A World of Reading for Maya Children in Guatemala

by Pueblo a Pueblo, Inc.
Student Literacy Ambassadors
Student Literacy Ambassadors

Our partner schools have seen much more activity in their libraries since the beginning of the year -- in part because of the efforts of a group of student leaders known as Literacy Ambassadors.

At the beginning of the school year in late January, each of our partner schools chose a group of 8 fifth and sixth grade students to be Literacy Ambassadors. After the first month of the year, however, the teachers and librarians found that the older students’ excitement about being Ambassadors was waning. They met with the students, and decided to choose a new group of third and fourth grade students that would be more likely to motivate their peers.

Since teachers at La Cumbre and Chacaya schools chose the younger groups of Literacy Ambassadors in mid-March, the libraries have seen a huge increase in student participation. The student ambassadors are responsible for guiding other students to the library during their 30 minute recess, and assisting in each day’s literacy activities. For example, on days when the recess activity is reading stories in the library, student ambassadors will each read a story out loud to a small group of other students.

The enthusiastic participation of the new Literacy Ambassadors has helped to significantly increase student use of the libraries. At the beginning of the year, students were only borrowing books from the library on Wednesdays, which had been designated as book-borrowing day. In February and March, students at Chacaya school borrowed only 54 and 58 books, respectively. Since April, however, students have been going to the library every day of the week to borrow books. In April, May, and June, students borrowed 201, 302, and 330 books!

We’re excited to see more students excited about reading, and to see student literacy ambassadors leading their peers!

Literacy Ambassadors in the library
Literacy Ambassadors in the library
Project Coordinator, Lidia, at La Cumbre School
Project Coordinator, Lidia, at La Cumbre School

Since the new school year began in January, our Pathways to Literacy project has been quite busy!

Project staff and teachers at our partner schools began the year by updating the cataloging of books and evaluating the reading levels of students. Assessing students’ reading skills is a very important first step before beginning the year’s literacy activities. Many students are below grade level, and to help them advance, we need to understand where they are struggling. Pathways to Literacy Project Manager, Lidia Quieju, found many students have very low literacy levels -- “many have trouble identifying the letters of the alphabet.”  She explained that one way to improve their reading levels is “to find strategies to encourage the habit of reading.”

After evaluating student reading levels, literacy activities began at the beginning of March. So far, students have learned about the alphabet and have reinforced their lessons with fun and creative activities. For example, first graders learned by putting their names in alphabetical order while second and third graders played “alphabet soup” and found the names of characters from their story of the week.

The school libraries have also been busy lending out books to students; since the school year began, students have already checked out more than 265 books! Lidia told us she has seen big improvements in the school libraries this year, adding that this year, the students are “giving much more importance to borrowing books from the library.”

Lidia has also seen a lot more parent involvement in literacy efforts overall, with many parents coming to the school to read books with their children. In April, staff will be focusing their efforts on including more parents in literacy activities alongside children and teachers.

In addition to literacy classes, lending books, and parent involvement, the libraries have also held activities during recess time, including storytime, art, and literacy games. Now, the schools are busy preparing for World Book Day on April 23rd with the help of their community support groups. Students will be celebrating with various literacy and book related activities. This is sure to be an exciting event!

Students at La Cumbre Library
Students at La Cumbre Library
Chacaya students creating art inspired by books!
Chacaya students creating art inspired by books!
Students participate in an activity with Lidia
Students participate in an activity with Lidia
Students learning the alphabet
Students learning the alphabet
Students compete in the rock band contest!
Students compete in the rock band contest!

October marked the end of the school year here in Guatemala—but that doesn’t mean the learning stopped! To keep students engaged and learning during the break, our Pathways to Literacy Project hosted a two week long literacy camp during the month of November.

Students and families were very excited about the camp; within 5 minutes, 25 students had signed up! After registration ended, there were 43 students ranging from ages 6-12 that chose to participate. The camp lasted for two weeks, consisting of a two hour morning session for the younger age group, and a two hour afternoon session for the older students.

Each day of camp, the students read a new book as a group and then did creative activities inspired by what they had read. For example, one day the students read a book about sounds, and took this theme further by creating musical instruments out of craft materials and hosting a rock band competition. The aim of each day’s activities was to show students that reading isn’t just associated with school, but that books can travel off the page and be fun sources of inspiration.

