier than a Guagua

If you think driving in Boston is bad, you should see the roads in the Dominican Republic! There aren’t a lot of rules followed by drivers.

Truck

Basically, people just follow their own rules. They pass on either side, drive in the oncoming lane if the right is too slow, and go through red lights if they’re in a rush. It feels pretty wild from an American perspective.

In the Car

Most Dominicans don’t own cars anyway, so they have to be creative about getting around town. It’s pretty common to own motorcycles, which weave in between traffic, and cram lots of people onto a single seat. Everywhere we went, we got offered “moto taxis,” which basically means “hop on behind me.” I never said yes.

Motos

One cheap way of getting around town is riding a guagua. They are mini-vans that act like public buses. People stand on the side of the road and wave them down. For less than 50 cents, you can hop on and get off in the next town. They are super convenient, though not always so speedy, because of all the stops.

Gua Gua

The other interesting thing about the guaguas is the number of people. They squeeze up to 30 people in a van that’s probably meant to seat 15. One time they shoved me into a space between two seats and then stuck a board under me, making a temporary seat so that four or five could fit across. There’s always two people working the guaguas — the driver and the money collector. The money collector usually hangs out the open door and helps pull or push people in as needed. Usually the guagua starts moving before he even gets back in fully. It’s quite a scene to see these guys hanging out the doors of the moving vehicle. Here’s a little video tape of me in a guagua, though it was nighttime so it’s a little hard to see the full experience:

If you think the guagua sounds unsafe, you’re mostly wrong. In Gua GuaWe heard stories of bad things happening when people got in them alone, but as long as there are lots of people around, and the guagua is moving pretty slowly, it always felt pretty safe to me. Maybe not the most comfortable, but entertaining!

Being in a taxi was much scarier than a guagua. The roads are dangerous, even for walking. Here I am walking through an open construction zone! We needed to pass through to get where we were going, and there were no barricades.

ConstructionOn Saturday, we decided to pay extra to take a taxi back to Santo Domingo from the Northern Coast. It cost a lot, but we wanted to see some of the mountain area. Gas is expensive here! It cost $4.45 per gallon, which is about twice what it costs in the U.S. right now! When we saw that, we felt that the price we were charged seemed pretty fair.

GasOur driver ended up being a very nice man who had a different idea for the afternoon than we did. He decided to use the trip as a chance to give his 19 year old son a driving lesson. Despite the fact that we had barely seen any mosquitoes for the entire trip, this car was also filled with mosquitoes. So, before getting on the road, our “driver” picked up some Raid spray, covered the inside of the car with chemicals, picked up his son, and then stopped at a local bar for a few minutes (not totally clear what happened there). But then we were on our way, with the son behind the wheel.

Boy in Car

We never totally figured out if the son had a license. We did get pulled over by national police with machine guns as part of what seemed like a routine check point. My Spanish abilities weren’t quite strong enough to figure out what was going on, but we do know that dad said his son would be a great taxi driver “in three years.” No ticket was given, and eventually the police officer seemed distracted by a fellow officer who pulled up, and he waved us on.

We had a lovely stop at a ranch in the highlands before asking the father to drive the rest of the way back.

It could have been worse. We arrived in Santo Domingo safely, and our driver only had one beer before the second leg of the trip. The scenery in the mountains was lovely, and then we saw some interesting sights in the city. Like Ikea!

Ikea

All in all, I would have probably preferred the bus back, but that taxi ride was an adventure. And the views are always interesting, whether in the city, or in the countryside.

So, yes, I’d go back to the Dominican Republic in a heartbeat. Even if it meant spending some time on their roads.

Music and Art of Santo Domingo

Even the street posts are painted with art!

Even the street posts are painted with art!

I’m finally home from the Dominican Republic but I have to share about the music and art that were everywhere during my last day in Santo Domingo. The city is full of art! Walk into any shop, and there are paintings by local artists, and musical instruments for sale. Here’s a salesman trying to sell a güira, which is a local percussion instrument used in merengue and other local music:

Sit down on any restaurant patio in Santo Domingo and a group of musicians will probably come over and try to serenade you while you dine, asking for tips afterwards, of course.Table to table

The Ministry of Tourism hosts all sorts of free music events in the city. We got to see a few of them, and they are really exceptional — both the performances, but also the positive vibe in the audiences. This first band in the video below is Cuban, performing in front of the ruins of the old monastery of San Francisco. The second band is local, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the April Revolution, when there was a civil war in Santo Domingo.

