Mi Hermanita – My Little Sister - Expands as 2014 School Year Begins
Program Evaluation Launched to Measure Outcomes and Impact
Children across Guatemala are returning to school this month, embarking on a school year that runs from mid-January to the end of October. In San Pedro Sacatepéquez girls starting their last year of junior high/middle school (called básico, roughly equivalent to 7th, 8th & 9th grades) are especially excited. Why? Because this year all 300 9th graders in the 13 rural básicos across San Pedro can become a Big Sister and mentor a Little Sister in 2nd or 3rd grade, helping her with schoolwork, motivating her to try her best, and inspiring her to stay in school.
Having piloted Mi Hermanita in five schools during 2013, the Guatemalan staff is poised to expand the program to all of these schools. With this expansion, Mi Hermanita will engage directly with some 600 girls, i.e., Big and Little Sisters combined, along with each of their 600 mothers and many teachers.
According to Marianna, one of last year’s Big Sisters, (pictured below in the middle of two others, each preparing for her next meeting with her Little Sister), “Being a Big Sister to Alicia taught me a lot about myself. Because of her admiration and affection for me, I’m inspired to work even harder in school and be a good example for her. I’m so excited that Alicia is doing better in school, too, and she hardly ever misses a single day anymore! I really look forward to our get-togethers every week and so does she.”
The first workshop of this school year for cooperating teachers and school principals took place just last week. The program veterans among them eagerly shared with their colleagues the positive changes they’ve seen in school attendance, academic performance and self-confidence among both the older and younger girls who were in the pilot program. Working with what we’ve all learned from that experience, this year promises to be even more successful.
Adding to this prospect, during 2014 our participatory programs that support the Big Sisters will be offered on regular basis during their school day. This is a direct result of the program’s recognition and certification by Guatemala’s National Ministry of Education, along with only 12 other organizations nationally. This accreditation also places us in a select network of organizations that itself is a rich resource for sharing best practices and benefitting from one another’s experience promoting girls’ education as the most promising path out of poverty for communities across Guatemala.
Assessment and evaluation efforts looking at program effectiveness and impact will also be stepped up in this school year. Thanks to the professional leadership of WWT’s newest Board member, RoseMarie Perez Foster, Senior Research Specialist at the University of Colorado, Guatemalan staff has agreed on an evaluation design, collaborated in developing the required instruments, and has been trained in interviewing techniques, data collection, entry and compilation, etc. Beginning in mid-February, they will collect baseline data for all program participants and for a set of control schools. This will be compared to data collected in the fall at the end of the school year to assess changes, if any, in measures of school commitment and success, literacy achievement, self esteem, self efficacy, and the like.
As always, it takes more to do more. Your continued and increased financial support is key to this expansion and evaluation. This program is highly valued in all of these communities, motivating and inspiring them to send girls to school. Many thanks…your donations actually do change lives!
Mi Hermanita is the culminating project for middle school girls in San Pedro Sacatepéquez. By the time they become Big Sisters, the girls and their families have already participated in earlier projects about the importance and benefits of staying in school. They’ve learned about their mothers’ and grandmothers’ lives as compared to their own, and have taken responsibility for reading to their families at home.
Mi Hermanita challenges the teen girls to become agents of change, not just for themselves and their families, but now out in their communities. Through this service learning project, our girls actively use the knowledge they have gained in school in order to become a mentor and tutor, helping a second or third grade girl who is struggling with her studies.
On our recent trip to San Pedro in October, we again saw first-hand the growing impact this project is having in the rural communities where it is in full swing. Increasingly, the Big Sisters are taking ownership of their experience, renaming the project Mi Hermanita (My Little Sister) rather than Las Hermanitas (The Little Sisters) to reflect the personal empowerment that speaks directly to their individual experience. Now why hadn’t we thought of that?...Of course!
Mi Hermanita is fairly complex to run since it requires organization among our middle school girls and their teachers plus coordination with teachers and Little Sisters in the primary schools, along with parents of both sets of girls, so that the Big Sisters can visit their Little Sisters in their homes once a week.
