The following is a postcard from Lydia Sorensen, GlobalGiving's In-the-Field Representative in Guatemala, about her recent visit to Let's Be Ready.
About 45 minutes outside the lovely city of Antigua, in the municipality of Patzicia, is the small community of Las Parcelas. As one of the town elders himself told us, the town was created in the 1950s when the former landowners deeded four families the land in gratitude for their years of service. Today there are about 80 children ages five to sixteen in the town, and twelve lucky three and four year olds who attend the Las Parcelas Preschool started by Lets Be Ready. Before the preschool was created last year there was nothing for them in the area—they entered into first grade directly at the age of six. Most likely as a result of the failure to be prepared for school, an alarming number of Guatemalan children leave school after failing the first grade (30% of Central American children fail first grade). By introducing children to school in a fun atmosphere, Let’s be Ready is committed to getting more children through school. According to Nora Mehida Tun Bacajol (the director of Let’s Be Ready) they have been overwhelmingly successful: of the 335 children they have worked with, 300 have completed first grade and seven were even in the top of their class.
Here in Las Parcelas the preschool is run by energetic and cheerful Heidi, a young woman who graduated in 2012 from teaching school without a job. She walks thirty minutes each way in order to get to the preschool, but she says she loves her work. Heidi proudly shares a story about how recently she visited one of her former students who is currently in elementary school and discovered he had taught his mother (who was previously illiterate) how to write her name. One of the mothers tells us that having the preschool and Heidi has been a blessing, and now she has hope her two children will get to have a better future.
Dressed in their best, the children shyly show off what they have rehearsed in preparation for our visit: a song, a dance called “We are Proud of Guatemala”, and even a short poem about a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. Shortly however they break off, darting into the cozy classroom to play in the “kitchen corner”, page through a picture book in the “reading corner”, or build a tower in the “play corner”. They even include me—bringing me a delicious piece of plastic cake and a lapful of small toys. Leaving Las Parcelas in our van, some of the kids put down their toys to wave goodbye with their parents, and like their mothers I am filled with hope that they will succeed in school next year.
Thanks to you, we are moving more rural every day.
As we have planned and done before, we are closing classrooms in the urban areas just as soon as the government supplies teachers to the community, and our enrolment declines from the 15 kids we expect. We are puting the furniture and supplies to better use in areas with more needs, still with trained teachers for preschool classrooms using the Creative Curriculum.
We are also begining to go into even more rural areas this year by training litereate young people to teach with the Aula Magica (Magical Classroom) curriculum. These are not formally trained teachers, but with love in their hearts and a desire to teach children.
As soon as 8 teachers finish training in February, they will begin meeting with groups of children daily, using a curriculum that is recorded and broadcast over radio or mp3 player. The teachers lead the them in activities by following guides that were developed, tested in our classrooms, and taught to them by Lucy, one of our first teachers. Further, the teachers are reading preschool books to them based on the Po Pul Vuh, the creation stories of the Maya, published in Guatemala. They meet daily for 2 hours and the receive minimum wage.
We also completed a sucessful one week traiing session in January for all our existing classroom teachers and those "volunteers" who wanted to have classrooms in thier comunities this year. Six volunteers came and I have found positions for 4 of them. Three will be sponsored by people who had sponsored more urban schools that we closed and relocated materials and furniture to more rural areas, and the fourh is being sponsored by an new donor who visited Antigua from the USA.
We continue to need donations for teaching materials and books for the exixting classrooms and for Aula Magica for the 2014 school year. There are also other teachers wanting to open classrooms.
Thanks to those of you who have donated,
We are nearly through our most successful school year ever AND well on our way to implementing changes for 2014 that will allow us to reach hundreds of children not currently being prepared for preschool in the rural areas of Guatemala.This year our teachers have had 28 sessions every day preparing 350 kids to be successful in the first grade. There is a new building for the classroom in Xeneco, a second session in Cero Alto and another teacher and a classroom in Colonia Juan XXIII. Our teachers gathered in Antigua in june to learn new methods, and are now utilizing techniques that are seldom seen in Guatemala. Click here to see the details. We have 3 sessions without sponsors for 2014 at a cost of $1500 each. Want to help?We are also making progress on our innovative program of recorded curriculum for use in the very rural areas where there are no teachers. We have 20 scripts written and recorded in Spanish and are continuing to apply the learnings from testing them in our current classrooms. We have undertaken the very large step of finding partners to do the translations and recording in two indigenous languages. I met with the Guatemalans that are leading this effort before I left in August. I will be returning to Guatemala in October to meet with the library and an association of radio stations to check progress and choose more partners to expand the program next year. For more details on the progress click here.We need help with funding the expansion to more programs, languages, and more rural areas. $2500 will get the program started in a new language area.The program to teach the mothers the importance of nutrition and prepare meals for the kids at school is thriving. I met with mothers who are locating more local sources for fruits, vegetables, chaya, and eggs, and are attending classes for learning how to grow, cook, and include them in their meals. Click here to learn more. We will again be applying to renew the grants from the Herrod Foundation and Feed the Dream to continue this program in 2014.Our program is small and very simple. We find graduated but unemployed teachers and offer to put them to work in their communities as preschool teachers. Our sponsors’ donation gives them a stipend each month and provides the classroom materials. They have to find the space to hold the classes and manage all the relationships with parents and leaders in their community. They are social entrepreneurs.
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The majority of rural, poor children are ill-prepared for the first-grade. The February 2006 World Bank report states: 30% of children in the Central American countries fail the first-grade; many drop-out at this point. Often parents can’t read or write; many work long hours and children are cared for by older children. Over the last 6 years, there has been progress but the needs are still great.
Our program is small and very simple. We find graduated but unemployed teachers and offer to put them to work in their communities as preschool teachers. Our sponsors’ donation gives them a stipend each month and provides the classroom materials. They have to find the space to hold the classes and manage all the relationships with parents and leaders in their community.
They are social entrepreneurs.
Thanks to 25 donations, including yours, we raised $1328 that we have spent to buy materials and books for the teachers to use in the classrooms. Although we did not reach our goal of $5000 and 40 donators, GlobalGiving is still allowing us to stay on the website for the year. This gives us exposure to people who we do not know and would not have found.
To revitalize and strengthen our literacy program, we have launched an initiative, which we are calling, ” 10 Star Books”. With the advice of our teachers, we are selecting 10 of the best children’s picture books available including some in Kaqchikel to form the basis of our literacy program.
One of our most experienced teachers, Lucy Diaz and 2 teachers from the USA, Nancy Carpenter and Tina Hille are collaborating to develop teaching guides for the “Star Books” which support the development of reading and writing and further the objectives of the national curriculum. The plan is to publish this guide for our 23 schools and to offer the entire package to public schools in Guatemala to improve kindergarten instruction.
The budget for “10 Star Books” is $2300 ($100 per school) to purchase the books and $2000 to develop and print the guides
People trying to find ways to make an impact on people’s lives that leaves them empowered to help themselves often find it is not easy. Searchers are rewarded when they find something that works. Our program is one of those. There are now 28 classroom sessions in 22 communities creating 24 jobs for unemployed teachers.
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