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
Following along in the manual
Following along in the manual

This past week Aula Mágica wrapped up its annual teacher training program held high up in the mountains of Huehuetenango in anticipation for the upcoming school year. Lola (our program coordinator), Lucy (our teacher trainer), and myself (carrier of heavy things) were joined on Sunday, February 15th by a total of seven participants hailing from very different and distant locations eager to take in a week of fun and activity.

We were joined by our standout participant from last year’s session, Astrid from San Juan La Laguna located along the shores of Lake Atitlán, Melisa, whom while new to the program, comes from the tropical self-sufficient agricultural community of La Florida participating in its second straight year, in addition to five new participants–Raúl, Alicia, Mari, Nancy and Carolina- coming from different communities spread throughout the vast expanses of the municipality of Chiantla. While our training was intentionally held in as central of a location as possible, almost everybody had to partake in a long and tiring day of travel –walking, hiking and changing many buses- to join us for the training. With travel times ranging from 2-13 hours, there was absolutely no doubt about the group’s earnestness and commitment to the program.

Six of the seven invitees were entirely new to the program and largely without any experience as educators, making this training an entirely new beast from past iterations where the bulk of our facilitators were graduated teachers. The gradual shift from working with unemployed teachers to youth leaders from remote areas called for almost an entirely new and flexible training approach, a difficult challenge to which our staff responded to impeccably.

As to be expected, the group of 16-23 year olds' demeanor could initially be described as incredibly shy and hesitant to engage in certain activities or ask questions. However, thanks to our staff’s creativity and a necessity for team work, the ice was slowly but surely broken, allowing for a truly dynamic learning atmosphere to take place. With practical classroom techniques and routines discussed during the mornings on the first few days and engaging activities sprinkled in throughout the afternoons, the group found itself gelling in no time and grasping all of the new information faster than we ever anticipated.

Once classes adjourned, facilitators where asked to study their materials and work on crafts that would be needed for the following day –getting them accustomed to a routine of planning that is so important to any teacher’s success. Much to our pleasant surprise, a glance into one of the dorm rooms following classes would typically reveal a quiet group pouring over their activity manuals and reviewing their notes from that day. In the evenings teams and roles were assigned to everybody in the group to help cook or prepare a certain meal, making meal time an exercise in both laughter and comradery, bringing smiles and a sense of satisfaction to everybody. It goes without saying that nearly every waking minute was taken advantage of and utilized to have fun, learn and work together in some way or fashion.

Once familiar with basic classroom expectations and a solid pedagogical base, the group would spend their morning putting all of their new theories into practice working with a large group of wide-eyed preschoolers at a local school. Just a few minutes into the first class, the children had already fallen in love with all of the different components of the program, asking us each day if we would be coming back for classes tomorrow. While again timid at first around the kids, the demonstrated success of our activities and growing familiarity with program materials helped buoyed the confidence of our youth leaders leading to immense progress and a growing sense of comfort with each passing day.

For our final night together as a group we headed into town to celebrate the successful culmination of the training, where we shared laughs and pizza before each participant was honored with a diploma cementing their status as the next generation of rural educational facilitators. Before heading our separate ways the final morning, each member of our graduating class expressed feeling prepared and most importantly, proud, to represent Aula Mágica and impart a new era of learning in their communities. We ourselves couldn’t be more proud to call them part of our organization’s family and feel certain that each and every one will thrive as they embark on their journey as leaders of positive and lasting change.

Melisa and Carolina studying hard
Melisa and Carolina studying hard
The group rehearsing their farm animal sounds
The group rehearsing their farm animal sounds
Having fun learning how to use their radios
Having fun learning how to use their radios
Lola, Lucy and the new team
Lola, Lucy and the new team
Bienvenido 2015!
Bienvenido 2015!
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New Curriculum And New Technology For Classroom Teachers, Rural Libraries, And Promoters

 We are taking preschool into rural areas and into the 21st century with leading edge technology, not only to deliver the programs, but also to eliminate cumbersome printed user manuals, and allow the teachers using the programs to suggest improvements to the content through the internet. This will result in constant improvement and provide the most current programs in the hands of the teachers though out the school year.

