Once we got into London, Caroline went to a meeting while myself, and the three girls headed to Trafalgar Square first. It was rather busy but we spent 20 minutes or so wandering around the square, looking at the street art and climbing on the lions. Since I had been in that area a two months earlier, I remembered roughly where everything was and how to get to our final destination: Ripley's Believe It or Not in Piccadilly Circus.
While it may be expensive, it's not a bad value as Ripley's is not wanting for activities or exhibitions to see. We spent almost 5 hours there and didn't read all the exhibits! There was also a really cool "Mirror Maze" (that we all got lost in) and a Mission Impossible-style laser room (which I failed at, due primarily to my size).
This week I'm staying with my godfamily in Sevenoaks and today the girls and I went into London!
I had a great time staying with my grandparents this week! It's been two years since I last saw them and in that time they have moved into a significantly smaller house.
My grandmother (former Cordon Bleu chef) has been having some health problems recently, but it seemed that the smaller house was really good for her! They installed an elevator so that she could move from floor-to-floor when she wanted and didn't have to rely on my grandfather for help. I got to spend some time with her alone at a coffee shop near them while my grandfather went grocery shopping and I hopefully put some concerns to rest about the new house, etc.
After the 15 minute break time, I went to go see a Y12 (G11) AS-level sociology class, held in a classroom with computers around the back of the roo. Just after I had gotten the hang of the whole “everyone wears a uniform” thing, this class was wearing “street” clothes. Upon further inquiry, the teacher (Mr. Harrison) explained that most 6th-formers across the country don’t actually wear uniforms. The lesson, on China’s one-child policy, had an introduction, small-group work, then a whole-class recap and the assigning of homework.
Lunchtime lasted 55 minutes, after which I went to a Y7 (G6) math lesson. One interesting thing I noticed throughout the day was that teachers were referred to as either “sir” or “miss,” even by their co-workers. The students would stand for roll call, responding with a quick “good afternoon miss,” sitting after the whole list was read. They did an interesting lesson on scatter plots and as I said before, the kids acted the same as their American counterparts do in the same situation.
After the lesson I got to sit down with Phil Harrison, the aforementioned sociology teacher and Deputy Head, to discuss the ins and outs of the UK system of education. The notes from this discussion will come later, as the discussion was an hour long and the system is VERY confusing.
Today I got the chance to go visit Blenheim Palace! Named after a town in Bavaria which was the site of John Churchill's famous battle. After he won and stopped Louis XIV's advance to conquer Europe, Queen Anne made him Lord Marlborough and gave him £240,000 a 2,800 acre park on which to build a house. And boy, what a house it is!
After touring the interior of this gigantic house, I moved outside to go see the gardens where again, the sheer size was staggering!
Today I got to visit St. Nicholas Primary School in Oxford! I was shown around by my mum’s cousin (my first cousin once removed) Harriet who I last saw when her family came and visited New York City a few years ago. It was great to see her again and I am very grateful she arranged the visit to St. Nicholas.
When the Base’s kids first walk in (on the 8-11 side), they do some individual work and then move into a bigger group to work on handwriting skills (this includes OT hand-strengthening exercises and other activities to focus and quiet the group). They put up the day of the week (along with other things) on a Velcro board, then moved to a dance activity (which they do every Tuesday). At least one student joined the mainstream class at this time, but most of the students combined with the other side of the CIRB and went into the assembly hall. Here they did some physical exercise, dance routines, and following of simple directions: the kids seemed to have a great time. Next was music with rhythm, memory, and singing games and songs. Some of the kids got very involved with the activities and looked like they were enjoying them! When the groups broke up again, I stayed with the younger kids and saw math and counting practice along with a size comparison activity. Then came lunch, break, and play time (students had an 30 min for lunch and 30 min for recess), at which point I moved back to the older group to observe and participate in silent independent reading, stations, board games and “choosing time” (kids get to pick their own activity). Finally, students were dismissed at 1450 (mainstream students left at 1515).
One of the more interesting things I got to see was the station time the older kids did towards the end of the day. Essentially they were puzzles or activities meant to challenge them, like “build a copy of this out of blocks” or “draw the mirror image of this design.” There was very little if any verbal instruction from the adults and it was fascinating because I could actually see their minds working as they solved the problems given to them. The board game time was also a valuable part of the day as the adults worked on social skills like being gracious winners and not getting too “bent out of shape” after a loss. There seemed to be a focus on social skills, which is extremely valuable for kids with Autism, and they made a point to go over how to behave in certain situations.
After the students had left for the day, I asked the adults some questions about their school and the system as a whole. The biggest thing they said needed to be improved was that the government and schools needed to begin treating students as individuals. For example, it would be unreasonable to require that students must pass English and math to leave school, since for many special education kids that is an unattainable goal. The adults also said that SNPS was very good at providing creative outlets for the kids and that often the school observes a week-long theme (this week was “Science Week”). Students also have the opportunity to participate in many extra-curricular activities, as well as having a fair amount of the day put aside for physical activity. Specifically, the kids in the Base went swimming once a week and horseback riding every 3 weeks, along with practicing dance routines and break times.
Overall I met some great teachers and assistants, whose patience and caring were boundless. I really did learn a great deal and I had a blast while doing it. I want to thank Harriet for arranging the opportunity, as well as the staff and administration of St. Nicholas Primary School for welcoming me into their wonderful school!!!
So this week, VMI (Virginia Military Institute) is out on spring break and they sent some of their honors students to Europe. The only reason I know this is because I got to meet a few! The Oxford University OTC was gracious enough to host the Americans for a bit of "show-and-tell" where Royal Army units would come and give pitches about their services to the Officer Cadets. Oddly enough, this is exactly what I got to see last week in Birmingham! In fact, many of the presenters were the same and surprisingly they remembered me.