A Washington Post article about…. Aumazo!

I’ve been reading lots and lots of Washington Post articles about the presidential election, as you may have been doing as well, but this is a different kind of article because Aumazo has been written up! This may be just what you need to read to get the bad taste of misogyny and political shenanigans out of your mouth.

I am particularly thrilled to see this new publicity as we prepare for our Friendly Aumazo Evening this Friday. I will write up a report of the evening here on the blog over the weekend.

I was fortunate enough to have been part of a conference call last week in which Jacqueline and I talked with Carrie Handwerker and Sara Herald in order to clarify details about the project and ensure that they truly understood the Cameroonian context before deciding what advice to give. It was a great conversation, and this article is the result of that work. See the article here.

I got to talk via FaceTime today with the group of girls  who are in the program today , and what a thrill! I’ll save what I learned for our Friday evening gathering (and my subsequent reporting of it here)… but suffice it to say that my mood, which has been somewhat low over the past few days because I miss kids*–was immediately restored. Seeing their faces, hearing their voices and their laughter, and discovering that they are looking forward to seeing me in January just as I am looking forward to seeing them, restored in full my sense of connection and purpose.

I am deeply grateful. Thanks be to God.

*Working with adults is fun, and I’m delighted to have one-on-one adult students, but I’m a teacher because I love kids… and I’m used to having groups of kids around me all day. Running my own business is very different. I look forward to a future in which I have groups of kids (whether homeschool kids or kids in an afterschool program) each and every day. 

A Friendly Aumazo Evening – this Friday October 14th

Here’s the letter I sent out to invite people to our evening this Friday. If you are in the DC area, please consider attending! It will be an informal affair at Jacqueline’s house–email me with your RSVP and we can talk.

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Dear friends,

As many of you know, I was in Cameroon in August working with a small non-profit (Aumazo, Inc) that is working to build a high school for girls in a rural area in the West. I was there to train a group of teachers as we launched an after-school tutoring program for 7th and 8th graders — to help them prepare for the exam that’s needed to actually get into high school.
So many people have expressed interest in hearing more about the time I spent there, and about the program as a whole, that I suggested we host an evening event to talk about the program and show photos and videos of our time there, as well as provide an update about how the program is going now.
We will be serving Cameroonian appetizers/finger food (and let me tell you, I had some of the best food of my life while I was there)!  Please come, and share the invitation with your friends!
Here is the invitation:
Come join Jacqueline Audigé, Founder and CEO of Aumazo Inc., and Anna Gilcher, PhD, Academic Director, for a Friendly Aumazo Evening. We will share photos and videos of our Tutoring Program “It Makes Good/Ça fait du bien” with you. We will discuss and update you on the progress of the program since its launch in August 2016. Bring family, friends, and those who could help us find funding for the project.
 
Friday, October 14th 
6:30 pm (Appetizers); 7:00 pm (Start of program)
 
RSVP by October 11 to anna.gilcher (at) gmail.com
If you can’t come but would like to find out how you can show your support, contact me and we’ll figure out a way for you to be involved. One way that we would particularly appreciate your help is if you have good funding contacts–as most of you know, we have been running this program with no real funding, and as successful as we have been, we do need some more significant backing.
Warmly,
Anna

Comprehensible Midwest!

Rachelle and I are posing here with Grant Boulanger, co-founder of the conference

On Saturday, Rachelle and I presented at the inaugural Comprehensible Midwest (CIMW) conference, once in the morning and a double session in the afternoon. Our presentation was a repeat of the one we did last July at NTPRS in Reno: “Creating Diversity-Positive Characters in your TPRS/CI Stories.” I was really impressed with the organization of this conference. I’ve been to a lot of conferences in my time and have done a good bit of event organizing myself, and it’s hard to believe that it was organized so quickly or that this was the first time the conference had happened. Everything was beautifully set up, from the emails we received before hand to the fully hyperlinked schedule to the logo to the t-shirts many of the organizers were wearing. In addition, every participant received two coupons for free books, one from TPRS Publishing and the other from TPRS Books, and we were also offered free online goodies from Fluency Fast.

