A rocky and perilous dirt road brings us to the small community of Apanaje, located an hour away from Fabretto’s Education Center in Las Sabanas, in the mountains of Northern Nicaragua. Although we get there early in the morning, the intense tropical sun already reflects strongly off of the almost white patch of dirt where we park the truck. As we look down on the Apanaje School a few yards downhill, we are amazed by the vast and striking view of the mountains and the valley below. We are here to meet Yolanda, the local preschool teacher, and her students.
As we make our way down a steep and slippery dirt path, we are surrounded by livestock and a few simple homes. Children start running outside, curious to meet the visitors with the large camera and strange-looking equipment. When we arrive at the school, we are welcomed by a small, bright-eyed young woman with a beaming smile. This is Yolanda, the 27-year old teacher who had been teaching preschool in the homes of community members but has now “upgraded” to the Apanaje School’s hallway.
Due to a lack of space and resources, the Ministry of Education (MINED) has not yet opened a formal preschool teaching position in Apanaje. Instead, community educators like Yolanda are asked to step up to the plate as volunteers, earning a stipend equivalent to only a fraction of the minimum wage for regular MINED teachers. The small school of Apanaje consists of two multigrade classrooms for grades 1-6, leaving no room for the preschool class. However, this has not stopped Yolanda and her little ones. Come rain or shine, the preschoolers and their brave teacher can be found in the school hallway or yard.
Yolanda had always wanted to be a teacher, so as soon as she finished high school, she enrolled in a university in Estelí, graduating with a teaching degree in 2010. She has now been teaching for seven years, the past two in Apanaje. For the past 4 years, she has participated in Fabretto’s teacher training workshops. When asked which workshop she has enjoyed the most, she exclaims: “All of them!”
Fabretto’s teacher training workshops focus on methodologies, such as Montessori and Open Learning, in which children are encouraged to be the protagonists of their own learning and teachers are present in more of a supportive role. These methodologies are particularly important in early education, where young students are allowed to learn from experiencing the world around them first hand. Because some of the classroom tools traditionally used in Montessori can be expensive, teachers are taught how to make them themselves, using easily-accessible recycled materials.
Yolanda tells us that these methodologies have greatly impacted the way she teaches. For example, a traditional teacher might teach about human anatomy by simply pointing to body parts on a poster. In her classroom, in order to make the lesson more dynamic, Yolanda manufactured a jigsaw puzzle of the human body, which the children then assembled while calling out each body part. These activities help develop children’s cognitive and psychomotor skills, while also encouraging independence.
Teaching has undoubtedly been a rewarding experience for Yolanda. When asked why she chose early education, she states: “I am able to teach so much to these little ones, but they also end up teaching me. The way they go through life with so much optimism motivates me to continue being a teacher.” In addition to the daily joys of being in the classroom, Yolanda relishes in witnessing how some of the students she taught in preschool many years ago, have successfully made it to secondary school. “I feel so proud to see the fruits of my labor. When I see my students advancing through school, I can proudly say that I had something to do with their success. Starting with something as simple as teaching children to hold a pencil, I know that I am helping them start their education off on the right foot.” Yolanda is confident that in a few years, she will see one of her students graduate from university.
Yolanda is a clear example of how, even in a place as remote and lacking in resources as Apanaje, a well-cultivated teacher can truly help a community grow.