While positive and encouraging overall, Mi Hermanita has its individual challenges. Hearing directly from the girls, we learned about some of their more difficult experiences, such as having to walk alone past fierce dogs or, in one case, feeling uncomfortable in a house where the father was drunk and angry. (This girl was quickly reassigned to a different Little Sister.) Some talked about how frustrated they felt at the start of the year, when their Little Sisters didn’t mind them or were not very motivated to learn because they were already behind in their schoolwork. At the same time, these same Big Sisters burst with pride, eager to explain that now, at the end of the school year, their Little Sisters had caught up to their peers, were excited for their Big Sisters to arrive each week, and eager to read, write, and practice math with them.
In one of the villages we visited 36 girls had adopted Little Sisters from five primary schools in surrounding communities who had been identified by their teachers as likely drop outs. Typically these younger girls have no one at home to help them with homework, as most mothers barely went to school themselves. And so the little girls struggle when they begin to confront academic subjects.
We met with this group of Big & Little Sisters and many of their mothers and grandmothers in the community hall, a cold dark building that came alive with their presence. There, on the stage, were a cluster of long legged girls in jeans, (their school day would begin in the afternoon so they were not yet in uniform) busily assembling the sound system for the program. There was not a teacher in sight. Soon clusters of little girls in school uniforms arrived with their teachers, then more and more until we had about 50 hermanitas in the room, and the program for the day was announced - again by the older girls. They spoke with great poise (using a microphone) about the program, sharing what they had learned and how important it had been for them and for their Little Sisters. Then Little Sisters spoke along with some of their mothers and grandmothers, all of it orchestrated by the older girls. It was truly impressive to witness the command, presence and poise these girls had on stage, when just 2 years ago they would have been giggling and looking at their feet in even a one-on-one conversation. Then 2 older girls were invited on to the stage with their 6 little sisters, who launched into a 10 minute choreographed dance performance Gangham style, complete with synchronized moves of hands and feet, shy smiles and a few giggles - but they carried through to the end. They were terrific, and received thundering applause. The older girls later told us that they each work with 3 little ones, and then they switch off, because they found it easier to overcome the small girls’ shyness if they all worked together - problem solving in action.
We later spoke with the Director of the middle school who is also a primary school teacher in the morning. He was very positive in his assessment of the project, describing the many benefits to both the older and younger girls. He said overall it was the most successful project that had come into the school to date, and was hopeful we would be able to continue with another group in the 2014 school year. He said it was the only tutoring program in the state, and urged that it be widely replicated. (We heartily agree!)
Throughout the 2013 school year, which in Guatemala runs from January – October, the staff of our local sister nonprofit, ADIMTU, has worked with the Big Sisters to develop participatory activities to use with their young charges. At their suggestion (and with support from donors) we equipped each Big Sister with a satchel of books, art materials and games to foster curiosity and a love of learning. This year we were able to provide additional book titles which included such classics (in Spanish) as: The Hungry Caterpillar, Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever, and Clifford the Big Red Dog Goes to School. All of the books, screened in advance by the ADIMTU team, proved incredibly popular and sought after by both Big and Little Sisters, and gave a big boost to the girls’ weekly sessions together.
With the addition of Dr. Theresa Preston Werner as Director of Evaluation to the WWT team, we’ve been able to implement a more comprehensive evaluation of all aspects of our work. Particular to this effort is to measure the girls’ own perceptions of the changes they have been able to make through their year-long work with their Little Sisters. At the end of this recent 2013 school year which runs from January thru October, the girls rated their Little Sisters as 5.73 out of 10 on average for academic abilities at the start of the year and 9.46 at the end, with an average increase of 4.08, thus demonstrating the value they themselves place on their time and contribution. In addition, teachers and parents of both the younger and older girls appreciate the responsibility demonstrated by the older girls along with the increased levels of academic achievement by the young ones.
This year we were also able to recognize the teachers who supported Mi Hermanita, gifting each of them a briefcase of school supplies that included such basics as pencils, pens, markers, staplers, rulers, pencil sharpeners, as well as a collection of 10 books for them to read for their own pleasure and interest. These were very well received and much appreciated, as normally teachers must supply themselves with everything they need.