Beyond reinforcing literacy skills, the camp also provided a safe and stimulating environment for many students who would otherwise have had to work or do chores at home. Students instead got a fun break, while also keeping up the habit of reading to transition more smoothly into the new school year.

Pathways to Literacy Project Manager, Lidia, discussed the importance of the literacy camps:

"My favorite activities took place on the fourth day of camp, when the kids made puppets out of socks after reading a book called Títeres (puppets) by Marilyn Price, and then divided up into small groups to present their own puppet shows.

This activity demonstrated what I think is the most important aspect of the literacy camp; that is, kids reading and then using their imagination to expand upon what they learned and create their own crafts out of common objects. Once they've started doing that at the camp they can repeat it at home, and they can keep expanding their imagination through reading.”

School librarian, Julio, reads to the children
School librarian, Julio, reads to the children
Students eating their nutritious snacks!
Students eating their nutritious snacks!
Showing off his handmade instrument
Showing off his handmade instrument
Having fun exploring sounds and music
Having fun exploring sounds and music

The last time we wrote to you, we shared our excitement for the expansion of our school libraries in the Cerro de Oro community at the La Cumbre School.  The library first opened on April 14, 2015 and now averages 300 student visits each month with a stock of about 1,700 books. Now, Pueblo a Pueblo is excited to share more about how La Cumbre has been finding ways to foster youth leadership in the library through a student library club!

The Student Library Club is made up of eight 3rd through 6th graders – children selected for their personal interests in and frequent use of the library. These children have the shared task of providing support to their peers and younger students in weekly library activities. These activities include assisting peers in checking out books, storytelling with younger students and helping to catalog books alongside the school librarian.

“The goal is that the Student Library Club will become an integral part of the library program so that not only the teachers and librarians feel responsible for maintaining the activities, but also the students themselves.” Lillie, Child Education Program Assistant

Recently, on September 9th, the Student Library Club promoted International Literacy Day by reading stories to their peers during school recess! Spanish literacy is a constant challenge for the students since most are more comfortable speaking Tz’utujil, their native language, than Spanish. It was incredible to witness such commitment and responsibility demonstrated by the students in leading group reading activities.

Needless to say, the use of the library and an active Student Library Club has provided low literacy level students with greater confidence and ability of reading and understanding Spanish texts.

Recognizing the assets of a community includes local youth. Youth are very resilient and have many gifts to contribute if given the space, support and appropriate guidance. Thanks to your support, and the support of the Cerro de Oro community. The student leaders at the La Cumbre School now have a communal space and collection of books that allows them to indulge in their curiosity, develop literacy skills and realize their own strengths and leadership abilities.

Following the success of the Pathways to Literacy project in Chacaya and Chukmuk, Pueblo a Pueblo is excited about our most recent expansion of school libraries in the La Cumbre School! La Cumbre is located in Cerro de Oro, another coffee-farming community in the Atitlan region. In the past, other Pueblo a Pueblo projectsincluding Organic School Gardens and WASH, have thrived at La Cumbre, thanks to the dedication and enthusiasm of their teachers and students. Now, the school can also boast a dynamic and functioning library of its own.

The La Cumbre library first opened on April 14, 2015 and is currently stocked with 1,700 books. A lending program allows students and teachers continuous access to books both inside and outside of school building. Lidia, our project manager, along with the school librarian lead activities for students focused on improving literacy skills as part of their school day.

The library is a particularly important addition to La Cumbre because most students are not only illiterate, but also solely speak Tz’utujil and do not understand Spanish. Since the library has opened, students who started out completely unable to read are now capable of reading and understanding Spanish texts!

We are currently expanding the library’s collection of books, as well as organizing and cataloging existing resources. Replicating our model from Chacaya and Chukmuk, Pueblo a Pueblo’s goal is to ultimately embed literacy into the fabric of rural primary schools, and have the program entirely run by the schools’ staff.

The students at the La Cumbre School exhibit their excitement about the new library daily with active participation in library activities and frequent visits throughout the day to browse the selection of books lining the shelves. They take pride in their new library and love helping us organize and prepare library materials.

Thanks to your support, and the support of the Cerro de Oro community, students at the La Cumbre School now have a communal space and collection of books that allows them to indulge in their curiosity and develop literacy skills in creative new ways.


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Organization Information

Pueblo a Pueblo, Inc.

Location: Neenah, WI - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.puebloapueblo.org
Project Leader:
Andrew Wilson
Executive Director
Neenah, WI United States

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