Oct 15, 2018

A New Chapter: The Full School Day in the Batey

This September, Yspaniola welcomed students and local staff back from a well-deserved summer break. Classes in our Learning Center kicked off, with students excited for the school year and the new resources and programs available in the Learning Center.  There have been a lot changes to our academic programming this year, so we are eager to update you!

The normal excitement for the start of the school year is accompanied by important structural change in students' education in Batey Libertad this year. In 2012-2013, the Dominican government announced the roll-out of an extended school day in 96 public schools with the intention of gradually expanding this policy throughout the country. This would expand the school day from the traditional four hours of instruction to a full day with eight hours. These changes reached the public school in Batey Libertad this August, and they have compelled us to adapt our educational programs to continue to serve our students effectively.

We are working with the director and his staff at the local public school to make sure our students have the necessary support to adapt to these developments. Yspaniola's teachers have established a pilot program to deliver our literacy-focused curriculum within the public school setting to continue the supplemental education they have always provided in the Learning Center. At the school, we are working with students in grades two, three, four and five.  For our literacy classes, we organize our classes by reading level so teachers can create lessons that best address the needs and abilities of students.

In addition to our work within the public school, we continue to serve students in our Learning Center and Preschool.  This year, our preschool will deliver early childhood education to four-year-olds in our first ever Kinder class. Lead Teacher Leidy, and her two bilingual Creole and Spanish-speaking Teaching Assistants, Johnny and Yohana, will help students establish a solid base of Spanish language speaking and listening skills, which will give them an important head start when they are old enough to start school.

We are also offering after-school classes for older students who want to practice reading and writing and work on what they learn during the full school day.  Every Monday and Tuesday afternoon, our most advanced students gather in the Learning Center to work on their literacy skills. Some of the older students wanted to help the younger learners at Yspaniola, so on Wednesdays and Thursday, a group of students who are fluent readers serve as mentors to younger students, offering one-on-one literacy tutoring.  Mentors in this initiative have access to an extensive collection of books from our library that they can use for their tutoring.

This summer we were able to undertake an extensive renovation project in our Learning Center library and our Preschool reading corner. Our talented local teacher and library coordinator, Mayra, oversaw the installation of purpose-built shelving, improved ventilation, and the redecoration of the spaces to be as bright and welcoming as can be!  We also purchased new books to inspire the imaginations of students of all levels. This expanded program will give students the extra attention and practice they need to continue to excel. Along with renovating our library, we have expanded our reading hour, now offering the program twice a week. Young readers have been excited to spend time in our cozy library and have access to a wide variety of books. We can’t wait to see how our students continue to use our library and develop their reading skills!

As always, Yspaniola is deeply grateful to all of our donors at Global Giving. Your support is critical to the success of our organization and the implementation of our new programs.  We will keep you updated on the 2018-2019 school year!

Jul 23, 2018

Tales of Success: Yspaniola Students Smash Reading

Thanks to supporters who donate through Global Giving, at Yspaniola we are able to help many students in the small community of Batey Libertad each year make huge strides with their education. This year, we have supported over 150 students within our Batey Libertad Learning Center. The 2017-2018 academic year has been a great one, as our first year with a full team of local staff and management running the center: see our report “Lost in Translation: Learning to Trust Together” which talks about the challenges we faced in the lead up to this year!)

To monitor students progress within our literacy-focused educational programs, at Yspaniola we use the A-Z Reading System, a scale which goes from “aa” (emerging reader) through the alphabet to “Z” (fluent reader). Our teachers take great pride in seeing their students devour new books as they progress up the levels. A quick snapshot of this year’s evaluation results show that our students are progressing in leaps and bounds:

  • 86% of our students achieved reading level gains.
  • 14 students climbed between 4-8 reading levels - smashing the average growth level!
  • 5 students at the Batey Libertad Learning Center achieved A-Z Reading level “Z” - the highest level possible, above and beyond our expectations!

Wilex, aged 16, is just one of the bright, hardworking students we have been working with this year. When he first entered Marisela’s classroom at the Learning Center two years ago, Wilex struggled to write his name. Wilex is an example of how easily students can slip through the cracks in the country’s overburdened and under-resourced public school system. He had been attending school at the local public school all his life, passing through each grade without mastering the critical literacy skills needed to pursue higher education and meaningful employment.

In just two short years, Wilex has made immense strides in his literacy skills thanks to the dedication and patience of Yspaniola teachers like Marisela, who remembers his first weeks in the center: “His lack of confidence was an obstacle in his early Learning Center days (...) He was very timid and at the beginning barely spoke. He was in my class, paying attention and understanding, but he wasn’t confident or engaged, and remained quiet.”  

Two years later, Wilex’s confidence has grown along with his reading level, something Marisela attributes to the opportunities for personalized instruction that are made available in the Learning Center. “Now he speaks a lot. He is always participating and interacting. It’s something he probably would not have accomplished in the public school, for lack of attention and there being so many students with one single teacher. He was never going to learn there as quickly as he has here.”