Looking ahead, beginning in January 2014, Mi Hermanita will be folded into our newly restructured Leadership Institute, and will engage all Grade 9 girls in all of the 13 rural middle schools in San Pedro. This will be a capstone project for the oldest girls in middle school, and will build on our work with the grade 7 and grade 8 girls who will be involved in La Vida de Mi Mamá (My Mother’s Life) and La Lectura Familiar (Family Reading Time) respectively. All 3 projects have been in pilot phase with some girls over the last 2 years, and now, after testing, evaluation and restructuring as needed, are ready to be expanded to all rural middle school girls across San Pedro.
Simply put, it takes more to do more. Your continued and increased financial support is key to this expansion and highly valued in all of these communities, motivating and inspiring them to send girls to school.
In preparation for this posting, I asked Nancy Fabiola Pérez Orozco de Navarro, who runs Las Hermanitas in 5 of San Pedro’s 13 rural middle schools, to pass along some news about the relationships she’s seen develop between some of the Big and Little Sisters in the program.
Two of these stories follow, alternating paragraphs in English with the original Spanish to share Nancy’s personal voice here, too. Nancy grew up in San Pedro Sacatepéquez and persevered in school herself to earn a degree in psychology. Skillful at engaging with children and adults, she is married to an agricultural engineer and is the mother of 3 young boys (including twins!). Nancy is a terrific role model for the girls, just by being who she is and doing what she does.
From Nancy… How your generosity and caring is changing lives:
A couple of weeks ago we went to the different primary schools to monitor the younger girls’ progress. We met with the primary school teachers in San José El Cedro who mentioned that the girls had made a lot of progress and that they were achieving at grade level. We made several visits to the girls’ homes and we learned that the Big Sisters are doing great work. The mothers are very grateful to their daughters’ tutors because they have seen the academic improvement.
Hace dos semanas nos fuimos a las diferentes escuelas de primaria a monitoriar el avance de las niñas. Encontramos a las maestras de la escuela de primaria de San José El Cedro, las cuales mencionaron que las niñas han avanzado muy bien y que ganarán el grado. Realizamos algunas visitas domiciliares a las casas de las niñas y nos dimos cuenta que las señoritas están haciendo una gran labor. Las madres de familia están muy agradecidas con las tutoras de sus hijas porque han visto el avance académico.
In El Cedro there are two cases that really get my attention. One is Karen (Karen Elisabeth Fuentes Velásquez). A little girl who did not like to study, Karen went off to school at 8 AM and during 10 AM recess she ran away and went home, saying that she didn’t like it. Her mother, when she would see her arrive home told her, “Clearly you’re going to be like your brother who was in his first-year of middle school and dropped out because he didn’t like school.” But since Yeyli (Yeyli Rutilia Lopez Miranda) is coming to her house, the little girl, like magic, no longer runs away from school, rather she attends all her classes. It’s still hard for her to make good grades, but at least she’s now consistent and we hope she will catch up and achieve at grade level. Last year she was promoted as a matter of convenience and reading and writing are still hard for her, so her tutor had to start teaching her from the beginning.
En el Cedro existen dos casos que me llaman mucho la atención. Uno es el de Karen, (Karen Elisabeth Fuentes Velásquez). Una niña que no le gustaba estudiar, Karen se iba a la escuela a las ocho de la mañana y a las diez a la hora de receso se escapaba y se iba a su casa, diciendo que no le gustaba. Su mamá por su parte cuando la veía llegar le decía: “De plano va a ser igual que su hermano que estaba en primero básico y se retiró porque no le gustaba la escuela.” Pero desde que Yeyli (Yeyli Rutilia Lopez Miranda), está llegando a su casa, la niña como “arte de magia”, ya no se escapa de la escuela sino que recibe todas sus clases. Todavía le cuesta sacar buenas calificaciones pero ahora ya está constante y esperamos que se pueda recuperar y ganar su grados. El año pasado ganó su grado por conveniencia y todavía le cuesta mucho leer y escribir, pues su tutora le tocó enseñar desde el principio.
The other case is Elicela (Elicela Francisca Velásquez Pérez), a little girl with physical disabilities who in a way has been discriminated against by the rest of the boys and girls. (In the photo you can’t appreciate it very well, but one of her legs is shorter than the other.) Ever since Carmelita, her tutor, came to work with her, the little girl has realized that she can achieve many goals, and now she is one of the best in her class. Eliclea’s mother is very happy with Carmelita since she has seen such a big change in her daughter. The teacher also remarked on the little girl’s improvement and the consistency that Carmelita has shown in the content of what she is teaching.