I was deeply honored to have been asked to be part of the first-ever CIMW conference, and for our session to speak directly to core elements of the mission, which is as follows:

The Comprehensible Midwest Conference empowers teachers to create joyful, effective and equitable language acquisition through instruction based on comprehensible input. As a collaborative community, we safely support teachers to connect with each other and to teach in ways that respond to students’ cultural and linguistic identities.

Our guiding principle in offering this session (and in the work we do as teachers) is that Students deserve to see positive representations of themselves and those they love… both as they are now and as they could be in the future.

We can’t know what a student (or any human) is walking into the room with or as. Who is this person now? What is he struggling with? What are the different pieces of her identity? Who will she be in the future? Who is in the student’s circle of care—that is, who is important in his life? Our classroom needs to create space. When our students walk into the room, they need to know that all humans will be honored and upheld.

This means that we must be attentive to our own bias as we work to create a safe space for every one of our students to learn and grow and become. As Rachelle said on Saturday, when we walk into a situation, the question to ask rather than “do I have bias?” is “what is my bias?” This is the deep work of justice that begins in each one of us.

Although the numbers in our sessions were small, the feedback was excellent and there was a depth to the sharing that I found powerful. People were grateful to have a space in which to explore these questions and to have clear and practical steps to take to improve their practice. One woman, a committed diversity-positive educator herself, thanked us for our presentation and explained that she had not been expecting to learn a lot that was new, since she has long been engaged in this work—but she learned a lot. I know I have learned and grown daily in the collaboration I have had with Rachelle over the past seven years, and working on this presentation/workshop has pushed me forward as well.

In the evening we went to a celebration party at Haiyun’s house (one of the organizers), and I found myself having a depth of conversation there that is rare at parties.

I’m still glowing from being in Milwaukee—and feeling awake, enlivened, and grateful.

If you’re a language teacher in the DC area and you’re eager to participate in one of our diversity workshops, consider signing up for our 6-part job-embedded professional development series on “Teaching With Comprehensible Input: The Why, What, and How” — we will not only be giving a more in-depth version of this workshop, but we will be weaving this diversity-positive approach into the entire series.

Photos galore! …and now’s the time to donate

We still don’t have any big-money funding for this project. Do you have a few dollars to share? If so, please donate tomorrow (Wednesday, September 21) during the Global Giving Bonus day starting at 6:00 am EDT and ending at 11:59:59 pm EDT. You can click on the link here. (And you can read Jacqueline’s report here for a really interesting update on how the project has been unfolding.)

I promised photos before I left Cameroon.

Here are photos of our final day of the training program. In the photo above you can see the girls gathering around to see their pictures as shown on my blog. Below is the ceremonial moment where Jacqueline passed out notebooks and pens.

Over the course of our week together with these seventeen students, we had completed the “Circle of community” (using InterPlay), the “Circle of learning” (using All Kinds of Minds), and the “Circles of Tutoring”–the reading and math circles for French/History/Geography, and Bryce Hedstrom’s Special Person for English.

What we didn’t realize is that there was one more circle we needed to complete before the training program could come to a close–the “Circle of Dance.” We soon realized that we could not end the training program without it! We put music on in the car and began the dance…

No one could resist. Smaller children from nearby houses came to see… and to join the circle of dance as well.

I wonder… will our school be built by the time these kids are ready for high school?

I know I will do everything in my power to make sure it is.

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YES!

I’ve been back from Cameroon for as long as I was in there—two and a half weeks. In that time, I’ve been wondering: What is the role of this blog? What do I have to say?

My blog title was (and is) “Changing (My) Life with French”… which is in great part the work I’m doing with Aumazo… but not only that.

So, today, I’m going to dip my toe in just a little bit and attempt to discover what this blog needs to become.

