Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Entries from March 2011

Final Volunteer Blog

March 31st, 2011 · No Comments

Image taken from http://www.yourlocalweb.co.uk/images/pictures/17/13/new-hope-christian-centre-norwich-168780.jpg

As the title suggests, this blog marks the last time I will be writing about my time volunteering with the New Hope Christian Centre Kids’ Club.

With the weather being perfect outside today and daylight savings time allowing plenty of sunlight, the club took place outside the whole time today. The kids were free to play basketball, play dodgeball, run around, face-paint (which worked surprisingly well and did not end in disaster), or anything else they pleased. This lead to semi-controlled chaos. At one point, we actually got a 2-on-2 basketball game going. This achievement must be qualified by the fact that 1) It lasted about five minutes before it devolved into arguing 2) It only involved four people. Besides that, it was just kids running around for an hour while we all walked around and watched to make sure no one got into any trouble. After they left, we cleaned up and went home as normal.

As a result of this, I found myself without anything notable to say about this week. Which is a shame, particularly given this is the last blog. However, sometime that happens. After 9 consecutive clubs where I learned something interesting or noticed something new, there was bound to be a week where nothing happened. That’s life, I suppose.

Volunteered on 31/03/2011

From 18:00-20:00

2 Hours: Total of 20 Hours

New Hope Christian Centre

Supervisor: Duane Elkins

Tags: 2010 Andrew

Going behind the Scenes

March 30th, 2011 · No Comments

Last week at the Castle I experienced my first day without a major educational program. Although the regular “Life in a Castle” session was running, that is handled by freelancers who come in for the day to run the program, so it is fairly independent of the Learning Department. We didn’t have any Ancient Romans, Egyptians, or any other theme, so I spent the day doing clerical and preparatory work. This ranged from creating an invitation to a party for one of the interpretors who is leaving, to cutting wires for future torc-making sessions on Ancient Roman days, to checking data and doing publicity work.

In order to receive funding, the Learning Department has to keep track of how many students participate in all of their programs, and then they submit monthly totals to the administrative powers that be. One of my supervisors has to show that the programs are maintaining consistent numbers or drawing in more students in order to keep receiving funding, which, with all of the recent budget cuts to artistic and educational programs, is of the utmost importance. One of my jobs was to double check the numbers for the month of February to make sure that we were submitting accurate counts.

In that same vein, the Learning Department asks teachers to fill out evaluation forms following their educational sessions. The directors make note of any room for improvement and then all of the evaluations are filed away and kept in the office. I had the task of filing forms from this school year, and I got to see exactly how many programs the Learning Department runs – there were at least 15 different sessions, some pertaining to history, some to art, and some to special sessions that outside instructors will come in to run. I also noticed that several groups from UEA come to the Castle for various art programs. There was a group in that morning, actually, all still very hungover from Derby Day. After my filing, I went through the evaluations and pulled student and teacher comments that could be used in publicity material to encourage other schools to bring students to programs at the Castle.

Although it wasn’t the most exciting day that I’ve spent at the Castle so far, I got to see a lot more of how the administration of the Learning Department works. It’s all well and good to dress up in togas and make crafts all morning, but there is a whole different team of people working behind the scenes to keep things running smoothly and to keep funding for these great programs coming in.

Date: 24/3/2011

Time: 9.30-4.00, 6.5 hours

Total Hours: 23.5

Supervisor: Daniel Pounds

Tags: 2010 Holly

Church, State, and Lottery

March 24th, 2011 · No Comments

Wow, what an amazing couple of days it has been weather-wise! Walking to the New Hope Christian Centre this evening was an absolute joy. With the sun out, a nice breeze, and barely a cloud in sight, I could have walked another two or three miles without complaint.

Arriving at kids’ club, I was told we were going to be doing a “focus group” with the kids. This meant sitting them in a circle and asking them some questions about how the club was and what they wanted to see done differently, while filming their answers. The filmed responses would then be sent to the government in the hopes of receiving a grant for Community Action Norwich. The grant would go towards improving community programs in Lakenham like the kids’ club. I wonder now if the questionnaires the kids filled out the other week had something to do with this grant as well, but I did not think then to ask. What I was thinking: “How in the world are we going to get these kids to sit and talk for five or ten minutes?”

It proved quite difficult to get the kids to sit and talk for five or ten minutes. Despite being promised biscuits at the end and being allowed to sit on bean bag chairs (which for some reason they love) there was still chaos when the questions were asked. Duane got through all the questions, and he hopefully got the footage he needed. However, at no point was only one person talking. Also, he got some very unhelpful, not-serious answers. I do not think suggestions like “make school two hours a day for three days a week” or “lets start a pyromaniac club and play with fire” were exactly what we were looking for.

