This blog post was written by Sean Epstein.
Today was Friday, and it was our last day volunteering at Petersfield Primary & Infant School. I took a risk and volunteered myself to help out with the infants. I had worked with young kids in the past in my temple during Sunday school, but that was only for two hours once a week. This was a whole new level, as I was with three year olds for about five hours. We reviewed the letters of the alphabet, days of the week, and simple shapes. During the afternoon, we painted and created art. To my surprise, they allowed to me to keep all of the art work that we worked on as a class as a thank you gift. Throughout the day, I had flashbacks to my own time in preschool, which was a nice distraction from the work that is building for me when I return to UVa.
The school presented the group with multiple thank you gifts as a send off. Both grade 5 and 6 classes wrote personalized thank you notes to us, and we received a thank you from a group of students that we befriended throughout the week.
After four days at the school, I can say that our work was beneficial, but I also questioned if I personally was helpful. Yes I helped paint the wall outside the school and interacted with the students. But oftentimes I felt when I was teaching math to grade 4 or doing practice tests with grade 6, if my presence was more of a hindrance than help. In the math room on Monday, I was unsure if my teaching was getting across to the children because I felt they were more distracted with a foreigner being inches from them than trying learning math. On Thursday, I attempted to help grade 6 with a practice science GSAT test, but I am horrible at science and for a few questions I didn’t know I tried to guess, but I knew the students knew I didn’t know the answers. Regardless, I felt my most important contribution was just being there with the students and interacting with them on a human-to-human level, rather than a teacher-student level.
In the evening we had Shabbat services and dinner. We studied passages from Exodus for Torah study and had a small Shabbat service before devouring a beautiful feast prepared by each of our host mothers. The table was filled with chicken, salad, wine, potato salad and, of course, rice and beans. After Shabbat, the group chilled at Mama J’s house for the evening, where we all mentally prepared ourselves for going to Negril and relaxing at the beach during our last full day here.
The Brody Jewish Center, Hillel at the University of Virginia, is the focal point in a renaissance of Jewish life for the 1,000 Jewish students on Grounds.