The theme of this time has been the universe saying YES. Here are a few highlights of my life since my return:

  1. People have been flocking to my independent French classes! I’ve got homeschool students and then also other kids and adults, some even via Facetime. I have a deep sense of rightness. And a good bit of income as well. YES!
  2. Rachelle Adams (see her website here), my dear friend and colleague who left Barrie at the same time as I did, and I have been invited to re-present our presentation from NTRPS at the CIMW (Comprehensible MidWest) conference this coming weekend: “Building Diversity-Positive Characters in TPRS/CI Stories.” YES!
  3. Rachelle and I are offering a 6-session monthly professional development series entitled “Teaching with Comprehensible Input: The Why, What, and How” based on Michelle Kindt’s series in Hershey, PA by the same name. (See description here.) We’ve been looking for a place to hold it, and suddenly we’re getting a YES from a local charter school (soon to be named!). YES!
  4. I get to schedule yoga during the day during my work week. That’s a definite YES! And I’m working for Willow Street Yoga Center in exchange for the yoga. Even more YES.
  5. The work in Cameroon continues to be impactful and enriching. We are scheduling biweekly Skype conversations with the teachers. The (now 33!) girls are working hard and are begging for more. (I’ll post Jacqueline’s report for Global Giving in my next post.) YES!
  6. And now for the most astonishing thing–yet another moment to give me goosebumps about the work I’m doing with Aumazo. A few days after I got home, I walked across the street to talk with Jeanne. She works as a nanny for my neighbors. Since she’s a French speaker, my husband and I had both briefly spoken with her before and had learned that she was from Cameroon, so I was looking forward to letting her know that I’d been in her country. It turns out that she is not only from Cameroon, but she is from Bafang! She grew up and spent most of her life right where I was staying. She went to school at the Collège Saint Paul. What a small world! YES! Today, I went over to the house to show her pictures from my time in Bafang and Bankondji and I brought my friend Hortense, who is also Cameroonian (from Bafoussam). What a joy. 
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    Surrounded by the warmth of Cameroonian women! Hortense is on the left, and Jeanne is on the right.

    (Hortense’s husband Michel, a lawyer who does civil rights work in Cameroon, treated us to a wonderful meal in Yaoundé on our last day in Cameroon. I first heard about Michel and Hortense in a sermon at my church a few years ago, and have been fortunate enough to become their friend.) 

YES!

Can you change the world by starting to build a school?

In the photo above: the seven of us celebrate the end of the week with students—and the training program as a whole—by making shapes à la InterPlay. (Thank you, Lydie, for the photo via Facebook!) Left to right: Olivier, Patric, Jacqueline, me, Thierry, Durand, and Lydie.

Yesterday was a day for good-byes. Jacqueline, Olivier, and I drove to Bankondji to pick up Lydie and meet with parents about the program. I will post pictures later—maybe when I get home—our flight leaves Yaoundé on Wednesday. It was a joyful time. Then, we returned to Bafang and had our last gathering yesterday as a team of seven (Jacqueline, Olivier, Lydie, Patric, Thierry, Durand, and I)—first a meeting together to discuss details of schedule and contracts, and then a feast in the evening prepared by the incredible cook Jeannette and hosted by le Père Sylvestre. I was thrilled to get to meet Durand’s wife and 2-month daughter. It was a day filled with blessings.

Today we pack up and leave for Yaoundé, and our time in Bafang and Bankondji is over for this trip.

In my reflection today, I offer some thoughts about the founder and CEO of Aumazo, Jacqueline Audigé, with whom I have had the deep privilege of working intensively over the past two weeks, and less intensively over the past three years.

Jacqueline’s comfort in what would seem to be highly disparate worlds is quite striking. She moves from world to world with both great flexibility and great consistency. She is always the same person and says the same kinds of things, wherever she is, yet at the same time she shows that she belongs in every situation.