Some interesting information did come out of the questions. For one, none of the kids do homework, despite being assigned it. Hearing this really makes one question the reliance on homework in these kinds of communities. In addition, it sheds light on the environment these kids are coming from. On a similar note, nearly every kid said they would spend all their time on Facebook were it not for the kids club. Whether these kids should be on Facebook is one thing, but its sad to think what little structure there is for them.

Facebook could be monitored by the government

Image obtained from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/facebook/5046447/Facebook-could-be-monitored-by-the-government.html

When the “focus group” finished, there was a snack and a game of manhunt.

After the kids left for the evening, I asked Duane about the grant the group was applying for. Apparently, the UK government must give a certain amount of revenue from the Lottery to community charities around the country. It is this money that Community Action Norwich is applying for. Duane said there is some controversy among the Christian community in the UK as to whether Christian organizations should apply for the funds. Since it comes from a morally questionable source, and draws money from poor communities disproportionally, money from the Lottery is seen by some to be unacceptable. However, Duane argued that as long as the money is going to come from these communities when many play in the Lottery, it should go back to them in some way. Community Action Norwich is one way to do that. In addition, he said some recent research found that almost all government funded projects in the UK involves some money obtained through the Lottery. If one does not accept money directly from the Lottery on moral grounds, one must, by extension, accept nothing from the government.

I agree with Duane’s arguments concerning the lottery issue, but am more skeptical about issues concerning Christian organizations receiving government financial assistance. If an organization takes government money, it arguably should not endorse specific religious views. I highly doubt anyone would disagree with anything that goes on at the kids’ club, as I’ve never seen any proselytizing. However, if a kid asked a spiritual question, or a similar opportunity arose, I wonder what would happen. If the group acted in an explicitly Christian manner, and was receiving government funding, I would expect and respect taxpayers with divergent views to be upset about it in the same way I would not want my tax dollars going towards a group that spread beliefs about another religion. However, I also would not want the group to be constrained to speak on the account of government money. If those in a Christian or other religious group can never talk about their faith, the group, in my opinion, loses much of its identity and purpose, if not all of it. This conundrum is why I am skeptical of the Faith-Based Initiative program in the United States. While not unconstitutional in my opinion, the program provides an argument for why there should be separation between the institutions of church and state (key word-institution, I think “separation of church and state” gets thrown around and misused way too often, but thats a whole other story)

However, maybe getting funding from a Lottery may be somewhat of a solution. Unlike paying taxes, buying a lottery ticket is voluntary. If you do so, you are making an active decision and are agreeing to wherever that money will go. As long as lottery ticket buyers know their money might go to a religious charity, I do not see the problems that I listed above.

For more information about the UK lottery, visit http://www.national-lottery.co.uk/player/p/goodcausesandwinners.ftl

Volunteered on 24/03/2011

From 18:00-20:00

2 Hours: Total of 18 Hours

New Hope Christian Centre

Supervisor: Duane Elkins

Tags: 2010 Andrew

T-I-Double Ga-ER. That Spells…

March 19th, 2011 · No Comments

Tigger, who aside from being a bouncy tiger who hangs out with an overweight bear, undersized piglet, a couple of kangaroos, huffalumps, and woozels in a forest that spans a hundred acres, is also the name of my supervisor at the Greenhouse Trust.  The Greenhouse Trust was opened in Norwich in 1994 to educate the public of Norwich and Norfolk about “efficient and effective use of energy, land resources, water, transport, waste recycling and other environmental issues” among other things.  They operate out of a Victorian era printing office, which they have refurbished over the last 17 years to be a model for energy efficiency.  The building boasts two solar arrays, three solar hot water arrays, recycled paper insulation, cork wall framing, and a system for recycling rainwater for flushing toilets and washing dishes.

The Greenhouse Trust

They operate a cafe and a food shop, which sells everything from fair trade chocolate, hot chocolate and organic soap to organic wine, beer, whiskey, and sherry, plus various grains and other foodstuffs.  This is where I’m going to be working during my time at the Greenhouse.  My job is to run the till and to restock shelves, which I do with Tigger.  The shop doesn’t get many customers, so I have plenty of downtime to talk to Tigger about the Greenhouse’s goals and mission, or to read the plethora of environmental books and magazines that the shop stocks.