  • There will be a home screen on a tablet (like an ipad) where the teacher accesses to tools she needs through a simple, easy to use interface common to apps in use on tablets and smart phones everywhere today:
  • Teachers will connect their tablets to bluetooth speakers and use the mp3 players imbedded in the tablets to play the programs.
  • They will choose from over a hundred activities for the day from a screen on their tablet that contains the objectives, materials needed, and methods to make the experience meaningful for the kids.
  • They will choose a book and review the tips for reading to the kids.
  • After the session, they will rate the programs and activities using their tablet, adding comments and suggestions for improvements by typing or using modern dictating technology.

When not using their tablets for teaching the kids or making recommendations for improvements, they can study English on free internet apps, or take pictures with a flash camera and write emails to their sponsors. They could even call them on Video Skype!

Playing the programs, planning from the suggested activities, filling an evaluation form, and writing suggestions for improvements can all be done without a connection to the internet. To update the programs, send their ideas for improvements or to Skype and send the pictures and emails they have written, they will have to at some time go to a wifi enabled area. These areas are accessible to most rural Guatemalans while on trips the nearest medium sized pueblo to go to the market, visit family and do other errands common in their lives. The items remain stored on their tablets until connected to the internet, no matter how long that takes.

 The tablets and speakers do require charging. In areas where there is not electricity we are providing special mp3 players with solar chargers. Too, we are installing at least one 10 station solar charger and LED light bulbs in a centrally located school for use by the teachers and community members who will pay a fee that will go towards buying replacement storage batteries.

It is quite a jump from the CD players, printed manuals and notebooks that we have been using, but cost effective and will result in much faster development of the programs, using the ideas of the people using the programs in the classrooms. Printed color manuals (good for one year) cost $45. The CD/MP3 player cost $30.

A tablet and speaker can be purchased for around a $100.

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This past January, the leadership team from Aula Mágica traveled to the municipality of Chiantla located in the northwestern Guatemalan department of Huehuetenango to explore the potential for collaboration between our program and local communities. While we were plenty optimistic for the trip, even our greatest expectations were surpassed by the end of things.

While the town center is just a short drive away from the bustling city of Huehuetenango and offers many urban comforts, Chiantla’s municipal boundaries (similar to the county system back in the U.S.) are incredibly vast and sparsely populated. Our program had received an invitation on behalf of our close partner, Miracles in Action, to examine the possibility of working with different communities in the area known to be well-organized and without pre-school education. With a population over 100,000 people sparsely spread through 76 different rural communities –many of them without electricity and government pre-school programs- we knew that Chiantla could end up being an ideal landing spot for Aula Mágica. And so we traveled more than 6 hours away from our starting point in Antigua up the windy and bumpy mountain roads of Huehuetenango, bumbling from community to community in search of partners to grow our humble yet ambitious program.

The majority of Chiantla’s rural communities are located in a rocky plateau high above the town center in the foothills of the majestic Cuchumatanes mountain range. The terrain in this former glacial plateau is not unlike that found on the moon: desolate, dry and no signs of life in many places. A constant lack of water combined with the area’s frigid temperatures makes growing crops incredibly difficult in most area, forcing most families to economically depend on potato and lamb production. Life here is not easy, meaning that families have had to stick together across generations to survive tough times. This community organization is exactly what will help make Aula Mágica so successful in this area.

During our time bouncing from community to community in our rented pick-up truck, we were captivated by the resilience of the communities and the individuals that call them home. Carolina, a soon to be promotora in Aula Mágica, has been participating in a government study program for the last few years to approach her high school degree despite being from a community with only primary school education available. How Carolina was able to fund her studies is even more impressive: Initially given one sheep by her parents to raise and someday sell for profit, Carolina quickly used the earnings from her first sale to turn one sheep into two. Two sheep soon became three and so on until finally making enough money to pay for her schooling. Unfortunately, the next necessary jump in her schooling ended up exceeding Carolina’s budget, forcing her to reconsider her ambitions to someday graduate from college.