For example:

She speaks in Fe’fe’, the local language, with the women of Bankondji as they come from the fields, checking in with them about their daughters’ experience in the program so far. She dances with the students during the closing party. She is invited by the Bishop to have a drink at his residence and spends the evening talking and laughing with him (and she includes me in the experience). She walks into the tiny earth house in Bankondji where she was born, sits down on the chair that was there when she was a child, and describes her memories of the different conversations she remembers having with her father. She is close friends with the Rector of the Cathedral of Bafang. She founded a non-profit and is building a school in her native village, and she has persisted and made significant progress over eleven years despite not yet receiving even one grant. She is the mother of five children, ages 13 to 33. She is friends with the Sous-Préfet of Bandja and visits him in his home. She lives in the US, was born in Cameroon, and holds French citizenship. She is Catholic, goes to church each week, but hasn’t taken communion since she married a divorced man 25 years ago. She speaks truth to power. She takes laundry off the line when she sees that the women who do the housework at the mission are busy, and she regularly asks for a broom to sweep the floors. She is the owner of a construction company and talks with clients about what the company can build for them. She listens closely when people speak, and both accepts people where they are and pushes them to be better. She drives a Lexus when she is at home in the US. She dresses up to go to the office of the Procureur to see about a problem with the land she has bought in order to build a model house, but when she sees that others in the office have already been waiting since the night before, she waits for four hours without giving into the temptation to pull out her wallet or try to find a short cut. (After all, she says, if she is here to change the lives of ordinary people, she needs to stand in true solidarity and know what their life is like.)

Jacqueline is concentrating on girls’ education not because she believes the narrative that girls’ education isn’t important to parents here (that is absolutely not the experience she has had), but rather because 1) the bathroom issue is a bigger one for girls and disproportionately affects their education—and she immediately saw this as something highly fixable; and 2) the international community’s attention to the apparent plight of girls’ education means that there is money available to make this happen. Her plan is, however, not to stop there—she is starting with the girls, but then she will include everyone else. Her ultimate goal is to transform the education system in Cameroon.

After the two weeks we have spent together, I believe that she will be able to do this, because she knows how to build a solid foundation—and her very being is part of what gives this foundation. It’s not for nothing that she has spent eleven years on this project already. Everything she has put into this project has been true and honest and full of love. The people who have gathered around to help have themselves been transformed—and I absolutely include myself in that number. She has sensed, as I have as well, that this is a project that belongs not just to her or to us, but to God, and the timing is God’s timing. When I witness the openness and growth of the teachers and the girls with whom we spent these past two weeks, I cannot doubt this for a moment. Our world has already been changed. And this is only the beginning.

Ça fait du bien!

Today’s blog title can be translated as “it feels good,” or “it does good.” It’s what the girls started saying every time we breathed deeply, à la InterPlay, because breathing deeply does FEEL good, and breathing also DOES good for the body, the mind, and the soul. Once it became something we were saying every time we breathed deeply, I started hearing the girls say it to each other, of their own accord. Yesterday Olivier suggested that “Ça fait du bien” should perhaps be the title of our tutoring program. After all, the program does good—collectively and individually— and it feels good, too—to the girls, to us, and I hope to those of you who are reading about it.

The photo above is of our wonderfully skilled, talented, and warm-hearted coordinator Lydie… and me, of course. I am so grateful for her!

Yesterday was the last day of our two-week training program. The morning went really well, and I was filled with gratitude and energy and a sense of deep connection with the entire group— the seventeen girls, the four teachers, and of course Jacqueline and Olivier. As I think back over the ten days we spent together—five of those days with the students—I am amazed at what we were able to accomplish:

As a group of adults:

  1. We created community and trust among the seven adults using InterPlay forms—starting with the first day and then in smaller increments on the following days. We also fostered a sense of community using the very simple formula of sitting in a circle each morning and greeting each other by asking Comment ça va? (how are you?) and Quoi de neuf? (what’s new?).
  2. We learned about/investigated our own learning profiles using the All Kinds of Minds learning framework.
  3. We took the understanding of the learning framework and brought it to bear on our understanding of students. Based on observations of student behavior, what might the students’ strengths be? Where could their weaknesses lie? And do we know the students well enough to know what their affinities are?
  4. Learned about and practiced the Literature circle.
  5. Learned about and practiced the Math circle.