I expect this to be an extremely useful and rewarding experience.  Not only does the Greenhouse focus on two issues (alternative energy and fair trade) that I am passionate about, but it also provides a fantastic experience to learn about things like grey water usage and insulation that I don’t know much about.  It is a relaxed environment filled with great people.  I can’t wait to go back in two weeks to spend more time there!

Date: 19/03/11

Time: 10-2

Hours: 4

Supervisor: Tigger

Tags: 2010 MatthewM

A Day with the Tudors at Strangers’ Hall

March 19th, 2011 · No Comments

I’ve been really lucky in my volunteering, as I’ve had the chance to explore both Norwich Castle and Strangers’ Hall, and it has been a lot of fun. This week I helped with Tudor Day at Strangers’ Hall, which is really a beautiful building.  It doesn’t look like much from outside, but inside there’s a feasting hall, stone passages – very cool. It’s the kind of place that I would have loved to let my imagination run wild in when I was younger. Our ‘time-travelers,’ as one of the interpretors refers to the visiting students, this week were nine year-olds from West Earlham School, and they were supposed to imagine that they were Strangers from the Low Countries who had come to Norwich in the year 1565. They were welcomed by Sir Thomas Southerton, the mayor, and he told them that some locals might not take kindly to them because they were viewed as a threat to Norwich’s weaving trade.

Like the other days when I’ve volunteered, there were four rotations – in one the students learned about feasting and cooking in Tudor times, in another they learned dancing, in the third they got to try on Tudor costumes and talk about how we know what the Tudors dressed like, and finally their craft was making a loom and doing a bit of weaving. They seemed to really take to all of the activities. I helped out with the costumes in the morning – I was in charge of getting the girls dressed. So I would introduce myself as their lady in waiting and help them with buttons, laces, the works. We had a few dress as servants, and then a few fine ladies who needed to be tied into bodices, helped with petticoats, the works. Once all of the students were dressed, the interpretor would take them through all of the parts of their outfits. They looked absolutely fantastic, and it was really fun.

In the afternoon I helped with the weaving activity, so handing out materials, helping tape yarn in the right places, and teaching the ‘over-under’ method of weaving. It was a ‘fiddly’ activity, but it went pretty well. I think that it was a really successful day for the kids, and I really enjoyed helping. I’ve also had a great time getting to know the interpretors. Our lunches always involve several cups of tea and a chat about something historical. The other week people were actually debating whether or not the Romans or the Iceni had a better claim to Norwich. The people who work these programs are really passionate about what they do, and it’s great to see. Unfortunately the budget is being cut for next year, so there will be less interpretors to run all of the different activities. This means that Museum Services is going to have to consolidate some of their programs, which is a shame because the students seem to take to these days really well. It’s the difference between reading a textbook and getting to use your imagination to bring history to life, which I think is so important.

Date: 17/3/2011

Time: 9:30-2:00

Total Hours: 17

Supervisor: Daniel Pounds

Tags: 2010 Holly

The Tax Man Cometh

March 11th, 2011 · No Comments

Yesterday was my second day volunteering at Norwich Castle, and the theme of the day was the Ancient Romans and Iceni. This meant that the interpretors were dressed in togas or in plaid blankets with blue facepaint. I’m beginning to think that I won’t recognize them if I ever see them in street clothes. We had a group of about 120 five and six year-olds in yesterday, and like the previous week, they were divided into four rotations. When they came in for the day, two Romans and two Iceni tribewomen met them and explained the overarching issue that the kids should be focused on throughout their activities: is it fair that the Romans tax the Iceni?

I was able to observe some of the rotations in the morning, which was really great. The first activity that I sat in on was an exploration of life in an Iceni roundhouse using some props and drama. I was really impressed with how Pam, the interpretor, was able to keep all of the students interested and engaged. She explained to me later that the kids never really get to learn about the Iceni perspective in class because, well, history was written by the Romans and the Iceni didn’t leave any written accounts of themselves to counter the Roman accounts. So she had them talk about how life for an Iceni was different than life today and had them act out different jobs that would have been important in the tribe. She also explained to them that the Romans took half of everything the Iceni had as tax, and had them plan ways to thwart the Roman tax collector. By the end of the session, she had managed to develop some very strong Iceni loyalties amongst the students!

