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

Developing Mind and Body: An Integrated Approach to Preparing Children

Heading into the 2017 school year both Magical Classroom and our legacy program, Let’s Be Ready, decided to take on a new challenge that extended beyond the classroom. In our pursuit to prepare young children for academic success in the first grade, we’ve come to the realization that a lot of a child’s development takes place outside of and often long before ever entering the classroom. This challenge that we’re taking on is chronic child malnutrition and our proposed solution is Chispuditos.

“Chispu-what? “ you may find yourself saying, but believe me, this is something you’re going to want to learn more about.

What is it?

Chispuditos, is both slang for bright, young children in Spanish and also the name of a special fortified atole (a porridge-style drink) created by our friends at The Mathile Institute to help address malnutrition and vitamin and mineral deficiencies that are so prevalent amongst Guatemalan children ages 0-6. We chose to integrate Chispuditos over other store-bought products into our daily programming due to its proven track record for success amongst children in Guatemala and its unique vitamin and mineral composition that gives it more micronutrients than other locally-available store-bought atoles.  


Why do we care about this? Simple: because when it comes to young children, nutrition goes hand-in-hand with cerebral development and therefore academic performance, and we want our children to thrive in the classroom and realize their full potential. Chispuditos has also proven to significantly improve the immune systems of the young children drinking it, making them far less susceptible to repeated bouts of illness that would keep them out of the classroom otherwise.

The importance of partnering

It would be near impossible to find an organization whose goals and ambitions are any more complementary to our own organizational priorities and strengths better than those of our friends at The Mathile Institute. The driving mission behind both Magical Classroom and Let’s Be Ready has been to prepare young children for success in the first grade with the guiding logic being that intervention delivered at a young age has the best shot at positively impacting and maximizing their cognitive development. The Mathile Institute has taken a similar approach with Chispuditos in recognizing that the most successful interventions in reversing the effects of malnutrition are those that impact kids as they are still in their formative years. Luckily for us our students represent that exact population, and our success as grassroots organizers in our partner communities means that we already have parents on our side as well, making it much easier to get families to buy-in to the importance of consuming Chispuditos according to instructions. Our programs also operate almost exclusively in rural communities where food security and a lack of socioeconomic mobility are very real issues, meaning that the children whom we will be serving are more at-risk to the effects of chronic malnutrition and stunted development. By working together our students can now be both mentally and physically prepared to thrive in the first grade and beyond in ways previously unimaginable.

How we’re doing it

One thing that we loved about Chispuditos was all of the data supporting how impactful it can be directed at a demographic very similar to ours. That was made possible by The Mathile Institute’s requirement that partnering organizations utilizing Chispuditos must collect data on each Chispudito beneficiary and we are no exception. Both programs began collecting baseline data on the height, weight, illness history, and in some cases hemoglobin levels for both our enrolled students and any additional younger siblings not yet attending our classes. The decision to include the younger siblings of our students was made in an effort to try to capture more children that are as close to the first 1,000  days of their lives as possible in the program so as to have an even greater impact on their physical and cognitive development down the road. Having as many of these younger siblings in our program is a personal priority for our program just as it is for Mathile, as these future students that have consumed Chispuditos per indications will someday become healthier, more active and intellectually curious students in our classrooms down the line.  

A look at the numbers

While the vast majority of the baseline data has already been collected in both programs, the final tallies are still coming in. Here’s a look at some of the numbers currently:


Let’s Be ReadyMagical ClassroomLBR/MC Combined


  • # of Communities evaluated


  • Total # of children measured (height, weight)