Wilex’s A-Z reading scores are a testament to his progress, having moved from level A in 2016 (which correlates to Kindergarten standards in the US), to a level C in March 2017, then a level E in June of 2017, and most recently, a Level G in March 2018.

Today, Wilex says that he loves The Story of Ferdinand, along with If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, all books in the Clifford series, and The Carrot Seed. In his own words, “I like reading, in order to learn. For example, if someone sends me a card I want to be able to read it.” With the literacy basics now under his belt, we have no doubt that Wilex will go on to read cards, books, and so much more. Well done, Wilex!

At Yspaniola, we are so grateful to all Global Giving donors for supporting deserving students of Batey Libertad, including Wilex. With your support, and our fantastic team of local staff and students, we look forward to continuing to do so during the 2018-19 school year. Thank you!

Apr 11, 2018

One Teacher's Vision Comes To Life In Pre-K

“Ciérrense los ojos.”  “Close your eyes.”

And so begins the morning’s lesson in Leidy’s classroom. The children are seated along the perimeter of the rug, with their teacher in the center. Under a piece of cloth, she has hidden a bunch of animal toys. Some domestic, some wild, some found in the Dominican Republic, and others that the children have only seen in photos. One by one, she calls the students up and asks them to select an animal, keeping their eyes closed. She asks them to use their imagination, make a mental picture, and connect what they are feeling with what they know about animals. Does it feel like it has wings? A tail? Big or small ears? They feel the edges, and try to create a picture in their mind of what the animal looks like- can they guess which it is?

The kids are silent, enraptured and eager for their turns. Eager to see if their classmates can correctly identify the animal, through touch and imagination alone. After each animal is identified, Leidy and the children discuss where it lives, what it’s environment is like, what it eats, whether it’s the kind of animal that lives with a family or out in the wild. The lesson is a hit—the kids have fun, and are exposed to new vocabulary and the world beyond Batey Libertad. It’s also the kind of teaching and learning you see in Leidy’s classroom every day: kids are engaging their senses, exploring and discovering new things every step of the way.

 

***

Next month, Yspaniola will celebrate two full school years in our Preschool Program. What once began as an accompanying pilot to our main Learning Center program, the Preschool Program has grown immensely and now serves 56 children— and at the center of its evolution is Leidy’s passion for education and vision for change. She is decidedly young at only 21 years old, but confidently manages her own classroom, with a poise beyond her years. She is small in stature, but has a commanding voice and a bold, confident vision for what education can look like for the children of Batey Libertad. 

At the start of the year, Leidy transformed the design of the classroom, making it more of an inviting and colorful space, an environment that encourages learning, openness, and collaboration. Now, walking into the preschool classroom in Batey Libertad is like walking into a rainbow. Bright colors abound: sheer curtains in pink and lime green hang from the windows, playful animal rugs dot the carpet, and the floor is painted light blue. The walls are a soft cream color, making the instructional posters pop out and catch the eyes of the classroom’s young students.  

Leidy explained, “I want [my classroom] to be a cozy environment, where the kids feel at home even though here they are enjoying things that don’t really exist in their own homes. I want them to have faith in their teacher, to feel united and like they can work together and share things. I want them to be able to explore, given that they have so little, and feel like the resources we have here are within their reach.”

This focus on community and belonging is not limited merely to the classroom decor and learning activities—it extends to language as well. That’s where her bilingual teaching assistants, Johnny and Yohana, provide critical support, providing Creole translation when necessary and being extra attentive to students who are in the earlier stages of Spanish language acquisition. Although Spanish is the official language of instruction in the classroom, as Leidy explained, “We don’t have a language rule. We don’t prohibit the use of Creole in the classroom.” By validating their language and background, Leidy creates an inclusive environment where all children feel embraced.

 

***

Last year, Yspaniola supported the construction of a backyard park for the preschool classroom. It now serves many important functions for the program: a space to socialize and play, a place to enjoy their morning meal, and a place to exercise and dance, two things the kids do to facilitate gross motor development.

It’s also the perfect place to share stories and build a sense of community in the process. Read alouds are a favorite among the children. In particular, they love listening to Leidy read aloud from the Adventures of Frog and Toad, a different chapter every week. Reading aloud in this way builds critical early literacy skills. For Leidy, the books serve a variety of important educational purposes--exposing students to the Spanish language and building up vocabulary, familiarizing them with elements of narrative, modeling fluent reading and critical engagement with the text, and also an entry point to discuss social emotional learning skills like friendship, problem solving etc.

Preschool is a formative period in a child's development. Particularly for young students that only speak Haitian Creole at home, or have arrived in the Dominican Republic more recently, early exposure to the Spanish language is of paramount importance. Their minds are more malleable, and they are more likely to reach fluency in a second language at this early age.  With teachers like Leidy at the helm, Yspaniola’s students will be better prepared when they enter the formal public school system—in both literacy and language.

Thank you, Leidy, for inspiring Yspaniola’s students and staff alike!   




 
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