These kinds of performances happen weekly, but there are others that happen every day. As we walked down the Conde (the main street of the old colonial neighborhood), there were street performers day and night. Here are a few talented examples I caught on camera:

A real highlight of yesterday was happening upon the International Santo Domingo Book Fair at the Plaza de la Cultura. I’ve been to the Boston Book Festival, and this was MUCH bigger. Book FestivalThere were hundreds of stands, with all sorts of ways to learn about the culture of the Dominican Republic and beyond. There was even a Korean tent! There were, of course, lots of books, but there were also craftsmen, food stands, performances, and more. It was really an exceptional event (click on any photo below to see it bigger).

Several of the local museums were also free for the festival. My favorite was the Museum of Modern Art. Contemporary art is VERY different from the ancient artifacts we saw earlier that morning at a flea market. Those date back to Taino times!

The modern art was futuristic and fun, and I found it to be very original.

I definitely recommend Santo Domingo if you like seeing interesting music and art! I’d love to go back and see more, but for now, it’s back to my normal life here in Massachusetts. I will be posting a few more entries from my Dominican trip, so stay tuned.Street Performers

Dove Missions: Connecting with Dominican Kids

I came to the Dominican Republic armed with questions from my students back home at Innovation Academy. I did find some experts to help me get those questions answered! With Kids One of the best things we’ve done since arriving in the DR is volunteering for a day with Dove Missions. We were picked up at our hotel by Martina and Juan, and headed to their youth development center in Puerto Plata. Dove Center They just built this center recently, and as you can see, it’s still in progress. But the first floor is really nice, with a classroom space, a kitchen, and nice bathrooms. We spent the morning working with youth in the program. I gave them the cards and questions from my students at Innovation Academy, and the kids were eager to provide answers.

It was really exciting to learn from these kids. My students had written questions for the Dominican kids, and they wrote their answers on the same page. For example, Therese, Hannah, Mia, and a few of my other students asked about school in the Dominican Republic.

I found out that students here only go to school for 3-4 hours a day! They either go in the morning or afternoon, and then spend lunchtime at home with their families. So, Dove Missions provides supplementary programming for the other part of the day. Dove art After a fun morning with the kids, the volunteers headed to lunch ourselves. On the way, we saw many kids headed home from morning school. Some get picked up on motorcycles. Here, it is pretty normal to see many people on one bike, all without helmets. Motos We ate lunch at a beautiful spot right on the beach, where we got to meet Martina’s family. A lot of my students had also wondered about the beaches here, and yes, they are beautiful!Nice Beaches Lunch was great, and her three year old son helped serve us!

After lunch, we headed to town. Martina took us to see the area where their students live. I was really happy to have this opportunity, because many students had also asked about their homes. HousesIt was really interesting to see where the students live. Their houses are very small, but they seemed proud to show us around.

They live right on the ocean, but it’s not quite as glamorous as other places we visited. Water There’s so much more to say about this experience, but I think I will have to save it for another post. Check back soon to learn more about home life.

After seeing the student neighborhood, we headed back to the youth center for the afternoon group. We also got to squeeze in some time for balloon twisting, which the kids loved. Balloons All in all, it was a really special day. I’ll be coming back to Innovation Academy with lots of answers from the students here, and I learned a lot about what it’s like to live here. Thank you to Dove Missions for the experience! Balloon Creations

Testing out the Underwater Camera at Sosua Beach

Today, we took a local bus, or Gua Gua, to Sosua Beach and tried a little snorkeling. We didn’t really know where to go, but opted to explore on our own rather than go on a tour or a glass bottom boat. The beach itself was pretty beautiful, but every minute or so, some guy would approach us and try to sell us something. That was a little adventure in itself, but ultimately, we found a nice quiet place to sit and admire the view. Sosua Beach

Eventually, we made our way into the water! I borrowed an underwater camera for this trip, and I loved playing with it!

Snorkeling

We didn’t see anything too exciting at first. Just the sun shining through the water onto the sand.

Sun

As we got deeper, we saw some coral, and a lot of black spiny sea urchins. I stayed clear of those, since I’m pretty sure they’d hurt to touch!

Spikey Black

There were some neat looking fish too, but I’m not so good with the underwater camera yet. Here’s my best shot:

Fish

We made it out pretty far before deciding to head in. The waves were pushing us out, so it was harder to get back to shore than to get out to sea.

View from the Water

All in all, the snorkeling adventure was a success!

Snorkeling2

Bus to the Beach

Today, I rode a bus across the island, from the south coast to the north coast. It took about 4 hours.