  • # of children < 2 yrs old measured


  • # of children < 3 years old


  • # of children < 4 years old


  • # of children w/ hemoglobin exam


  • # of mothers educated


We originally hoped to include greater number of younger siblings into our initial Chispuditos distribution than we’ve currently achieved, but we began this endeavor understanding that it would be a process and that working closely with mothers is key to this program’s success and ability to grow. In that same spirit we feel that we have taken a solid first step in that direction, making it a requirement that mothers take turns in preparing Chispuditos every day before class and requiring them to attend an informational session on malnutrition basics and the proper preparation and consumption of Chispuditos before the first distribution. Let’s Be Ready already has experience In organizing nutrition-centered workshops with mothers, and Magical Classroom has taken steps to effectively carry out similar activities once every month with the help of our locally-stationed Regional Coordinators who in addition to being great educators, are now on their way towards becoming knowledgeable on nutrition topics as well. These mothers will meet with our coordinators and will partake in culturally-appropriate and engaging activities to help inform, educate and hopefully convince them that both early childhood education and proper nutrition need to be a priority for their families and children.

We are still collecting the last batch of data from the field and will subsequently begin processing and interpreting the numbers so as to offer more insight on where our little ones stand in regards to height and weight (and hemoglobin levels for some) in the next few days.

Chispuditos in school and in the home

As part of our initial informational workshops with mothers prior to collecting this round of baseline data, we helped instruct mothers on the proper preparation and administration of Chispuditos. All children attending LBR and MC classes are asked to show up to school with an 8 oz. cup and one Quetzal per week to help in exchange for one cup of Chispuditos per day, Monday through Friday. Parents who are interested in receiving Chispuditos for their younger children not yet in the classroom have the option to purchase a month’s supply at the subsidized cost of 4 Q/ month. We plan on monitoring compliance in the homes through daily informal questioning and occasional follow-up visits when necessary. For the most part, we feel confident that our fun and engaging workshops will go a long way towards assuring that whatever Chispuditos purchased for use in the home goes to the intended beneficiary and not Grandpa or Aunt Silvia. So far mothers have seemed eager to learn and have done a great job retaining crucial information and instructions. An indicator of this enthusiasm is represented in the higher than expected amount of mothers who granted us consent to perform the hemoglobin test on their children. This test was always optional to parents and while some parents of certain communities weren’t necessarily on board with the idea at first, but after learning more about the sometimes invisible nature of chronic malnutrition and its effects, a great number of those same parents later came around to the idea. Unfortunately, we didn’t anticipate this happening at the time and didn’t have enough slides to perform the full amount of tests solicited. We’ll be ready for next year, though!

 Concluding remarks

Overall, the early returns from this new endeavor have been overwhelmingly positive by all indicators. Families and more particularly mothers, are excited that their children stand to benefit in new ways by attending our classes and we ourselves couldn’t be more thrilled by the potential impact that this latest improvement to our program can have both in the immediate and long-term. We hope to continue to improve our implementation model for this new program and of course will be keeping close attention as it unfolds. With the help of Mathile, we look forward to seeing more young children being given a chance to realize their full potential.


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Dearest friends, 

I want to share with you that in the past few weeks we were in Retalhuleu, in the communities of San Andrés Villa SecaBacajiaanexo 1 and Pajales in San Felipe, and los Ángeles 

The reason for our visit was to take hemoglobin and anthropometric measurements of all of our children and their younger siblings ages 0 to 6. We do this work to be able to support our children with our nutrition program, and we want to know how their initial health is to be able to measure the impact we will have in their lives. We have completed the first measurements and we will wait to conduct them again in October, at which time we hope to find better results.  

 We found the majority of the children to have many health problems: malnourishment, under weight, eye infections, skin infections, children with parasites, and children whose teeth are in very poor condition. It’s very sad to see all of these issues in children so small, but it motivates us deeply to continue working with the hope that our program will make a significant change in them so their growth and development can be healthy and dignified.  

 The families are happy and grateful for the support that is offered, and now know that everything we do is only for the well-being of their children. All of the families that are in our program have very few resouces; their monthly incomes are minimal (approximately 700 Quetzales per month, for a family of 7 members) from cutting cane and working in the field, and with what little they have they buy necessities such as food and occasionally clothing.  

 We are proud of our families; we have groups of mothers organized to prepare chispuditos and the great support of our facilitators and local Community Coordinators to make our program successful.  

