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  • Writer's pictureValpo Surf Project

Back to School!

As is always the case, summer has wound down, giving way to the new school year. The signs of its arrival were gradual at first-- shelves lined with notepads, packets of pens in every shop, renewed displays of school uniforms. It seemed a distant idea, and yet now it’s here, signified by ubiquitous haircuts, new backpacks, and a collective groan amongst our students. We always knew that the summer would end, but it seems to have ended all too soon. Our summer of surf was a blissful time for us all, as we cruised over to the beach nearly every day, taking advantage of ample sun and swell. We’d like to think that this summer will live in our students’ minds for years to come, providing a sense of peace in times of stress.

Peace out summer!

We hope they’ll recall the smell of sunscreen, the sound of breaking waves, the sensation of crisp water, and the sharp taste of mustard with a smile on their faces, motivating them to work as hard as possible before each Saturday surf session. These memories and feelings are the carrot at the end of the stick, so to speak, as the school year commences and surfing becomes a weekend activity. Throughout the year, we will continue to support our students in all endeavors, providing English lessons, workshops, academic tutoring, recreational soccer games, community events, and constant communication.

Mentorship lies at the core of everything we do, with constant support being our number one priority in all programming. During these months, our week begins on Tuesday to accommodate for Saturdays at the beach. We start off by running through the week’s schedule, finding areas for improvement, and establishing what needs to be done in terms of both programming and development. It’s easy to see our Instagram feed and forget that a lot of preparation needs to take place to accomplish our program goals. These days involve planning and printing the week’s English lessons, creating media content, communicating with parents and communities, scheduling events, evaluating the program, compiling student data, fundraising, and a host of other logistical tasks. Improving our ability to support our students is the north star by which all of these disparate tasks navigate.

One-on-one mentorship with a view

On Tuesdays, in addition to our office work, we also host individual English classes for our most advanced students. We use these classes to build conversation skills, speaking almost exclusively in English, while providing structured feedback. Lessons are designed to reflect our students’ needs and desires as they build confidence in spoken English and are thus an ideal vehicle for mentorship. Some days, we might help them with a particular homework or life challenge, while others may be spent discussing dream jobs, the origins of Thanksgiving, pop culture, or any other topic that surfaces. These classes have been a beautiful opportunity to strengthen existing relationships with students, while providing an educational opportunity not available at their schools.

Wednesdays and Thursdays are spent tackling an hour or two of office work before heading out into our communities to teach English classes. As with our more advanced classes, these are focused on spoken communication and accommodate student needs whenever possible. Students from several grade levels partake in each class, so worksheets, presentations of new material, and activities are tailored towards a variety of abilities. It’s difficult to meet the needs of all of our students, but we do our best to provide an environment that is both useful and fun.

Who's teaching whom?

Our students generally take English classes in their respective schools, but never with native speakers in a context that encourages spoken communication. This past semester, we primarily focused on self expression, giving students the tools to describe themselves and their families in a variety of ways. They learned descriptive adjectives, vocabulary related to likes and dislikes, and several sentence and question structures, eventually building family trees that allowed them to describe their families at length. The next unit will focus on similar goals, but will dial in the relevance even more, bringing the outside world into the classroom as much as possible through situational role play.

Who says class needs to be in the classroom?

English classes are not only a time to teach, but a time to check-in with students and address any problems that may have arisen since we saw them last. Kids come to class to learn the language, but they also come to feel supported and listened to, so we’re always willing to put English aside in order to take advantage of these mentorship moments. Classes take place after a full day of school, so they should always be an escape and not a new hardship. This is not to say that we don’t challenge our students in class, but to state that student engagement and support must be the guiding force behind everything we do.

The school year is also a time to see what our students are passionate about outside of the program and support them in any way we can. In the past, we’ve attended school plays, music performances, soccer tournaments, and other extracurricular events. We do whatever we can to cheer them on as enthusiastically as possible, letting them know that our work transcends far beyond surfing. Our program actively fosters a community in which surfing is not the end-all-be-all, but a vehicle for expanding comfort zones, overcoming challenges, fostering lifelong passions, and building self esteem.

Sports! Go team!

While it can be tough to leave behind those long days of surf, we’re excited to enter this multifaceted stage of our programming. We constantly evaluate the work we’re doing and are excited for the opportunity to improve upon our work last year, while designing new programs. This year, we want to double down on our environmental programming by incorporating workshops and events centered around marine biology, conservation, pollution, recycling, and other germane topics.

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