Bus to the Beach

The Metro bus was pretty comfortable, with AC and coach seats. Looking out the window, it was beautiful to see the mountains of inland DR.

Window

I even bought some local snacks. My chips came with a surprise! I didn’t try it, because it seemed like it could get messy. Salsa? Ketchup?Chips

And then we arrived! We are just a few minutes walk from the beach and I have no complaints!

Santo Domingo: City of Firsts

Colon

Columbus

Columbus!

Greetings from Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic! This is the very first city set up by Europeans in the Americas. When Christopher Columbus “sailed the ocean blue” in 1492, he landed here on this island. He set up a colony here over 100 years before the Pilgrims!

Today, I went on a walking tour of the city, and saw many firsts. Many of these places were recommended by my students, who researched this city last week, when we were learning to use a guide book. For example, Bella suggested checking out the ruins of the first hospital built by Europeans in the new world:

Bella Hospital

I did go there today! It was really fun to explore. It no longer looks like a hospital, and there’s even a bee hive on the side, but it’s still pretty neat to see:

Kadyn recommended that I see the Puerta del Conde, which I also checked out!Puerta del CondeHere’s me in front of it:Puerta del Conde

This monument is like the gate at the end of a long street. Once I got here, I found out that “the Conde” is what people say to describe the Calle El Conde, which is the main road in the Zona Colonial, or Old City. The Conde is really beautiful, a walking street with lots of shops, restaurants, etc.

The Conde

The Conde

There are lots of shops that sell art, among other things.

Art on the Conde

Speaking of shopping, Jidelys recommended that I check out the local department stores:

Mercado ModeloIt’s always interesting to see what the locals buy, and what the non-tourist prices are like. It seemed like a nice polo shirt was going for about US$10, which is pretty affordable. One of the most fascinating things that I saw at the department store was a women’s undergarment with padding to make a woman’s behind look bigger. I don’t think that many women in the U.S. would buy something like this, but apparently there’s a market for it down here!

BehindHere in the Zona Colonial, there’s an interesting mix of old and new. There’s fast food, souvenir shops, and ice cream, but there are also so many other firsts, like the first church, first library, and first monastery made by Europeans in the new world. Matt W. had recommended that last one, which has a unique history, apparently.

Monasterio de San FranciscoSuccess! All the firsts!

What will the second day in the Dominican Republic bring?

Back to the Caribbean

Today, I’m heading back to the Caribbean Sea for the third time this winter. This time, the Dominican Republic!

Caribbean MapIt’s been a cold snowy winter, and I feel very lucky. (Also, I’ve chosen to travel and not buy a house, designer clothes, fancy furniture, or other “adult” things).Cold and Hot

I took a break from blogging during my last trip to Puerto Rico, so all the beachy photos in this post will be from that trip!

The sun sets over San Juan, Puerto Rico

The sun sets over San Juan, Puerto Rico

This time, I’m getting my students involved. In class, we’re learning about this region of the world. So students wrote notes to Dominican kids, which I am planning to deliver and attempt to get responses. I’ll be spending a day volunteering with youth in between vacation-y time.

IMG_3082My students also wrote questions, and I’ll try to seek out the answers.

IMG_3083

I’m looking forward to learning more about Dominican culture. Speaking of tacos, I’m curious to learn more about what the food will be like. I don’t think I know much about food in the Dominican Republic!

Taco MakerI’m also looking forward to some relaxation time. Don’t worry — I don’t work all the time!

In Puerto Rico, we took a ferry to a smaller island and then rented a car. This time, we’ll be getting around with public transit. So, that’ll be interesting.

I’m also looking forward to seeing more interesting plants and wildlife, like I did in Puerto Rico:

What else will I see? Stay tuned to hear more about this adventure. My blogging hiatus is over!

P.S. Want to read more? A group of students and staff from Innovation Academy is heading to Costa Rica, which also has some borders on the Caribbean Sea. Read more about their Spanish study and exploration this week at https://iacsincostarica2015.wordpress.com/ 

My Day as a 5th Grade Milkdud

MeasamilkdudThis week, I spent a day following the schedule of my fifth grade students. I read a thought provoking Washington Post article in the fall that got me thinking about this, and I wanted to better understand the experience that my students go through every day. I’m lucky to work in a school that supports teacher professional development, and so, from 8 to 3 pm, I joined the group that my 5th grade advisory students are in, otherwise known across the school as… the Milkduds (The name comes from MLKD, which are the first four letters of this group’s four advisory teachers. The K is for my advisory: Krakauer).