 We are working in conjunction with the Mathile Institute and their nutritional program Chispudito, and we are very grateful for them and their immense support and profesionalism 

 In this trip two volunteers from the United States accompanied us: Julie, who is a nurse, and Evy who is a professor. Many thanks, Julie and Evy, for the support! Here is their story: 

Volunteer Story: April 2017 

I was invited to be a part of Aula Mágica as I am a Registered Nurse and I enjoy volunteering where what we do makes a difference. Without going into detail about the project (I'd love to go into detail for anyone who is interested), I'd just like to share my 3 day experience. 

We got to Retalhuleau and parked our gear at our very primitive hotel before heading into the "boonies" to do our work. Over a 3 day period we served over 100 kids, ages 5 and below. We saw 6 of the Aula Magica classrooms. All were in spaces no larger than most American utility rooms and 5 of them had dirt floors with bricks and boards for seating, corrugated tin walls, if any walls at all, no blackboards, etc. But let me tell you, the walls in every single one were decorated with the work the kids are doing and the work is beautiful! There was art (yellow happened to be the color they were studying at the moment), there were pages of handwritten numbers and alphabet practice and collages of "family" and food, etc.[Text Wrapping Break]With the exception of size and a "real" classroom, Aula Magicia classrooms looked like any American classroom where it was obvious all the basics were being taught. The kids were enthusiastic and happy and thriving in the classroom. 

On the flip side, as a nurse, I saw skin sores (I wanted to be a MD often as I witnessed conditions that needed to be medically treated), pink eye, obvious malnutrition, etc. 

I'm very grateful to be a part of a program addressing the malnutrition as I believe many of the conditions I saw will clear up when the kids start taking the supplements our donations are providing. 

These kids are smart. They are already working hard to excel in school. They shouldn't be dropped between the cracks and forgotten just because they are in remote villages where nutritious food is hard to come by. 

The teachers are doing a fabulous job of teaching these kids. Their dedication is obvious. They are working hard to make a difference. 

It only cost $1.60 a month per child to give them a daily dose of the supplement but these moms (mostly single teen moms) cannot afford it. It is my hope that ALL of my friends will donate a minimum of $19.20 (a years worth of the supplement) each so that every child has a chance for better health which in turn leads to better performance in school. 


Julie, RN 


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With a contagious sense of joy, well-being and humility about her, Claudia has a disposition that seems tailor-made for early childhood education. She believes in education because she knows that through it, she can develop her community and help her country. But above all, it’s her immense love of kids that fuels her to work as a Magical Classroom teacher and coordinator. Claudia teaches and coordinates 10 classrooms in the region of Retalhuleu, supporting her peers to strengthen their own classrooms and move their communities forward, especially by working with parents: an aspect of Magical Classroom that Claudia has found to be integral to the kids’ success.

Claudia is one of 5 children, with two older siblings and two younger siblings. Her mother never had much work, and sells food and tortillas to support her children. Though her mother only completed the 2nd grade, education is highly valued in Claudia’s family, as they know it’s the key to creating opportunities in the future. Through working with her mom and receiving support from scholarships, Claudia was able to study to become a teacher. She was connected with Magical Classroom in 2016, and is extremely grateful for the opportunity to follow her passion, continuing to learn and grow as an educator and coordinator. Last year Claudia taught 15 students, who are now all in primary school. Their teachers say they are far more prepared than the other students, which is extremely rewarding for Claudia to hear, and motivates her to work with other communities and help the program to expand, supporting as many kids as possible.

During her first year as a teacher, Claudia quickly realized parental involvement is essential for the success of the kids. She goes to each student's’ house to invite the parents to come to meetings, in order to see the location of the classroom, learn more about the program, and get involved by helping with activities and learning how to work with their kids at home. If the parents aren’t motivated to help their kids learn, then their attendance rate drops, and they don’t do as well in class. So, Claudia wants to help parents see their kids’ capabilities from a young age, and realize that they can accomplish their dreams and contribute to better opportunities for everyone in the country. Not only is Claudia inspired by witnessing the daily growth and development of her students, but she also finds great excitement in helping parents get involved and participate in activities- she knows the progress of the students and the engagement of the parents are inseparable. As a coordinator, she hopes to support her peers by helping them to work with the parents, because in new communities it can be difficult to generate support from families. More than anything, Claudia wants to help her peers stay in contact with the parents, and will support them in this way however they need- undoubtedly, with a huge smile on her face all the while.