I followed this group to their rotation with “Brutus,” a Roman soldier, who talked the kids through what it was like to serve in the Roman army and showed them several weapons. He actually taught them the best places to stab someone, after making them promise that they wouldn’t use this knowledge on the playground. He kept it very lighthearted, but I was still kind of taken aback. What he didn’t bargain on, however, was the strong pro-Celtic sentiment that Pam had fostered in the previous rotation. As he was explaining how the Romans had conquered Britain, one little girl piped up and said, “Why couldn’t you have stayed in Rome? Why did you have to come take over our lands and charge us mean taxes?” Andy, the interpretor, was surprised, but started listing off all of the improvements that the Romans had made for the barbaric Celts, but this little girl was very persistent, telling him that he wasn’t listening to her and that no, the Celts were very civilized, thank you very much. Her argument later devolved into, “Well, you’re not a real Roman, because then you’d be dead!” After taking her through a quick lesson in British history and reminding her that she wasn’t a real Celt because she would also be dead, Andy said, “Listen, kids. Life’s not fair. But to make it more fair, get yourselves a sword.” To deter further Celtic uprisings, he then had the kids line up in formation and march around the museum screaming, “Left! Right!” in Latin (sinister and dexter, if you were wondering).

During the afternoon I helped out with the craft again, which was Iceni torc-making using wires and aluminum foil.

Image from the museum's digital collection, http://www.culturalmodes.norfolk.gov.uk/projects/img/imglib.asp?page=item&itemId=RB00679.JPG

This was a much less sticky craft than the Egyptian collars had been. After making their own torcs, the kids got to go explore the Iceni gallery in the museum. They all seemed to have a really good time. After the students left for the day, I spent the remainder of my time doing craft prep for future Roman and Egyptian days. Next week I’ll be at Strangers Hall to help out with a Tudor day. I’ve had a really good time so far and I think that the Learning Department does some great work.

Date: 10/3/2011

Time: 9:30-3:30, total of 12.5 hours

Supervisor: Daniel Pounds

Tags: 2010 Holly

Surveys, Dodgeball, and a Packet of Mayonnaise

March 10th, 2011 · No Comments

On my way to the New Hope Christian Centre this evening, I noticed a pub closed down. I did not remember seeing the boarded-up windows on my last journey, so I am pretty sure this happened some time this week. Whether due to local circumstances, the current economic situation nationally/worldwide, or simply bad business, it was a sad sight to see.

Upon arriving at the Centre, I was asked to fill out a basic survey for Community Action Norwich (the larger organization which the kid’s club is a part of) It asked simple questions about my feeling towards volunteering and programs I would like to see offered by the group. After filling out the form, I learned that the kids would be filling out a similar, simpler form that evening. The differences made me laugh, particularly how, while our form asked us to answer on a scale from strongly disagree to strongly disagree, their form asked them to answer on a scale from a very frowny face to a very smiley face. My first thought seeing this form was, “there is no way these kids are going to sit for two minutes and fill out this form, much less in a serious fashion.”

Well, I was wrong. The kids arrived, saw the forms, and started to fill them out almost immediately. One kid entered the room and said “I want to fill out a form.” In addition, it appeared that all the kids filled out the form seriously. I found this absolutely bizarre.

Even more bizarre was how chaotic they were after filling out the form. It was as if they used up all their attention spans on the form, and then felt they could just run around yelling and listening to any direction for the next hour. We attempted to play a game of dodgeball, but it devolved quickly. To make matters worse, Duane(the club leader) was not around for a good half-an-hour. Even when he arrived halfway through, the kids still were all over the place. No one was behaving incredibly poorly. However, they all seemed to be unable to concentrate on one thing for more than fifteen seconds.

Somehow, amidst this chaos, I had the longest conversation I have had with one of the kids yet, concerning life in America and what the different states are like. It was nice to actually be able to talk to one of the kids about something rather than just playing  a game, even if it was about something superficial.

After the kids had left and we cleaned up, we learned why Duane had been missing for so long. As it turns out, one of the kids, right before the club, threw a mayonnaise packet at a car thinking it would do nothing. The driver claimed it chipped the window, and thought it was a rock. Mistaking which kid did it, the driver took the wrong kid, locked him in his car so he could not get away, and called the cops. The other kid, happy he apparently got away with it, ran to get his friend’s mom and inform her that her son was locked in a stranger’s car. This was all happening right outside the Centre, so Duane came out to see what was going on. By the time the cops and the mom showed up, it was apparently quite a scene. Apparently everything was resolved, but it was quite an interesting story, particularly because it began with a packet of mayonnaise.