What was it like to be a 5th grade Milkdud? I’m still processing my reflections, but here are some of my learnings:

1) It’s hard to bounce from class to class.

Health ClassIt was weirder than I expected to have to transition from topic to topic. When I was in 5th grade, I had one elementary school teacher. These students are in a middle school model, so they move from class to class. It was hard for me to switch gears so often! One minute we were in health class talking about the difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness, and a few minutes later we were in reading class talking about the earth’s plates. It wasn’t always easy to make those transitions.

2) I felt out of control.

As a teacher, I’ve never really felt like I have tons of power. When I experienced the day as a student, I realized how much of the student’s day is dictated by adults. They told us where we could sit and when we could stand. LunchroomThey told us what to discuss. They told us what to write. They told us when lunch was over (and I hadn’t even started peeling my orange)! The teachers at my school are great about asking for student opinions, offering choice, and doing a mix of project-based activities. And yet, I still left the day with the overwhelming feeling that students have to defer to adults all day to direct their actions. I wonder if something different is possible in a public school model, when there are 20-something people in a room together?

CTRBeing a student felt a little like being on an organized tour while traveling. You go from site to site and you have a guide to tell you about each place and give you suggestions on how to best make the most of each experience. It’s not the only way to learn about a new place, but the tour guide makes sure you see all the important stuff. Sometimes, however, you’d rather just get there and get lost fumbling around.

3) I wanted to behave… and also to be naughty.

Throughout the day, I found myself wanting to do the right thing, to have people think that I was a good student. breadmoldAnd I have to admit — I also found myself wanting to see what I could get away with.  For instance, in science class we were doing a bread mold lab. We set up an experiment to measure how fast mold grows in a cold setting versus a warm setting. I started to wonder all sorts of other questions. Would it grow faster or slower in the sun? Would it matter if I spit on the bread? What if we rubbed the bread on the bottom of the table before putting it in the ziplock bag? My curiosity and the desire to experiment were strong! It gave me a greater appreciation for students who resist following directions. And yes, I did “peer pressure” an unnamed student at my table to cough on the bread.. and Mr. Maier agreed to put an extra piece of bread by the window to see how things change in the sun.

4) I realized that it must be awesome… and really hard… to be a high achieving student.

In math class, we had a rubric assignment, which means a giant project that counts a lot for your grade. I raced through, finishing steps 1-9 in an hour, an assignment which my fellow students had been working on all week. The students were impressed, and asked, “What?! You finished the whole rubric today?!” extrememakeoverAnother student pointed out, “Guys, she did finish college already. She has a bit of an advantage here.” And it’s true. Even though I teach a humanities subject, I rock at long division and multiplying decimals. And the assignment was fun — we had to design original carpet squares, and then calculate costs compared to traditional carpeting. When I did well, and my fellow students were impressed, it felt good. Throughout the day, I generally worked faster than a real 5th grader. Teachers took time to read through text slowly that I could skim through and understand quickly. Overall, I noted that strong readers must get really bored waiting for their peers to catch up. When teachers repeat the same instructions multiple times, it makes students feel less inclined to listen, because you assume that it’ll be repeated in a few minutes. However, some students surely need the additional time, and I imagine that they might also get frustrated when teachers go “too fast.” This experience left me wondering how I can even better challenge my high achieving students while still supporting students who struggle.

5) I felt like part of a team.

Recess Fun TimesMy fellow students were super helpful throughout the day. I had friends to show me where the colored pencils were kept in math. While I worked, I heard students sharing tips with each other about what was coming up next in science or social studies class. My table groups worked together to complete the assignments. Overall, I felt a real sense of community. Students look out for each other and help each other make it through the day. Sure, sometimes students struggle to get along, but the overwhelming feeling that I had was one of camaraderie.

6) The students really appreciated having me take on their role.

I had no idea what they’d think of having me be a student for a day. I hoped that they’d forget I was there so I could see a normal day in the life. While I do think I saw a real day, they didn’t forget I was there. They loved calling me “Sara” instead of “Ms. Krakauer.” It seemed like they felt really good about having an adult take an interest in what it’s like to be in their shoes. I didn’t really expect that, but I was really glad about that part of the experience.End of the Day

I could go on about all the things I learned from this experience, but I’ll stop there for now. I’m confident there will be a lot more time to discuss this with my colleagues — I work in an exceptional school, with a talented, thoughtful group of educators and students. I love learning alongside these people… whether standing by the white board or sitting at a desk.

My day as a 5th grader will definitely change how I look at my students when they walk in my classroom. I highly encourage other teachers to try it out. And if you do, let’s discuss.

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