Aula Magica - Youth Preparing Kids to Learn

by Lets Be Ready
Vetted
Everybody is all smiles in Chonita
Everybody is all smiles in Chonita's classroom

Last June, I had the opportunity to check up on and visit with all of our facilitators in their respective hometowns and was blown away with their collective progress. Even though many of these exceptional youth had just a few months of teaching experience under their belts, each and every one of them has made tremendous strides that exceeded even my wildest expectations. While the group as a whole shone brightly, there is one particular facilitator whose experience I’d like to share with you all this month.

Concepción or as we affectionately call her around here, Chonita, is a new addition to the program by way of our recent partnership with the outstanding organization of Starfish One by One, based out of the Sololá department near Lake Atitlán. Our partnership with Starfish was something that had our whole staff excited due to the fact that Starfish provides outstanding and comprehensive programs to help empower young women and give them the tools and confidence necessary to lead transformational change in their communities. Starfish found itself churning out amazingly perseverant and intelligent graduates, but needed help finding reputable internship and employment opportunities to help bolster their graduates’ résumés. After having crossed paths in the past and remained in contact, the leadership teams of both organizations came up with the idea of giving these young women the chance to serve as program facilitators for Magical Classroom to help satisfy their internship requirement. This is all one long explanation as to how Chonita came to join our team.

I had a limited number of interactions with Chonita back in our training in March, but from what I can recall, she was quite reserved yet still exuded a certain sense of confidence that put me at ease at the time. She is one of a handful of our facilitators that with teaching certificate, which has likely helped her find her voice in the classroom. And after my recent visit to her community of Tzancháj 2 in Santiago Atitlán, I can confidently say that she has definitely found her voice!

With 19 regularly-attending students, Chonita’s classroom could easily devolve into chaos if she were not such a prepared and diligent teacher. She has improbably managed to strike the perfect balance between maintaining order amongst her rambunctious students without stifling their creativity or excitement; she manages to follow our guided program to a tee, yet is more than content with improvising and letting her students spend a little bit longer on a particular activity. Chonita has done such a great job with her group of students that the principal of the school has lent her additional supplies and learning materials to help beef up her classes, and perhaps most impressively, has asked her to extend her classes from our program-mandated two hours to four hours a day. Given that she has long dreamed of having her own classroom and feels good about being able to be part of a positive change in her very own community, Chonita happily agreed to help the principal on a voluntary basis. During this particular visit, I was accompanied by Dolores, a fellow Starfish graduate from a nearby town in Santiago hoping to join Magical Classroom in the next few days. That afternoon we both walked away floored by Chonita’s growth and more than appreciative that Dolores would have such a great example to learn from in the coming months.

Please consider making a donation today to help us find support Chonita, Dolores and the other young women out there hoping to make an impact in their communities through Magical Classroom.
To learn more about Starfish One by One, check out their website here: http://starfish-impact.org/

Some more students happy at work
Some more students happy at work
Sharing with Dolores what her experience has meant
Sharing with Dolores what her experience has meant
Chonita has incredible patience with her kids
Chonita has incredible patience with her kids
Two Starfish setting out to make a difference
Two Starfish setting out to make a difference

Links:

Our home for the week
Our home for the week

This past month 29 aspiring preschool educators traveled from all across the country to the foothills of the sweltering Pacific Coast to attend Magic Classroom’s week-long Annual Teacher Training held on the beautiful grounds of a historical and still-functioning coastal plantation. Thanks to the help of both our program sponsors from the Tillotson Fund for Guatemala and our local partners from the Catholic parish of San Felipe Retalhuleu, we were able to host our intensive week-long training at the incredibly inviting and unique grounds of the Proyecto de San Dionisio located just outside the town Nuevo Palmar, giving the week a certain summer camp feel to it.

