Magical Classroom

by Lets Be Ready
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Magical Classroom
Magical Classroom
Magical Classroom
Magical Classroom
Magical Classroom
Magical Classroom
Magical Classroom
Magical Classroom
Magical Classroom
Magical Classroom
Magical Classroom
This year's four representatives!
This year's four representatives!

Hey friends!

We’ve ben awfully busy this past month as we prepare for the upcoming schoolyear and we were recently very fortunate to earn and share with our compañeros from our sister program, Let’s Be Ready, during their annual teacher training held in Antigua. Like Magic Classroom, Lets Be Ready prepares kids for success in primary school, with the main difference being that they work in semi-rural to urban areas and work with graduated teachers. Due to the remote nature of the communities where we go and the dearth of high school graduates, Magic Classroom seeks to mold motivated and creative youth leaders without previous formal teaching experience into effective educators in their communities. This past year we enjoyed tremendous success with our first generation youth leader facilitators, and we like to think that a lot of that success was made possible because of our emphasis on practical and responsive trainings and site visits in the field sprinkled throughout the year. In a continuation of that same model, we wanted to reward some of our standouts from last year and give them the chance to travel from their communities all the way to Antigua to take in the goodness that is Let’s Be Ready’s bi-annual workshop.

Each region currently enrolled in Magic Classroom was represented at the training by one delegate, leading to total of four reps from our different regions currently served: The Western Highlands of Quetzaltenango, the Pacific Coast, Lake Atitlán and the Sierra de Los Cuchumatánes mountain range. There’s no need to question these young ladies’ commitment as coming to Antigua was no easy task, as some had to travel from as far as eight hours away!

By the end of the week, all four were in unanimous agreement that the workshop was well worth the long bus ride, as they acquired new ideas for the classroom and some new friends as well. In addition to learning new techniques and strategies, all of the workshop attendees were outfitted with tablet technology equipped with our new and greatly improved curriculum components.

For those unfamiliar with the different components of our program, our facilitators receive a guide with specific activities and learning outcomes established for each and every day of the school year. This guide book of activities is accompanied by a careful reading of a suggested book, PLUS an accompanying scripted daily audio capsule that goes in hand-in-hand with the subject of the day. These audio capsules have been completely revamped this year in an effort to help reinforce the day’s content in a fun and creative way.

The introduction of tablet technology was viewed as a logical next step for our program as we wanted to continually make changes to our curriculum based on teacher feedback without having to physically print and deliver new copies each time. Having a tablet and Bluetooth speaker combo will allow our teachers to view their guidebook, play their new and improved audio programs, take pictures in the classroom and provide us with feedback all with greater ease! How cool is that!?

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Please consider making a contribution today if you or a friend is interested in helping prepare rural Guatemalan children for success in the first grade and beyond.

Trying out the latest to hit Magic Classroom!
Trying out the latest to hit Magic Classroom!
The team was all smiles throughout the week
The team was all smiles throughout the week
During one of the more entertaining presentations
During one of the more entertaining presentations
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School's Out in Chiantla!
School's Out in Chiantla!

Hey everyone! As we celebrate the conclusion of another school year here in Guatemala and inch closer to wrapping up 2015, we here at Magic Classroom decided to take a look back on some of the big-picture strides we’ve made as a program in the past year to motivate us as we set out to improve for 2016.

Here are some of the highlights!

  • Improvement and Expansion: Once on the verge of shutting down operations,we have brought our program’s work to new communities while strengthening our existing classrooms by continually improving upon and expanding our curriculum and accompaniment model. After a lot of deliberation and trial by fire we have settled on a program model dependent upon partnership and cooperation, innovation and constant self-improvement. Thanks to a new partnership (more on that soon!), we will also be rolling out an enhanced curriculum in time for the 2016 school year.
  • Partnership and Spreading the Word: Once an almost completely unheard of initiative operating in relative isolation from other organizations and educational actors, Magic Classroom has since formed partnerships with more than five different community organizations (in addition to countless other informal partners and associates) and has been to invited to participate in various educational events conducted by the Guatemalan Ministry of Education, USAID, and local universities. In an effort to both improve our own practices and contribute to the betterment of other education programs, we have also sought out relationships with academic institutions and scholars both domestic and international.
  • Sustainability and Impact: After once having zero sources of outside funding, we now are blessed to have multiple potentially renewable partnerships that have us primed to double our current coverage in time for the upcoming school year. In just a few weeks, we will be celebrating the conclusion of a successful year of classes and begin tallying the results from our first ever year-end evaluation on program impact.

As you can see, we’ve got some nice momentum going and are in a much better position to thrive and expand than when the calendar last flipped over. Next week we’ll be spending an extensive amount of time visiting each and every one of our magical classrooms to get a better idea of the type of impact we’re having in our communities so be sure to expect some photos and stories from the field!

