At the start of this academic year 2016-17, the Bookworm Team were all set to continue in two schools in Aldona – the first was one of our oldest LiS schools, St. Thomas Boys’ Primary School or STBPS and the second was one of the newest LiS schools, Mae-de-Deus High School or MdD.
As usual, the Team contacted both schools at the beginning of June, just before the first day of school, for class-wise lists of names and to confirm days and time-slots for our sessions. MdD were very co-operative. However, we were asked to wait for further information before we planned anything for STBPS. A meeting with the Principal resulted in us starting our sessions within a week.
As per Bookworm regulations, MoUs were signed with both schools.
In July, the Team received a call from the Principal of St. Thomas Girls’ High School or STGPS, asking that LiS sessions begin again in that school. We had pulled back last year because of some technical difficulties of space during construction and such. Accordingly, teachers were met and sessions commenced from August.
Around the same time, the Principal of Auxilium, now returned to Carona after two years contacted the Team asking whether we had stopped conducting our sessions there. We had pulled out of that school due to non cooperation. The reasons were explained to her. She asked us to make sure that her school would be a LiS school for the next academic year. We assured her that Auxilium, Carona would be on our list of schools. This would prove to be sooner than expected, with the drama that unfolds.
Sometime mid-July, the teachers of STBPS contacted the Team and told us that the Prinicpal and Staff of the school were not happy with our work. Taken aback, we asked for more details. We were told that our sessions were too ‘noisy’ and that there was no ‘class control’. A school teacher used to sit in on each of our sessions. After the complaint, we made it a habit to ask the teacher their views on the session observed and each teacher told us that they found no problem with that session. After a couple of sessions, the teachers met the Team again and told us that the Principal has asked us not to conduct any more LiS sessions in that school. Stunned, we asked for reasons. When the same reasons were cited, we informed them about their feedback of the last few sessions. We then told them that as per the conditions of the MoU they would have to officially inform us of their decision in writing. This was handed over to us in the first week of August.
Besides the ‘noisy’ sessions, the other reasons listed were that the books lent to the boys were too low for their level of reading and also that the boys could not understand our stories because the level was too high for them. This made no sense to us for a couple of reasons:
STBPS was one of our oldest LiS schools – every year we share reports and feedback and did not expect to be rejected in the third year of work when the effects of seeding literacy and literature are just beginning to sprout.
Our reading data indicates that the reading level of students in STBPS is no worse or better than the other schools. Less than 10% of the population can read at a grade appropriate level. Care and caution is taken to provide a range and variety of high quality books that children enjoyed exploring.
The issue of story read-alouds being too high is so ridiculous, because months later students recollect plot and solution in certain stories, participate actively and the plans include rigourous modes of setting context, unpacking new vocabulary and such
But we are very aware that the open dialogic culture of LiS program and intervention does not fit the present culture of silence and rote memorisation and therefore we complied with the wishes of the school, collected the books lent (a few of which have not been returned at the time of writing this article) and left with a heavy heart.
The Team still gets asked why we left STBPS by parents we meet around Aldona. Some members of the PTA have been informed, but it seems that the school authorities have been happy to avoid the issue.
The silver lining to that large cloud is that the Team now has one morning free in the week and so, after informing the Principal of Auxilium, Carona, the LiS Team will go back to that school next term.
Our circular journey in Aldona and our presence there continues despite all these politics of school management because of two reasons
The students respond to the program, await the library day and are learning.
Dr. Mrs Maria Aurora Couto has faith in Bookworm and a hope for the community of Aldona and so supports the Alban Couto Library Program in Aldona every year with seed funds.
We hope that soon we will have a collective energy of parents and children who become active library users and ensure a culture of reading, because change will flow thereafter.