Whether working together to cook dinner or wash dishes, in next to no time we saw our once timid recruits from the cold highlands were chumming it up with some of the more rambunctious facilitators from the newly-formed coastal group. Most of the group started off as feeling like strangers to one another, but by the time that the first scorching afternoon hit and we all began to feel as if we were swimming in a collective pool of sweat, the ice had been effectively melted. Between a variety of teambuilding games and activities (each regional group was asked to present a skit representative of their hometowns for example), sleeping dorm style with as many as 15 to a room on woven floor mats, working into the wee-hours of the evening making recycled classroom materials, or just talking cultural differences, sharing music and refining dance moves, the seeds of friendship were being planted all around us.

In many ways this year’s training was as big of a challenge as we’ve ever faced. We had never before played host to so many people before, let alone on a sprawling country farm at least 15 minutes away from the nearest town. Despite the logistical challenges and odds and ends, we relished the opportunity to gather such a diverse group of truly special individuals all eager to learn and create change in their communities. As such we made sure to squeeze every last ounce of the time afforded to us to prepare the group to be effective Magic Classroom facilitators. Despite the routine 14 hour workdays, the week flew by in no time, and like just as quickly as it had all come together, it was all over. Phone numbers, Facebook info and some tearful hugs were all exchanged as our fleet of vans and pickup trucks slowly filled with people, marking the end of an incredible week and the beginning of a new era in our growing program. Just like that, 29 previously unconnected individuals began their slow march back to their communities, carrying with them not only boxes of supplies and books, but also full hearts and a palpable sense of mission that will surely help them this school year and beyond.

We play games to break the ice!
We play games to break the ice!
Teaching the Magic Classroom way in a local school
Teaching the Magic Classroom way in a local school
Groups presented skits on hometown traditions
Groups presented skits on hometown traditions
Recycled materials make for happy teachers
Recycled materials make for happy teachers
Saying goodbye is never easy
Saying goodbye is never easy
Nancy and Sandra and the hills that raised them
Nancy and Sandra and the hills that raised them

And then there were two...

Only two more days until our big teacher training kicks off where Sandra and Nancy will be in attendance for the second consecutive year. This time around they'll be coming all the way the frigid mountain town of San Antonio La Capellania to join us in the tropical coast for an unforgettable week of learning and fun.

Seeing as how we're big believers of the importance of story time in Magic Classroom, how about you sit around the rug (legs criss-cross applesauce) and let us tell you a little bit more about these two special young ladies.

Sandra and Nancy were two of our very first recruits from high up in the mountains of Chiantla, where we literally plucked them from the hillside where they were herding their family's sheep for our first meeting. During that first meeting both girls were incredibly shy, muttering just a few words and mostly looking at the ground as we we probed to get to know them and tried to see as to whether or not our program belonged in their town. However, they both perked up once we started talking about the dozens of 5-6 year-old children in the community without much anything productive to do and simply waiting their turn to begin first grade. Ultimately they both were adamant in expressing the need for a program like ours in San Antonio and provided that they could work together, they decided to take on the challenge of wrangling the 30-odd preschoolers in the area.

While they still can be occasionally spotted on that same hillside with their sheep in tow just as we found them, this time around Nancy and Sandra are no longer those same timid and deferential girls that we met last year.

And as such this time around we're counting on them both to help us lead our upcoming training session and to continue to serve as ambassadors for our program and positive examples for other youth leaders in the entire region. This time around there is not a single doubt in our minds (nor Sandra and Nancys' for that matter) as to whether they'll rise to the occasion.

To help support Sandra and Nancy and others like her, please make a donation today.

Unsure of what to make of us in that first meeting
Unsure of what to make of us in that first meeting
Nancy and Sandra now thrive in the classroom
Nancy and Sandra now thrive in the classroom
Seen here spreading the word to community leaders
Seen here spreading the word to community leaders
Now forever changed and empowered young women
Now forever changed and empowered young women
This year
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
School
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
This little one can't wait to start school in 2016
Our coordinator, Lola, can
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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Organization Information

Lets Be Ready

Location: Longmont, CO - USA
Website: http:/​/​letsbeready.org
Project Leader:
Fred Zambroski
Longmont, CO United States
$7,900 raised of $10,500 goal
 
51 donations
$2,600 to go
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