Thank you to all of those that have given and helped support our programs this year and those that have committed to helping us continue our work moving into 2016. Magic Classroom would like to give special thanks to Miracles in Action and the Tillotson Fund for their generous support in helping us reach new heights as an organization.

¡Hasta pronto!

Michael Estill

Program Director

This little one can't wait to start school in 2016
This little one can't wait to start school in 2016
Our coordinator, Lola, can't help but be proud!
Our coordinator, Lola, can't help but be proud!
Astrid in San Juan La Laguna is all smiles
Astrid in San Juan La Laguna is all smiles
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Lately all eyes have been on Aula Magica!
Lately all eyes have been on Aula Magica!

As we continue to make strides to incorporate intuitive and practical technological solutions such as electronic tablets into Aula Mágica classrooms, the buzz around our program has only grown louder. Most recently we were asked to be the subject of an in-depth article to be hosted on global technology solutions leader, CISCO’s Newsroom page thanks to a CISCO writer with previous ties to Guatemala catching a glimpse of our previous feature in the local REVUE Magazine. Our publicity up to date has occurred almost entirely organically thanks to the word of mouth recommendations by our fantastic supporters and other moments of divine intervention like these. To check out the article featured on the Cisco Newsroom site, click here!

We hope to fully equip all of our existing rural classrooms with a tablet, portable Bluetooth speaker and solar charging apparatus in time for the start of the 2016 school year. In addition, we are also currently developing an accompanying mobile application to help enhance our existing curriculum and engage our students in new and creative ways. These technological solutions will help us save time and money as we expand while also allowing us to more effectively measure and record the amount of progress being achieved in Magic Classrooms everywhere. With that said, we need the help and support of creative tech-minded leaders like CISCO and individuals like you to help support us as we continue to expand into this new frontier.

Please share, share, share our work with your friends and family and also consider making a donation today. Your donation would help bring us closer to achieving our goal of fully-equipping all rural Magic Classrooms with cunning edge solutionsin time for the fast-approaching 2016 school year. We are on the precipice of something very exciting with a chance to truly change the foundation of rural education in Guatemala and beyond. How cool would it be to be a part of that?

Tweeted by CISCO!
Tweeted by CISCO!

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Lights, Camera, Action!
Lights, Camera, Action!

This past April, USAID and the Guatemalan Ministry of Education (MINEDUC) hosted a conference designed to bring leading educators from both the government and non-government sector to present and share innovating classroom reading techniques. Over the last several months our program has gone through several evolutions as we have tried to listen to our facilitator’s feedback and strengthen our impact in the classroom and perhaps unsurprisingly, daily reading has since become a core pillar of ours. We have worked hard to identify a list of 10 children’s book titles and are currently developing 50 accompanying activities to be included in each and every one of our classrooms all so that children in rural communities can fall in love with reading and begin to imagine new worlds much different from their own.

Given our abundance of original material and practical reading techniques we felt that Aula Mágica was more than worthy to not only attend the conference, but to also present. Shortly after submitting a proposal to lead a 75 minute workshop, we were elated to learn that our proposal had been one of the first to be accepted and that we would were given the first timeslot of the event! Shortly thereafter Lucy, Lola, Rosa María and myself began our preparation, feeling more than a little unsure about what to expect.

While the coordination on behalf of MINEDUC leading up to the conference left a lot to be desired, upon arriving to the Hotel Conquistador in Guatemala City we were completely blown away by the sheer quantity of people in attendance - an estimated 300 in total, all of them experts in early childhood education. While we were initially admittedly nervous, the wonderful even staff spoiled and pampered us from the moment we walked in the door, making sure that we received our fancy presenter’s badges and morning coffee.

Shortly after the event inauguration, we were off to prepare our beautiful and ample salon for its transformation into a Magic Classroom. I’ll be the first to admit that the bright lights and elegant setup had me beaming like a proud parent after watching their child hit a home run in their first little league game; we hadn’t even begun our presentation yet, but I couldn’t help but feel like we had already taken an important leap in our organization’s history. All the lights aside, things were looking quite bright that Wednesday morning.

Needless to say, once the camera started rolling, Lucy, Lola and Rosa María did a terrific job getting our model classroom off to a great start, incorporating the audience from the get-go and refusing the opportunity to simply present another boring PowerPoint presentation. Even though we were competing against five other presentations in our time slot, we were happy to see that our salon was mostly full and our audience very engaged. Once our initial 20 copies of a sample teacher’s guide had been distributed a line of program directors, teachers, academics and other experts quickly formed to ask for more information and congratulate us on our work. Emails, handshakes and pats on the back were all exchanged at a frantic pace, but over the course of the two day conference we quickly found ourselves all becoming friends.

