If I so much as look at another computer I am going to scream.

Unfortunately I have to look at my computer in order to type this, so consider me screaming.

So I spend the whole morning loading Etoys 4 to the computers. The thing that the teachers don’t know is that we’re eventually going to have to reflash all of the computers, and when we do that, we’ll have to reload Etoys 4 again. But there just wasn’t enough time to reflash 100 computers this morning AND add Etoys, so I did the quick solution and will slowly reflash in waves, a few at a time. Actually had a decent time this morning- the sun was shining, I was playing music on my computer really loud, some of my students came in and asked if they could play with the computers while I worked and I said fine so I had lots of help and definitely plenty of company too.

About half of our power strips are fixed, thanks to my buddy, Faia. That was good. Energy was kicking. Plugging in 100 computers ends up being a lot more work than you think, so I really didn’t have much time to charge these things by myself, but I was able to get Etoys 4 onto almost all of them.

“Almost” because a lot of the computers are not in the condition they should be in. This is why I started to get a little bit frustrated (or pretty angry) with the teachers. Some computers were missing keys, others had broken screens. I think in the 80 or so computers I worked on, there were at least 5 with screens that were just totally useless, maybe another 5 with keyboard problems, and maybe another 5 that had random problems like dead batteries, or just wouldn’t start up right. So that’s nearly but not quite 20% of the computers I worked on that have pretty serious problems that render them beyond use, though they do not render them unable to be fixed.

So after four hours of installing Etoys 4, I take an hour-long break and go home for lunch. When I come back, the teachers have all left and the director has shut his door. And locked it. Which means, all of the computers are locked inside. We have wait nearly 1.5 hours for the director to come back and unlock the room for us. He’s angry at us for having left the computers in his office if we needed them. Miguel is mad at me for having left the school without telling someone to tell the director to leave the office open (as if I had any idea that the office wouldn’t be open all day long). I’m mad because I’m just exhausted of having to take responsibility for everything. And we’re all bored as hell as we wait for José António, the director, come back.

So I pick up a piece of chalk and spend 20 minutes playing “Hangman” with the kids, and they have remembered the game flawlessly. They also remember “7 Up” which they request we play after, but the director gets here before we have a chance.

The next 30 minutes is pure chaos. The kids are used to having the computers themselves, so we’re not used to having to sort with 100 kids about whose computer is what. So here we are, setting up power strips (turns out one of the power strips that Faia apparently fixed is NOT working), plugging computers in (oh, by the way, only about 50% of the chargers work too), and sorting out computers. The kids are unstoppable, 100 kids just yelling like crazy people. It’s impossible to maintain order because my voice is drowned out by the students just yelling. They want their computer, their charger doesn’t work, they have no place to plug in, they want to know if they can take their computer home today (a common question).

Finally, when the kids have the computers, there is a silence. Only about 60-70% of the computers are plugged in. Some students have to share with other students because there aren’t enough chargers, and the computers are out of battery life (though there are more chargers at the STeP UP office, thank God). The teachers have divided the students into two classes, and for some reason divided themselves not in half but in four teachers in one room and one in the other.

But there is finally peace.

Until Miguel comes up to me and says, “So, what are we doing today?”

And I am about to lose my head right then and there. I as calmly as possible say “Lessons 1 and 2 of Etoys.” He says, “actually, I’d prefer we not do Lessons 1 and 2, and just do a presentation of Etoys for the kids and talk about what they’re going to be covering.”

“Fine,” I say, leaving that classroom to head to the second one.

And that, my friends, is when the power goes out.

No joke. The power goes out. And then Miguel finds me and says, in so many words, “See, this is why you need to get us a generator.”

So we spend another 30 minutes giving class until pretty much all of the computers are out of battery life, and then, in amazing order, we are able to get the kids to put their computers in the local computer lab (a closet-sized space with about eight computers in it smushed together) so that we don’t have to worry about the director anymore.

And when class is over, I say to the teachers, “Let’s have a meeting instead of our teacher class.” And we agree that we need it.

These are the things we talk about:

-The fact that the computers are in poor shape. However, the teachers have at this point become adamant about letting the new sixth grade students take their computers home, just like this past sixth grade did. With class only once per week on Saturday, the students are doing the majority of their learning from home. Not to mention, if the computers stay at the school, we’re going to go through the chaos we had today on a weekly basis, handing these computers out. Here’s how we decide to ultimately deal with the situation:

–We will have three teacher-parent meetings throughout the school year. The first will be an informational meeting for the parents about the program, and about how students need to take care of their computers. The second will be an evaluation meeting in February to ask parents how things are going. The third will be a final year celebration, where students will turn in their computers and receive certificates, and parents, STeP UP members, government workers and other people will be invited. By involving parents, we can make things more clear.

–We will write “Property of the São João School” in big permanent marker on the computers, so that the students have the constant reminder that they will not be keeping them at the end of the school year.

–We will dedicate a part of one class per month on how to care for computers. This may mean doing presentations about how to care for the computers (or even what NOT to do), writing essays or even having a class-wide cleaning session with damp towels so that the computers look nicer and less dusty.
Miguel wants to give the kids candy in addition to their certificates at the ending party. I’m not sure why that is the case. He says it will boost morale…but I’m sort of like, what’s the point of boosting morale at the END of the year? If we want to boost morale, it should be at the beginning/middle of the year. But on top of that, I don’t know if giving candy is the answer. Oh, I don’t know.
We need more chargers. I can get quite a few at STeP UP so this is not a problem in the short-term. But in the long term, we have to teach the students how to properly wrap the chargers, and while we’re on it, how to take care of the power strips too (like not yanking them). However, I really don’t think it’s the students that are causing the charger problems. They’re simply burning out. Miguel says someone local might be able to fix them. In the long term, this might be a good solution.

-We need to plan a meeting with the director so we can talk about payment, these three parent/teacher meetings we want to hold, and next year’s selection process. The teachers aren’t sure how the director selected this past year’s students to participate in the computer class, but they want to have some say in the selection next year, which I think is a great idea.

-I brought about 27 working laptops with me this year. 20 of them are going to stay in the São João School on a permanent basis. That way, if former students ever want to come back to São João to use the laptops, they simply have to come to the school, ask one of the teachers and then they’ll be able to use them (as long as they stay on the school grounds). As students seem to live pretty close by to the school, I think this is a totally reasonable request and a great way to keep kids interested and excited even when they’re not at São João anymore.

That’s it for today. My brain is fried. Sometimes I wonder if a computer program should be this much work- if the fact that so much push is involved means that the program is inefficient and, in some ways, unreasonable. There are so many details, always so many setbacks. But I think about the kids yesterday that said they wanted to be computer programmers when they grow up, and I think about how for these kids, it’s got to be worth it.

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