It is for educators like Claudia, Astrid, and Arcadio that Magical Classroom lives up to its name, and continues to thrive and grow: their resilience, compassion, and commitment to having a positive impact on their communities from the youngest members up is truly inspirational.

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Deeply passionate about education, Astrid has dreamed of being a teacher since she was a little girl. As regional coordinator of 6 preschool classrooms in San Juan La Laguna, and embarking on her 4th year as a teacher for Aula Magica (teaching preschool from the library in San Juan, her community), one could say with certainty that her dream has come true. However, for much of her childhood, Astrid’s chances of becoming an educator seemed slim: from ages 11-13, Astrid had to quit school to help support her family financially. For two years she yearned to return to school, her desire to study taking precedence over everything else. Astrid values education so highly that she hasn’t left the classroom since: because of her past, Astrid gives all that she has to her job as a teacher.

Astrid spent the first 5 years of her life with her parents, before her world shifted. Her father (an alcoholic) left the family, and her mother remarried. Astrid moved in with her grandparents, who’d had 9 kids of their own. Of the nine, only three went to school. Astrid’s mother was one of the three, having completed the 6th grade- an uncommon accomplishment in rural areas of Guatemala. Astrid feels immense gratitude for her grandparents, who gave her all they could: her values, and the opportunity to get an education. Now 75 and 73 years old, they treat her as a daughter, rather than a granddaughter, and Astrid wants nothing more than to be able to reciprocate the care and support they gave her. Still, Astrid felt a sense of lack throughout her childhood, seeing families with kids and full lives and longing for those experiences. When she had to quit school at age 11 to in order help provide her family with extra income, she was heartbroken. Astrid worked daily making textiles and picking coffee, making 15 Quetzales ($2) per textile- a craft learned from her grandmother, and the family’s main means of income. She was embarrassed to not be in school, and had no friends, only leaving her home on Sundays. So when the municipality’s government gave Astrid’s mother a small grant and Astrid was able to return to school at age 13, she did so with a renewed sense of hope, motivation and gratitude. Astrid knows that it was due to the support of many that she was able to graduate with a specialty in teaching, and wants to return the gift to her community; aspiring that all may feel the enthusiasm she feels for learning, and the opportunities that come from it. She carries not an ounce of bitterness from her past, only appreciation; she even hopes to one day reconnect with her father and share her gratitude and positive outlook with him.

For Astrid, the most important thing she can teach her students is that education is fun. To this end, we have to teach in a way that’s fun... so kids want to go to school, and have a desire to learn everything: this, Astrid says, is every teacher’s job. It’s also Astrid’s specialty: she creates a dynamic classroom that’s full of energy, teaching with love and patience to build the best education possible for her students. She seeks to share these values with her peers, so that they too can build successful classrooms and a culture of enthusiasm. Astrid also sees great value in the classroom games played with recycled materials, geared towards developing the minds of her students. She wants to make these games so accessible that they’re played by children in communities all over Guatemala, developing their minds while playing. Because for Astrid, learning and fun are one and the same: she teaches with joy and enthusiasm, motivated by her past to shape bright futures. 

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            Arcadio believes education is the key to developing social and communal strength. He sees education as one of the most important pillars of the human experience: the way by which communities are empowered, and people realize their ability to contribute to positive change. Arcadio knows he can deeply affect his community through education, helping to develop that which is missing, and contributing to a wave of empowerment. He knows the reality of many living in rural areas, sharing in the collective struggle of those who have dreams to receive an education without the means to accomplish them. But Arcadio also knows dreams can become a reality- his story a testament to what is possible when you believe in yourself and have a positive mentality, refusing to yield to the barriers in your way.