While it proved difficult to include all the nuts and bolts that go into making our program so special in just 75 minutes, we were happy to sit down and share our organizations’ story with event organizers to be included in a future publication to be shared amongst all attendees and other industry leaders. Ultimately, we all felt more than proud of our showing and walked away feeling that Aula Mágica had without a doubt left its mark on this spectacular event. It goes without saying that we’re already starting to plan for next year.

 

If you are interested in supporting the growth of our reading program or any other aspect of our work, please consider making a donation today. With just 10 dollars you can bring a book to a rural classroom and give children the opportunity to learn and imagine in new ways!

The team all smiles before starting
The team all smiles before starting
The Team
The Team
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[This is an advance copy of an article to be published in the Revue magazine]

The Magical Classroom

By Linda Conard

Every morning, teens walk mountain roads in rural Guatemala carrying magic in their backpacks. When they reach their destinations—community centers, churches, homes—they’re greeted by excited preschoolers who scramble into a circle, eager for the fun to begin. The teens pull from their backpacks small tablet computers loaded with music, lessons and laughter. When they tap “play,” the room fills with the voices of a teacher and his students magically transforming these makeshift classrooms into centers for success.

Children in isolated Guatemalan villages have no preschool teachers and experience little socialization. Up to 40 percent fail the first grade, and either repeat or simply drop out. The nonprofit group Let’s Be Ready developed "Aula Mágica” (Magical Classroom) to bring vital preschool education to these remote regions through audio lessons downloaded onto tablet computers. The program applies Montessori and Creative Curriculum principles to prepare 5 and 6 year olds with the basic knowledge they need to succeed in the first grade, turning that 40 percent failure rate into a 95 percent rate of success.

Aula Mágica also tackles another critical problem in remote regions: smart teens without jobs. With no direct access to secondary school and few job prospects, local teens can’t serve as certified teachers, but they can lead Aula Mágica classes as education promoters, and even earn enough money to complete secondary school and become teachers.

“If we tried to get more certified preschool teachers to rural areas, it would take decades,” says program director Michael Estill. “But with Aula Mágica, in just a few years for every community in Guatemala could have access to a program for preschool preparation.”

Promoters ages 16 and up are selected for their enthusiasm, creativity, literacy and interest in improving their community. They take full responsibility for everything in the classroom, from working with students and parents, arranging for learning spaces, and providing ongoing feedback about the program materials. They also play a dynamic role in the classroom, pausing the audio program every few minutes to engage the children in activities reinforcing each lesson.

“The kids run around flying like airplanes; they go out to find different fruits or colors. They participate,” says Fred Zambroski, Aula Mágica creator and founder of Let’s Be Ready. By the end of the year, the children have the basic knowledge and classroom experience they need to succeed in first grade.

Three Guatemalan volunteers create the magic behind Aula Mágica. Quirio Ixtamer Perez, a special needs teacher, radio personality, actor and clown, records all of the lessons, and he, his wife, and their three children play all the parts. Actress, artist and musician Rosa Maria Ruiz Porras writes all lesson scripts. And schoolteacher Lucy Diaz trains the promoters, develops materials, and ensures that all both the lessons and activity guide address core competencies and link with Guatemala’s national curriculum. 

In 2015, Aula Mágica will compete in the $15 million Global Learning XPRIZE competition, which promotes using tablet technology to “empower children to take control of their own learning,” according to the XPRIZE website. Zambroski and Estill hope to recruit Guatemalan technology experts to lead their tech team.

“Basically, we’re looking at making this an open-source program that can be easily replicated,” says Estill. “Something that could expand to as many people as want to use it,” Zambroski adds. “It’s an organic, constantly changing curriculum. The promoters in the field tell us what works and what doesn’t, and create new ideas for it. It’s quite a mental shift.”

Begun as a small 2014 pilot in San Pedro la Laguna, the Aula Mágica has rapidly expanded to 18 rural Guatemalan communities and is now available only in Spanish but is being translated into Mayan languages. Several libraries and groups in Guatemala and Mexico have expressed interest in adopting it, and Zambroski couldn’t be happier. “I’m 70 years old,” he says, “and I hope to see this become international and grow in hundreds of places in my lifetime.”          

To learn more about Aula Mágica, go tohttp://www.globalgiving.org/projects/interactive-audio-preschool-for-rural-guatemala-youth/ or do a search at GlobalGiving.com. For more information, contact Michael Estill (michaeljestill@gmail.com).

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Organization Information

Lets Be Ready

Location: Longmont, CO - USA
Website:
Project Leader:
Fred Zambroski
Longmont, CO United States
$66,804 raised of $1,000,000 goal
 
358 donations
$933,196 to go
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