However, with the help of Aula Mágica, Carolina will now earn enough money to follow her dream and continue her studies while simultaneously bringing quality education to the upcoming generation. Carolina is just one of five future Aula Mágica instructors from the Chiantla area invited to participate in next week’s teacher training, and each one of her peer’s stories offering a similar tale of perseverance and commitment towards the betterment of their communities. Like Carolina and her peers, we at Aula Mágica are willing to go the distance to help people like her realize their full educational potential - even if it requires raising a sheep or two to do so.

Presenting Aula Magica in Capzincito
Presenting Aula Magica in Capzincito
Mothers love our books!
Mothers love our books!
Carolina, our newest instructor.
Carolina, our newest instructor.
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2015 Lets Be Ready Teachers
2015 Lets Be Ready Teachers

We just completed the training session for teachers that we hold for a week every year in January. There were over 30 people there from all of the communities that we touch during the year. We gather the teachers togetherat Familias de Esperanza two times each year. It is where I began volunteering seven years ago. They provide us with a meeting room more than adequate for our group, dormitory rooms for all the people, and a kitchen for us to cook in. We literally could not run the organization with as many teachers as we have without their cooperation.

We take this opportunity in January to thank all the teachers, do organizational tasks such as get all of their current emails and get them the addresses of their sponsors so they can keep them informed throughout the year. We also use the opportunity to get to know them better and have them get to know each other better so that they feel they have a support group, even though they operate totally independently throughout the year. We give them new supplies too, especially books, and teach them how to use them. They have 2 hour sessions where they teach each other what they've been doing and learning in their classrooms. It is altogether a great event with a lot of young people energy.

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Lucy training young promoters
Lucy training young promoters
I just received new data that reinforces the need for the programed curriculum that we have developed for the young promoters to use with Aula Magica. I knew that the travel bill for the teachers was going up in our "traditional program" in Guatemala, Lets Be Ready, but I was surprised when I added it up for the year. We paid 5 teachers 30-50% above their stipend just to travel to the rural areas where there is the greatest need, but the shortest supply of trained teachers. We plan to continue to do that next year, but also to implement the Magical Classroom program that we have been developing for the past 3 years. 
I have funded the development costs for Aula Magica of over $15,000 to get the programs written and recorded, and to have the activities written to go with them. Also, we have piloted and revised them all along the way over the past 3 years. Last year we had our largest pilot in 5 communities with 15 young promoters. I plan to continue with about 20 promoters next year in those communities.
I am working on the budget for 2015 with a young man, Michael Estill that I hired to run the program when I am out of the country (I will be back for 4 months in county late December), but in broad numbers I think it will cost another 5-10 thousand dollars to finish more programs and translate them in at least one Mayan language, 5 thousand to manage the project, and another 15 thousand to train and pay the teachers. I have been looking for a long term partner(s) who are willing to test with me the value of this approach for at least 2 years while we refine the program and measure the outcomes.
Nora visited the pilot program classrooms with Lola our coordinator who selects and trains young promotors who teach the kid. They met with Lucy, and had this to say:
"The program has had an amazing breakthrough, there are now more interested in Magical Classrooms and it was necessary to train more than 30 people in San Pedro La Laguna, which belong to nearby places like San Juan La Laguna Santiago Laguna, Quetzaltenango, Totonicapan, are now working with the children in their communities who do not have access to school and low economic resources, have incorporated their native language (tzutujil) and for now the challenge is to translate the programs in this language. The youing promoters are very creative and enthusiastic own initiatives, the program taught in their homes or parks in their communities."

 

Learning activities
Learning activities
Lola and kids
Lola and kids
Promoters with Mp3 Players
Promoters with Mp3 Players
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Lets Be Ready

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