I've been in Trinidad for a month so far, and since my last post I've experienced more and more of Trinidad's culture, and started my work at Bishop Anstey High School. I feel like the month has flown by. I've met many new people, spent more time getting to know other friends, and am trying to find more places and things to enjoy and explore.
A couple of weeks ago I went to the National Museum and Art Gallery of Trinidad and Tobago where I learned about Trinidad's history with petroleum, colonization, art, sport, the historical significance of the Savannah and much more. I spent hours in the building trying to soak up as much knowledge as possible so that I had a better understanding of how what I was seeing and experiencing in Trinidad today was a reflection of its historical roots. For example, in my day to day experiences I noticed how diverse Trinidad is. At the museum I learned that the variety in Trinidad and Tobago's ethnic makeup is a result of indigenous peoples, African slave trading, the immigration of Indian and Chinese indentured labor forces, and migrant Venezuelans seeking asylum in Trinidad. Today, this cultural and religious diversity can be seen in the number and variety of National Public Holidays that Trinidad celebrates–over 14 Holidays ranging from Eid al-Fitr, to Christmas, to Diwali.
I also had the pleasure of being in town for Carifesta XIV- the 14th Caribbean Festival of Arts. Carifesta began in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1952, and stands as a united celebration of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), while highlighting each of the unique nations within it. Carifesta is hosted by a different CARICOM country on a (roughly) biannual basis, and this year I was lucky enough to experience the culmination of Caribbean culture, fashion, art, music, film and food in Trinidad! Among the many events and experiences that took place, I was able to attend to a concert and film festival screening, and spent a lot of time in the Grand Village–the epicenter of the festival. I saw a live performance from the famous Trinidadian Calypso artist, David Rudder, steel pan music from Trinidadian pannists Dane Gulston and Johann Chuckaree, and traditional Indian Tassa music, among many other great performances by artists from around the Caribbean.
During the 2019 Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival that took place during Carifesta, filmmakers from around the Caribbean showcased their short and feature length films. I saw two films, a short film from Trinidad and Tobago titled, Sampson's Heart, and a feature length film from Jamaica titled, Ghett'a Life (pronounced Get-a life). Of the two my favorite was Ghett'a Life. It told the story of a Jamaican boy who wanted to become a boxing champion for his country, and in the process united opposing garrison communities. In the Grand Village, I had an opportunity to try new foods, see cultural performances, cultural fashion, read history, listen to poetry, see handmade crafts and goods, and listen to music from countries around the Caribbean. The second to last night of the festival was Trinidad and Tobago night, where artists from around the country were invited to perform Soca, Calypso or Parang music. My overall Carifesta experience was amazing and filled with a wealth of enriching cultural experiences.
About a week after Carifesta ended, I started my first day as a teaching assistant at Bishop Anstey High School. For this portion of my project, I will be observing and assisting in a number of STEM classes to gain an understanding of why girls at Bishops choose to study science or math, and what aspects of their classroom learning environment encourage or discourage them to pursue a science or math centered education. The girls at Bishops range from about 11-18 years old, making up forms 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, lower6 and upper 6 (US grades 6-12). I chose this school, amongst the many secondary schools in Trinidad, because it's an all girl's school and is among the highest ranking schools in Trinidad– meaning that students score well on their national standardized exams. The all girls environment was important form me because studies in the US have shown that girls who learn in a gender segregated environment learn better than girls in a gender integrated environment, and have higher engagement and self confidence in subjects like science.
In my first week I have been paired with a biology/environmental science teacher to observe and assist classes ranging from form 3-upper 6. In form 4 students choose their subjects and can focus their curriculum to specific subject matter, i.e. science focused, math focused, language focused, art focused, etc. The form 4- upper 6 students who I observe and assist with have chosen to take biology or environmental science, while the form 3 students are taking biology because it is a required course. As a result, I've noticed that the form 4- upper 6 students are much more self motivated, and are more curious about the things they're learning. The form 3 girls learn what is required of them, but many of them have no interest in continuing to take science or biology courses, and get distracted or disengaged more easily. In one week I've gotten the chance to meet a lot of different students, and in the coming weeks I hope to get the opportunity to talk to individual students and learn more about their experiences, motivations, and other factors that they like or dislike about the way their classes are taught and structured.