            One of nine children, Arcadio’s family has always struggled economically. Arcadio had to leave school after the 3rd grade to help contribute to the family’s income, working with his father to sell vegetables beginning at age ten. He did so until he was sixteen years old, when he began working in agriculture. Arcadio recalls these childhood years of work with neither resentment nor sadness- doing what needed to be done to support his family, Arcadio assumed he’d never be able to prioritize his education. At age eighteen, he joined a youth group in the local church, actively participating and sharing his opinions. He was soon asked to coordinate the group, studying theology with other members of the municipality. When a friend involved with youth development invited Arcadio to join a training on human rights, civic participation and sociopolitical participation, Arcadio was quick to accept. At one point during the training, he was asked what his education level was, and felt uneasy about disclosing the truth to a group comprised of professionals, teachers, and university students who had all gone beyond the 3rd grade, unlike himself. A colleague in the same situation proposed that they study together, and Arcadio soon began taking classes for adults at an education center through La Sagrada Familia de Chiantla. His schedule was difficult: Arcadio continued to work Monday through Friday from 4:30 in the morning to 7:30 at night, listening to lessons over the radio at 8:30 each night and going to the center on weekends to take classes. In spite of being ridiculed and told he was too old by many, Arcadio persevered for one and a half years, and completed 6th grade at age 21.

            Though he hadn’t initially planned to go beyond 6th grade, Arcadio’s connections in the education center motivated him to continue with el basico (middle school equivalent). For five years, Arcadio continued to work in agriculture on weekdays, studying on nights and weekends. He barely had enough money for classes and transportation, and had no money left over for food when he went to the center on weekends, waiting until he returned home to eat. But thanks to his father supporting him with what little he could, Arcadio finished 3rd basico at age 26. He then returned to working in agriculture, assuming his studies were completed. However, by the end of the year’s harvest, Arcadio had made enough money to begin studying again the following year. He entered school in the field of primary education, attending classes from 7:30 to 12:30 on weekdays, supported by his father and brothers. In October, 2013, at age 31, Arcadio graduated as a primary school teacher. Upon graduating, the head of the program asked if anyone was interested in going to university. Arcadio said yes, as it was a dream of his, but he figured he’d never be able to attend due to finances. When his evaluation was good enough to enroll at the University of San Carlos, Arcadio wasn’t very excited, because he knew he couldn’t afford to attend.

            In the meantime, Arcadio was coordinating a theater group that performed for human rights initiatives, informing the public about sexual health and HIV. Performing nationally, Arcadio made connections with activists in other municipalities, and was recruited to work with a Women's’ Empowerment project in Chiantla and Aguacatán, called Mujeres Empoderadas. Arcadio initially worked with 5 groups of 20 women each, and by the end of his three years with Mujeres Empoderadas, was a trainer of 15 groups: working with 300 women total and discussing human rights, women's’ rights, and teaching entrepreneurial activities such as cosmetics and candle making. When the project ended in September, 2016, Arcadio had saved enough money to begin attended university. He briefly returned to agricultural work to help his brothers, and was connected with Aula Magica in January of 2017, receiving the opportunity to become a teacher and coordinator.

            Arcadio attends university classes and does work-study in the mornings, and teaches in the afternoons. He hopes to have a degree in teaching secondary school by next year, and dreams of studying an additional two years to receive a license in education. He is closer than he ever thought he would be, and seeks to contribute to education in Guatemala to help create the change he knows his country is capable of. For all of his work in empowerment, Arcadio sees the importance of self-support, and realizing one's’ own capabilities. He hopes to support his peers in this way as a coordinator, working as a team to help prepare kids for success. Arcadio says the most important impact he can have on his students is to help them discover their different abilities: because we all have something to discover through education, we just need the opportunity. 

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Lets Be Ready

Location: Longmont, CO - USA
Project Leader:
Fred Zambroski
Longmont , CO United States
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