El otro caso es de Elicela (Elicela Francisca Velásquez Pérez), una niña con una deficiencia física, que en cierta forma ha sido discriminada por sus demás compañeros y compañeras. (En las fotos no se aprecia muy bien, pero una de sus piernas es más corta que la otra.) Desde Carmelita, su tutora, llegó a trabajar con ella, la niña se ha dado cuenta que puede alcanzar muchas metas, y ahora es una de las mejores de su clase. La madre de Elicela está muy agradecida con Carmelita, pues ha visto un gran cambio en su hija. También la maestra explica sobre la mejoría en la niña y la constancia que Carmelita ha demostrado en los contenidos que se enseña.
With Guatemala’s 2013 school year ending in October, Women Work Together’s program director, Wendy Baring-Gould and evaluation director, Theresa Preston-Werner, will be in San Pedro Sacatepéquez September 14 – October 6. Along with celebrating the accomplishments of the girls who participate in each of our programs and conducting program evaluations, they will be working with local staff to prepare for expanding Las Hermanitas (and our other programs) from these 5 to all 13 rural middle schools next year. More on this trip in our next update.
Your donation will help us accomplish this expansion and bring Las Hermanitas to over 1,000 Big and Little Sisters, their mothers and teachers. Remember what Nancy said, “Your caring and generosity changes lives!”
Now operating in 5 villages of San Pedro Sacatepéquez, San Marcos, Guatemala, Las Hermanitas – Big/Little Sisters - has added 2 new locations for the 2013 school year that began in January. Not only are new middle school girls in all 5 locations signing up to be mentors, but all of last year’s Big Sisters have re-enlisted, most choosing to work with their same Little Sister.
Recently back from nearly 5 weeks in San Pedro, Women Work Together volunteers, Wendy Baring-Gould, Program Director, and Dr. Theresa Preston-Werner, Evaluation Director, spent their first 2 weeks there visiting 16 villages to assess all our programs’ strengths and weaknesses.
Regarding Las Hermanitas, 100% of the girls interviewed said they were excited about the project and had benefitted personally from being a Big Sister. They were clear that being mentors to their Little Sisters was a form of community service, with many indicating that this experience has contributed to their view of themselves as leaders. And, 100% of the Big Sisters reported that they’d spoken positively about Las Hermanitas with their families and friends, generating positive word-of-mouth in their village about the benefits to all of educating girls.
Thanks to our donors, and based on the girls’ feedback, each Big Sister is now equipped with a kit bag of educational materials including story and activity books plus some basic art materials. Donor generosity has also made it possible for local staff to visit each village 2x/month to run workshops with our Big Sisters, helping them generate ideas and plan activities that are engaging and focus primarily on improving their Little Sisters’ reading and math skills. Additionally, these workshops give the girls a place to work through any issues they may encounter. Staff also meets w/teachers and mothers of both Big and Little Sisters at each location to listen to their feedback and advance their support for the girls’ participation. Teachers and mothers alike report high satisfaction with the program, observing that both the younger and older girls are more successful in school and have a renewed commitment to their studies.
On November 7, 2012, a 7.4 magnitude earthquake hit the state of San Marcos, causing considerable destruction and death in the town of San Pedro and its rural areas. Dozens of people were killed, hundreds hurt, and thousands made homeless. Our sister nonprofit in San Pedro, Mujeres Trabajan Unidas, suspended its normal work to be an important part of the relief effort. They focused on addressing the needs of the homeless in the villages where we work. Relief work continued for nearly two months, and only recently has the staff returned to its regular tasks.
Because of this tragedy, our current progress report is abbreviated. The office recently sent this data about Las Hermanitas, i.e., Girls Mentoring Girls.
1. 98% of the girls are completing the project, 2. 98% of the hermanitas finished second grade and plan to continue in school, 3. Many girls said they realized how much they loved to go to school, 4. The office distributed new books to the older girls to read with their hermanitas, 5. The older girls’ teachers gave high marks to the program for the work the teens were accomplishing as tutors, 6. Mothers of both sets of girls expressed their gratitude for the project and its positive impact on their daughters and on the community.
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