Today we awoke early to make the walk to the school and to get in some morning exercise in the fitness center before starting the day with students at 8:30.  The school is made up of approximately 500 students K-12 and we will be working with approximately 250 of them in grades 7-12 throughout the course of the week.  Those 250 students come from nearly 50 different cultural origins making it an extremely special opportunity to work with students from such diverse backgrounds.  Most of the students attending ISD are only there a short while as their enrollment is most often tied to their parents’ employment with an embassy, the United Nations, or an international business.  With the annual tuition cost of $25,000 American Dollars, the cost makes it prohibitive for most local Senegalese people to afford.

We started our walk to school with a morning pit stop to say hello to the guards and also to feed the neighborhood-adopted dog, Buddy.  Buddy is extremely friendly and is well taken care of by both the Rodine’s and the guards.  It is a short walk from their house across one busy street and cut through an apartment complex to ISD.  Before long we were entering through the gates of ISD through security check-in and quite clearly were entering into a different world than the life just beyond the walls.  We were arriving in what would be the “coolest” part of the day and already the sweat was dripping down just from our walk to campus.  We were able to get in a quick workout to get rid of some of the jet lag and get energized for the day.  Before long we were in the gym setting up as approximately ½ of the high school kids, approximately 80 students.

I have had the pleasure of seeing the Top 20 Curriculum in action several times and have been teaching chunks of it to our student leaders and coaches for the last few years.  This was, however, my first time teaching a full day of the curriculum alongside the Top 20 expert/founder/presenter extraordinaire Tom Cody.  The only word that could possibly describe the day was inspirational.  I was beyond moved by how much of their hearts the students were willing to pour into the day with two guys from Minnesota who know little if anything about them, their school, or the cultures they come from.  Monday also happened to be the hottest September 5th on record in Dakar as far as heat index and humidity were concerned.  The heat was oppressive, like opening an oven and getting blasted with.  The air conditioners installed in the gym were doing their best, but it was an uphill battle and by the afternoon they just could not keep up.  Even with some tough conditions, the kids finished strong with their notes of gratitude for other students and staff members at ISD.  These extremely talented kids really took this seriously and wrote some extremely meaningful letters that also impacted the recipients.  It was fun to see some of the staff reactions with everything from smiles to tears.  At the end of the long day together we ran into several students participating in their after school activities on campus where the high fives and smiles were numerous.

We then headed to the local “corner store” for some essentials and a pit stop at the fresh produce stand.  The greatest joy of this entire experience has come from the people we have met.  Never have I been anywhere in the world and felt so welcome.  The mother/son duo at the produce stands (one with vegetables and one with fruit) named Fatou and Mamadou have two of the biggest smiles and warm hearts you could ever meet.  They are so genuinely excited to greet us anytime we walk by; it is amazing.  They set up shop each day under the shade of a corner tree and remain there into the darkness of evening dressed up in their best African traditional dress.  It is something to look forward to every day.  We went to the Red Stone restaurant for dinner with the Rodine’s, primarily for one reason: high functioning A/C!  Red Stone is nothing like the one we are familiar with in Minnesota, yet it is probably the most American food we will find on this trip, but nonetheless the A/C was most definitely needed!  We headed off to bed and then were started awake around 4 a.m. as the power went out due to a heavy rainfall, which meant resetting a few breakers to get the A/C back on.  When the A/C was out, it was the first time I really noticed all of the outdoor noises from the guards talking and people just hanging out in the streets.

Tuesday morning was a much cooler morning after the rains moved through.  We were once again up early and on our way to school by 6:15 Senegal time, but this time Tom and I did our walking around the track outside.  It was actually a beautiful morning to be outside.  Today we had the other ½ of the high school students that were out in the community the day before working with the Talibe children.  The Talibe are the poor street children who have been taking in by an Islamic church leader known as an “Imam.”  The kids spend their childhood begging on the streets for money and food so you can imagine their excitement when the high school kids show up to play with them.  The kids played soccer, volleyball, spike ball and a number of other games along with doing some work to repair flooded areas where they live.

We had another great day with students and continue to learn so much from them that we can only hope they are learning half as much from us!  When the day was over today we hung around campus for an after school soccer game as well as many other on-campus activities.  Even after just two days it was incredible to see how many familiar smiling faces we came across and how dedicated to this school community the kids and families really are.  When the school day ends, easily 75% or more are involved in some sort of activity up until 6:00.  Jaguar pride was alive and well as the Middle School girls’ soccer team was hosting a local club team in their season opener.  The game was a little different than the US. The scoreboard is manual and not electronic, the games are cross field 7 v. 7 in some less-than-ideal turf conditions. The ISD buses actually drive out to the local clubs to pick them up and bring them back to ISD for the game, the refs are the coaches of the teams and yet the joy and passion these kids played with was second to none!  Tomorrow is volleyball and can’t wait to see them in action!

Tonight we went to another beach side, open-air restaurant that gave us yet another glimpse into the local culture.  From the soccer “field” outside the restaurant which was actually pure dirt with no actual nets that was packed with locals of all ages playing pick-up games to the self-made bathing pools made out of rocks at the base of the beach to the restaurant food being cooked on an outdoor charcoal grill, it was a fantastic evening.  The views were spectacular and the food was amazing.  I played it safe with some huge jumbo shrimp that was delicious, but Tom and Eric braved the African fish known as Thiof (pronounced Chof) that was prepared complete with head and tail!  They claimed they loved theirs as well and judging by the bones only that were left I think that was indeed the case!

Tomorrow we begin our work with the Middle Schoolers starting with the 8th graders.  It will be a much smaller group than what we have had the first two days, but we are very much looking forward to it.  We also have a parent’s night session tomorrow evening for all grade levels which will make for our longest day yet, but the energy we get from the students has made each day go by incredibly fast.  ISD is truly a special place.

I hope everyone in the US had an awesome first day of school.  It is a bit surreal looking at the pictures and not being there as we kick-off the 2016-17 school year, but I know that I am extremely blessed to have this opportunity.  A huge thanks to all of you helping out at both home and school to make this possible.

Bonsoir from Senegal!

This Blog entry was written by Matt Percival, Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Athletics at Eastview High School in Apple Valley, MN and edited by Kevin Brennan of Top 20 Training.