Together with the students:

  1. Welcomed the students and played together using InterPlay forms in order to create a real sense of community and connection. We also put into place the same practice of sitting in a circle and greeting each other with Comment ça va? and Quoi de neuf?
  2. Taught/investigated the All Kinds of Minds constructs.
  3. Each student used the constructs to get a strength of her own strengths and her own learning profile.
  4. Taught and experienced the Literature circle.
  5. Taught and experienced the roles of the Math circle.
  6. Provided books and gave time for free voluntary reading.
  7. Did journaling – ten minutes per day – with understanding that students would not be judged on what they wrote, and that they could write full sentences, take notes, draw, or in any other way express their thoughts on paper.
  8. Did the “Special Person” in English.
  9. Gave appreciations and thank-yous around a closing circle.
  10. Ate, drank, and DANCED together.

As you know if you’ve been reading this blog, our entire program was based on the concept of circles: Circle of Community, Circle of Learning, and Circle of Tutoring. At the end, when we began to dance together in the party after the end of our official time together, we realized there was a final Circle we had neglected to name in advance: the Circle of Dance. I was particularly thrilled to see the girls invite the teachers in to dance with them as well. Such fun! And so different from the way teachers and students usually interact in the current system of education here in Cameroon.

Ça a vraiment fait du bien!

A photo journal about today’s program

Thursday, 9:36 pm

Tonight I don’t have a lot of words. I imagine I will have more tomorrow when our training program officially closes. So rather than write a blog entry, I’m going to share a lot of photos. I think you’ll be able to see for yourself how much has changed in our four days with the students.

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Diving into the literature circle
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Each girl has a role in the discussion; the teacher is there to help when needed
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Great work is being done!
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Teachers circulate while the girls help each other figure things out
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The role of the illustrator
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Introduction to the math circle
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Listening to the explanation of the different roles
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The math problem – help is needed to keep the wind from making it sail away!
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Teachers are available to help
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Shaking hands at the door; what did you like today?
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I’m no longer at the door because the class belonged to Patric and Durand today
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Patric is thrilled to hear that what he offered today had a positive effect
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It’s still hard for the girls to look the teachers in the eye
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Student and teacher both feel valorized!
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It was a good day

Passing the baton

Thursday morning, 7:00 am

My internet cut off last night and I wasn’t able to post my blog entry. Here it is–enjoy.

Wednesday, 10:15 pm

Today marks the day when I finished my overt teaching for the tutoring program. From now on, I will be a support, but no longer the main teacher. I was awash in different emotions today: gratitude for the connection we have built with the students, excitement about the program ahead, sadness at the thought of leaving, and heartache at the realization that these bright, capable students would be extremely unlikely to even start high school without our program. How can this be?

Friends, this is one of those things that I don’t think you can truly understand without having experienced it. I know that for me, the realization is different now that I’m here. Of course I believed that these girls were just as capable as my students at home before I came here. Of course I understood that they just needed a few tools to help them move forward.

Yet somehow, I think my vision was still blinded by my own image of a rural village in Cameroon— kids who work in the fields and live in houses with dirt floors, kids who don’t have access to libraries and books, kids who had already failed the entrance test for high school and might well fail again.

Is it possible that when we in the United States think of “developing countries,” we make the grave mistake of thinking that peoples minds aren’t fully developed?

Jacqueline pointed this out to me as I was noticing how incredibly quick and bright the girls in our program are. She told me the story of having been in a class at the University of Maryland where she was listening to people talking about “developing countries”—and she spoke up to say that her mind, and the minds of those around her, were very well developed, thank you very much!

Again, of course I knew this!

Yet, without this experience of learning and exchange with these girls, and with all of the people I have met here, I couldn’t really know this at the deepest level of my being. I couldn’t know how often I’d find that the less educated folk here are actually highly aware of power dynamics, of people’s intentions, and of the importance of education. I couldn’t really know at the deepest level of my being how much we truly are one. Ironically, we have often had the experience that the educated elites here are less able to connect with our program, less able to understand its importance.

The mothers in the village, and the girls in our program? They get it. And now, maybe I get it, too.

