strongholdPEACE CORPS WRITERS is pleased to announce that Stronghold by Terri McIntyre (Pakistan 1963–65) has won the 2010 Award  for the Outstanding Children’s Book published by a Peace Corps writer during 2009. McIntyre will receive a framed certificate and a prize of $200.

Stronghold, recommended for readers from 9 to 12 years of age, is a story that combines a boy’s grief, archaeology and the magic of imagination, was inspired by the author’s children when they built forts in the trees near their home, and by the discovery of Anasazi ruins under their home town. Stronghold’s hero, thirteen-year-old Joe Aberdeen finds himself in the middle of a dangerous adventure when he discovers looters in the act of pillaging.

Terri McIntyre’s Peace Corps assignment was to start an office skills program in a girls’ high school in Hyderabad, Sind, Pakistan. The only problem during her first month of service, however, was that she had neither students nor typewriters. But she hunkered down and did some serious problem-solving — a skill that would come in handy when she started and taught a program for gifted children years later in a Navajo school.

Her first task as a Volunteer was to build a curriculum, but none of the local girls’ colleges had one to use as a reference in 1964. However, the staff at a men’s college, with amused interest, provided her with a syllabus, and Terri took it from there. Soon she had a curriculum and an empty classroom. In the meantime, as her coworkers looked on and questioned her endlessly about life in the Hollywood versions of America, she was given two duties: start the day leading all 700 girls with exercises in a lot inside the school compound, and assist the Pakistani English teacher, who soon left her in charge.

Terri could have learned much from her this woman who was a cool and modern lady who did not wear a burkah, but Terri was soon too busy drinking 300 cups of tea at the dozens of homes she visited as she tried to convince parents to allow their daughters to join her business office program. Her argument: women, not men, should work in girls’ schools and women’s hospitals. It worked. By spring, she had six students and new typewriters tagged “Ford Foundation” culled from various school district offices, and actually began teaching.

Terri with her student Saghir

Terri with her student Saghir

When Terri left Pakistan, a local teacher, whom she had trained, was put in charge of the business office skills program in the Government Girls High School. She also left a two-foot wide sombrero and a Navajo rug as gifts to the head teacher and program co-worker. What Terri brought home though was a world view that has kept her pondering and fascinated with life ever since.

She continued college in Arizona (BA in creative writing and literature, graduate studies in secondary education: English, special education, gifted education), married a man from Bangladesh, gave birth to a son of whom she is extremely proud, divorced, taught school for six years with the Juvenile Division of the Department of  Corrections, remarried, and had a daughter she is also extremely proud of, and taught school on the border of the Navajo Reservation.

One of the most direct influences the Peace Corps experience had on Terri’s post-Peace Corps life was in her work with Navajo students through the GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) program she was asked to organize and teach. The first gifted program in her district was taught after school. Some considered it an elite club and there was much opposition from both teachers and administrators. Once more she found herself battling prejudice. The key breakthrough was a clause in the Gifted Education “Mandate” that encouraged program coordinators to create a talent pool of potentially gifted children, a list of children to be observed and tested. To overcome the elitist aura surrounding the identification of gifted kids (and, by definition, the exclusion of everyone else), her strategy was to create a living talent pool. The small groups of identified gifted were expanded to include the possibly gifted because someone, anyone, including the student, could refer a child who exhibited some special talent. Her justification was that if a child believes she’s gifted, she is gifted. No longer did she hear complaints. Parents formed a support group to address the effects of this approach — after school math club, drama club, and teacher/class workshops in which she could share gifted education strategies and techniques with everyone.

To this day, kids, now adults, come up to her in a store or at the post office and proudly say, “Remember me? I was in your GATE program.” Unfortunately when Terri retired, the program was retired, despite all the manuals she had written and materials and equipment she had obtained with grants over the years. Budgets became tight and the Mandate went downhill with art and music.

Recently she began to wonder what had happened to the office skills program in Hyderabad, so, although she did not physically walk in, she visited Government Girls High School, aka Miira School, via Google Earth. There was the front gate where tongas and rickshaws left off students, her first tiny classroom atop the school building, the kitchen room behind the administration office where she pissed everyone off when she insisted on washing every leaf of lettuce, the wall of roses the girls would pick and chew on the blossoms, the dorm in which she lived for nearly two years next to another teacher’s room, the two rooms sandwiching a brand-spanking new toilet, a little chamber that in 1964 received many visitors, not for use, but for viewing.

And there was that big yard where she stood on the wall leading 700 girls wearing white shalwaar-kamiizes and red sweaters in exercises she made up because, in her words, “I really didn’t know what I was doing.”

To order Stronghold from Amazon, click on the book cover or the bold book title — and Peace Corps Worldwide, an Amazon Associate, will receive a small remittance that helps support these awards.