Volunteered on 10/03/2011

From 18:00-20:00

2 Hours: Total of 16 Hours

New Hope Christian Centre

Supervisor: Duane Elkins

Tags: 2010 Andrew

Volunteering: Conquering the Castle

March 9th, 2011 · No Comments

Last week I started volunteering with the Norwich Museums Learning Department, part of the Norwich Museums and Archeology Service. This organization runs several museums in the Norwich area, including Norwich Castle and Strangers Hall, and their volunteers are responsible for tasks ranging from helping give tours to caring for the museum collections. The Learning Department runs educational programmes in the museums, most of which are for school groups. The employees and volunteers in the Learning Department put on several events every week, most of which are themed history days for groups of students. These include Ancient Egyptian, Ancient Roman/Iceni, Tudor, Georgian, and Victorian days – every week is a different theme – and special programmes that schools can request for their students, such as exploring the fundamentals of archeology. Most of these programmes take place at the Castle, which is where I volunteer.

I was there during an Ancient Egyptian day, so many of the staff were dressed in sheets, wigs, and costume jewelry when I met them. We had a group of about 150 eight and nine year-olds in for the day, and they were divided into classes to rotate through different activities. They learned about mummification, explored the museum’s collection of Egyptian artifacts, and made Egyptian collars out of bits of coloured paper. I was helping with this craft – the woman leading the session would give the kids a short talk about the function of jewelry in Ancient Egyptian society and the meaning of the different colours, and then chaos broke loose as they were freed to make their own collars. At the end of the day bits of paper and glue were absolutely everywhere, but it was really fun. It was interesting to see how kids approached the craft: some stuck paper anywhere there was space while others tried to follow a picture and placed their paper very, very meticulously. I walked around making sure that all of the groups had enough paper, encouraging the kids, and helping out as needed.  Since I was younger than the other instructors I retained some measure of “coolness” with the kids, and once they realized that I was American they were very excited to tell me all about their cousins in Ohio or whatever connection, real or imagined, they could make with the States.

At the end of the day all of the students gathered together to talk about a central question that they were supposed to be thinking about during all of their activities. In this case, it was whether or not it was right for archeologists to excavate tombs. I thought that it was a really good idea to give them one overarching issue to connect all of their activities, and the kids all seemed to have opinions about it. The group was split half and half over the archeology question, and it was interesting to hear their reasoning.

After the activities wrapped up, the staff cleaned up and then spend the rest of the afternoon prepping for the next day and doing administrative tasks. I was put on craft preparation, photocopying, and random errand-running duty. Although it was a long day, I really enjoyed working with the kids and seeing them so animated about history. I think that this week I’ll be working the Roman/Iceni day, so I’m looking forward to that.

Date: 3/3/2011

Time: 9.30 – 16.00

Supervisor: Daniel Pounds

Tags: 2010 Holly

New Import: Capture the Flag

March 3rd, 2011 · No Comments

Well its been two weeks since I have volunteered at the New Hope Christian Center Youth Club. Last week, the kids in Lakenham had off from school, so club was canceled.

On my journey over to the centre, I thought two things:

1. This is the week we decided we were going to try capture the flag, a game that does not seem to be as big in UK.

2. Oh wait… it’s kind of cold outside… this could be… fun

So we did decide to try capture the flag, using two tea towels as flags. For the first few round we tried playing a simplified version of the game where each team hides their flag and goes and looks for the respective team’s flag without anyone tagging anyone. First team to find the other team’s flag wins. Given no one had ever played the game before, this seemed like a good move, and the kids seemed to have fun. One kid declared the game was boring when we first said we were playing (An interesting conclusion since he had never played) but was quite invested into finding the other team’s flag within seconds.

After two quick rounds of this simplified game, we switched to an altered version of the regular game. Now one could tag someone from the other team if they were on “your side” of the field. Instead of going to a jail or team base, as is custom, the kid had to freeze a la the game “stick in the mud” until someone from his or her team tagged him. This game went well for about ten minutes. At that point, all the kid’s attention spans kicked in and they began complaining that neither team was finding the flag. Clearly, they argued, someone cheated. Frustration ensued, but luckily at this point it was time for a snack break.

The centre was out of biscuits, but luckily the younger kids had been making pancakes in celebration of “Pancake Day” next week (celebrated at the beginning of Lent, and way bigger here than in the U.S., where there are variations of it) So we gave the older kids some of the pancakes. These were not real American pancakes of course, but rather those crepe-like things.

After break, the kids decided to play manhunt, as usual. Once again, this was quite successful. It was cold outside, but the kids did not seem to mind.

I am amazed none of the kids had ever played capture the flag before. The game was such an integral part of my childhood. I remember playing at least two or three times a week as a kid. Was it as big elsewhere in the United States? Anyone never play before? Is it a regional thing or a national thing?

Volunteered on 02/03/2011

From 18:00-20:00

2 Hours: Total of 14 Hours

New Hope Christian Centre

Supervisor: Duane Elkins

Tags: 2010 Andrew