***

We started our program today with free voluntary reading—Lydie spread out the books I’d brought in my suitcase, and the girls were allowed to pick up a book and start reading. The reaction was both quiet and joyful. This is how the program will start each day throughout the year—the kids will arrive in the classroom (the same classroom where we’ve been meeting this whole week), and they will pick up a book and read.

Then, after exchanging the now-iconic “Bonjour/comment ça va?/quoi de neuf?” questions and answers, we jumped into the question for journaling which, this time, was: “What do you do well and also really enjoy doing?”

After the ten minutes of journaling, each student found a partner and shared the story of what she’d written, and I asked a few to share with the whole group what they’d said. Then we turned back to the All Kinds of Minds constructs—the LEARNING SOUP sheet from yesterday. I asked them to go ahead and read the rest of the constructs together, to ask questions for clarification as needed, and then to try to figure out what might be a strength that they have.

I was really impressed with the ability of these students to engage in abstract thinking. Here we had a series of highly abstract concepts, and they were fully engaged and ready to ask questions about anything they did not understand.

The teachers circulated through the class to answer questions as needed. Finally, when everyone had found their way to the end and had had a chance to have a discussion, I asked them to put the sheet away (knowing that these are concepts the teachers will be returning to with them throughout the year), to put the chairs back into the circle, and to take a five-minute break.

Thus ended my over teaching time. After the break, Patric took over the explain the literary circles. I helped write on the white board, but he was in charge. The girls separated out into three circles, each with her own role, and we circulated to help where needed. Tomorrow, we will finish the literary circle experience and then jump into math. On Friday, we will introduce Bryce Hedstrom’s Special Person concept for English. And then, the program will be fully launched.

It feels good to be stretched

Tuesday, August 23 10:00 pm

Today’s lesson plan (9 am – 11 am)

  1. Greetings: Comment ça va? Quoi de neuf? (around the circle)
  2. InterPlay: Warm-up and Walk-Stop-Run
  3. Journal (10 minutes): Raconte un moment d’apprentissage où tu te sentais très bien, que ce soit à l’école, à la maison, ou aux champs. Donne beaucoup de détails.
    1. Qui était là?
    2. étais-tu?
    3. Qui était là?
    4. Comment est-ce que c’était?
  4. With a partner: Tell each other your story (tell, don’t read it)
  5. Groupes de 4: Each partnership joins another partnership
    1. One partnership is A, one is B
    2. In each partnership, one person is #1, the other is #2 
    3. Determine what your letter/number is (A1, A2, B1, B2)
      1. B2’s: tell the others the story of your partner (partner corrects if there is a mistake) 
      2. Continue with A1, A2, and B1
      3. Teachers circulate during discussion
  6. Whole-group discussion (popcorn if possible): Quelles étaient les émotions dans ces moments d’apprentissage? … d’autres détails sur les situations — qui était là, etc.?
    1. Write down notes on white board
  7. Pense maintenant à un moment où tu as le CONTRAIRE de cette expérience — un moment  d’échec. (Prends des notes dans ton journal si tu veux.) You won’t have to share the actual experience, just the emotions.
  8. Whole-group discussion: Quelles étaient les émotions dans ces moments d’échec?
    1. Write notes on white board and contrast with the other—positive—experiences.
    2. What’s different?
  9. Introduction to LEARNING SOUP
    1. Quick explanation of the purpose and the fact that the soup is for EVERYONE. (Who? Everyone!!… Is it for you? for you? for you?)
    2. Read first construct to yourself and when finished, put hand on head
      1. Write down notes on white board
    3. Read second construct, then put finger on your nose
      1. notes on board
    4. Read third construct, then put your right hand on your left ear when finished
      1. notes on board
  10. Take a moment to write down in your journal who might be someone in your life who represents strength in each of these three constructs (can be yourself)
  11. Stand up and repeat after me: Je suis intelligente! Je suis capable! Je peux réussir!
    1. Then give yourself a hug to say thank you. Change which arm is on top—thank you again. Then thank you around the circle.
  12. At door: Shake my hand and tell me something that you either liked today, or which you found interesting.

Photos of the day