One of the major selling points for me, and the main counter to having to find my own housing, to go to NUI Galway was that there was an opportunity for me to participate in a Service Learning Course as one of my classes.  Thanks to the advice I received from the SNC student who studied in Galway last semester, I was able to get through the strenuous application process and was one of the 30, out of the over 80 who applied, to be selected for the class.

As part of this course, we attended a two hour lecture every Monday morning where we had lessons on everything from children’s brain development to sociological factors that are causing the adult illiteracy rate to be 25% in Ireland and initiatives in place to help to lower or eliminate this percentage.  Our class then participated in a smaller discussion group with our professor where we would further divulge on these topics.

The reason that all of us wanted to be part of this particular course was because part of our requirement was to volunteer for an hour at an afterschool homework club at a local school called Scoil Bhride.   Scoil Bhride was in a part of Galway that would have been more economically deprived and these students at this school would be at risk for possibly being part of that one in four adults who are not able to read or write.  Therefore, we were told that it was really important to help these students with their homework and to help them to feel confident with school so that they will go on to get their leaving certification after secondary school and possibly even then continue on to a university.

We were warned by our professor that the first couple of times that we go to Scoil Bhride, the children we work with would try to challenge our authority, but they would eventually discontinue this behavior when they became better accustomed to us.  This warning bode true for the first group from our class that volunteered at the school.  So it was with great apprehension I walked up to Scoil Bhride with some of my classmates for our first session.

When we arrived at the school, the teacher asked if I would follow her as she had a group of boys that she thought I would work well with.  When the boys introduced their names to me, I recognized them as some of the trouble makers that the girls in my class talked about earlier that day.  They, however, worked really hard on their homework and only would stop to ask me questions about America.  When they asked about our money, I pulled out a note that my uncle and aunt gave me the weekend before when they were in town for a wedding.  The boys thought it was really cool, and one of them pointed at Jefferson’s head and said, “He has funny hair.”  The only issue that I ran into with these boys was that my mental math skills were a little rusty and I would have to double check what I was telling them as they ask me for help.  Also, the way that I was taught would be different from what they are taught.  For example, when helping a student working on his Spellings homework and he completed a sentence I reminded him that he needed to end it with a period.  He blankly stared at me.  A period I said again.  More staring.  Luckily the teacher was also working at our table and she chimed in and said, “That is one of the other differences between us and the States, here we call it a full stop.”  The kids laughed at me, and made me repeat how we would say it back in the States.

It was interesting to see the differences between the American school system and the Irish.  The children would laugh when I would call their subjects Math and Spelling, not Maths and Spellings.  The children, only being about 5th graders, used pen to do all of their homework, including their Maths; something that I would never have been able to do even when I was in high school.  When I would be working with the students and they finished one subject and were moving on to the next, they would just flip to the back of the same book instead of having separate books for each subject.  The children would often have to swap around red pens and rulers to draw margins on their Maths homework as many of them would not have their own.

I never would have thought that my one hour a week would ever make an impact on someone’s live, but even by the second week, one of the boys I worked with waved and called me over to his table as soon as I walked into the door; all the other boys I worked with were suspended from homework club.  I asked him how his week was and he got bashful and said, “You remembered my name?”  I, being taken aback, replied, “Of course, you remembered mine.”  From every week after that we would wave me over to work with him, even if he already knew how to do his homework or if he had already finished it in class.

Our professor asked if we thought if it would be a good idea to reward the students for all their hard work with a Christmas party at the end of the semester.  After I convinced my professor and class that it does not make sense to have a Christmas party for young kids in the middle of November, we moved the party to the first exam week.  So as a class, we planned and prepared a party for all 60 of the kids we worked with.  It was a little chaotic to have all the kids, the 30 of us and the children’s teachers in the small gym of Scoil Bhride, but everyone had a great time participating in all the Christmas activities that we set up and going around taking pictures.  When the party was over, the Assistant Principal calmed all the children down and thanked us for all of our hard work for the semester and for the party; which she and the students agreed was the best party in Scoil Bhride’s history.  She then tricked the kids to helping clean up all the confetti on the ground by turning it into a game.

After our class finished returning the gym to the state that it was in before we took it over, the head of the homework club, Sister Margret, set up tea and biscuits for us in the staff lounge.  It was a great way to socialize with our class one last time.  When our professor thanked us for all of our hard work and said that he needed to go to grade our essays, our class ambushed him for a giant class picture.

It is sad that it is all over, but I am glad that I was able to have this opportunity and to be able to work with the amazingly intelligent students that I did.  I hope that other SNC students get this opportunity as it really was one of the reasons why I love being here in Galway.

Danny Carpenter is studying abroad at the National University of Ireland, Galway in Galway, Ireland.