Reality

Hello, everyone!  I apologize that it has been so long since my last post.  Sometimes it’s hard to motivate myself to sit down and write something eloquent when I’m wrapped up in my daily routines.  Things are continuing to go very well down here in Cofradía.  For those of you who are still waiting for the snow to disappear, you might be jealous that summer has already arrived here, while we’re convincing ourselves to embrace the inevitable sweat dripping down our bodies starting about an hour into the school day.  We’ve also been embracing a lack of reliable running water in the apartments for the past few weeks and have been humbled by lugging water jugs from the spigot in the park to the third floor.  My kiddos have been spending the last month learning the food vocabulary words, practicing their addition, and adding (almost) the last few letters to their alphabet books.  One of my favorite things we’ve done is start a weekly “conflict/resolution circle,” as I like to think of it.  If I could go back, I definitely would’ve implemented this from day one, but the kids sound so cute saying “Please share,” “I’m sorry,” and “That’s OK!” in English.

March brought some fun events, starting with Santa Mónica’s first Dia Típico.  This was a morning in which family and community members came to the school to sell traditional food in champas (huts) they had made, play traditional games, and watch dance performances.  It was a really fun day with the students and their families and we raised a lot of money for projects for the school.  In the middle of the month, I was fortunate enough to have visitors!  My mom and my sister came down and were able to spend five days getting to know my town, the school, and all the people who are important in my life here.  It was really beautiful to see how warmly they were received by everyone, and I certainly gained a fresh perspective on everything I experience on a daily basis.  For Honduran Father’s Day, many families came to see all the grades perform songs and cheer on the fathers in a game of fútbol against some of the teachers and nuns.

Unfortunately, the last week has been far from easy for the Santa Mónica community, and this is what I wanted to write about since it has been the most important thing on my mind lately.  I don’t intend to scare any of you (I’m grateful for all of you that are concerned about my safety) but rather to share a glimpse into what some people’s ordinary lives are like here.  Last Friday, we were informed at school that one of our student’s brothers was killed overnight in the town.  This kind of thing happens far too often in Vida Nueva, but this family is one that is very close to the school. The father has been working diligently for weeks to put new sewage pipes in the ground and to begin the construction of a new church, so this news hit more close to home.  That same day, I was told that it was possible one or two of my students might be leaving the school soon.  Their families are related to a man who was the patronato (town leader) of Vida Nueva, and this man recently left the town because he felt threatened.  (There’s a whole history and network of gang activity between arriba and abajo that I still don’t know much about).  Therefore, because of their connection to this man, there was a chance my students’ families would leave as well, feeling they would be safer elsewhere.  On Tuesday, at our school meeting, we were told that one of my student’s families had made the decision to go.  Despite the challenge this student sometimes is in the classroom, he has such an adorable smile and a kind heart, and I kept thinking of how far he’s come since that first day when he said “Me voy” and walked out the door.  (The latest news on this student is that he will only be a few towns over and hopefully he will return when his family has enough money to pay for transportation.)  On top of this, our administrator told our entire team that night that we are no longer allowed to go on home visits in colonias other than Cofradía because of gang activity.  As you can imagine, all of this news was weighing down on me by this point, and I finally let go and cried.  To those of you who know me well, yes, I did actually cry.  I have just felt so infuriated by how ordinary violence is in this culture and how desensitized everyone is to it.  I have wondered many times how on earth the violence came to be so ingrained and how we can possibly begin to change that.  I can’t begin to imagine living in a situation where I might have to hide while a gun fight goes on outside my house, where my entire family could be harmed because I associated with someone from the other side of town, where I’d have to give up my child’s bilingual education because I didn’t feel safe in my own house. But this is their reality.  Great families live surrounded by people who may bring them harm at any moment.  They lose loved ones and think that is just the way things are, and they handle it in the best way they know how.  Children grow up and are socialized into a culture where they learn that the way to solve any problem is with violence.  It’s an issue I find hard to write and talk about because it’s just so hard to wrap my head around.  The silver lining in all this is that we can clearly see how meaningful our work is in providing somewhere safe for these children.  At school, they can be kids—they can get excited to sing about fruits and vegetables and worry about who wins stickers at the end of the day.  No matter what I have accomplished in terms of behavior management or academic content this year, I know that I have helped contribute to an environment where our students feel safe and loved, despite the reality they deal with when they walk out of our doors.

A Tale of Two Schools

(shout out to Andrea for the creative title :) )

Last week, BECA coordinated a professional development day for all of us at a bilingual school in San Pedro called Happy Days. (Yes, this English name made me laugh at first, too).  Happy Days is one of the most prestigious and most expensive bilingual schools in the city, and therefore, open to the exclusive class of families who are able to afford it.  Our administrators had reminded us prior to this trip that the goal of our observations was to focus on the teaching methods, the discipline systems, and the classroom procedures we saw—in other words, the practical things we could actually take back and apply to our own classrooms.  We were warned not to pay too much attention to the physical resources this school had, at the risk of becoming frustrated about what we lack.  Still, we couldn’t help but be awed by the giant outdoor pool for swimming lessons, the library and computer lab specifically for the preschool and kindergarten students, and the air conditioners in every room.

During the morning, I spent two hours observing a kindergarten class of about twenty students, taught by a Honduran fluent in English (most likely a graduate of one of the San Pedro bilingual schools herself).  After reviewing some sight words and phonics, the students proceeded to watch a letter video on their flat-screen TV and then dance to several songs on the game Just Dance, including One Direction’s What Makes You Beautiful.  During centers, each student had their own math workbook, rather than handmade worksheets or games.  Not once did the children fight over the puzzles or clay they were using, probably because they are accustomed to having toys of their own at home and do not feel as possessive of the ones they get to use in school.  In all the classrooms we saw, the teachers hardly ever used any behavior management systems, if there were even any in place at all.  When I left the class at snack time, all the students were sitting down to watch Frozen and eat the baleadas, pastelitos, or cereal their families had paid for.

In stark contrast to the Happy Days visit, yesterday, all of us from Santa Mónica were able to walk over to our neighbor, the public school in Vida Nueva, to see what a typical day is like there.  They provide two sessions of classes daily for students through ninth grade, with the average class size being about 40 compared to our 25.  They do not have a computer lab or a library, and there appeared to be very few materials available to use in classrooms other than the whiteboard, notebooks, and pencils.  While we complain about the heat, many of their classrooms do not have any fans.  Being the English-speaking gringos we are, we all felt a bit like animals in a zoo, with the students staring through the windows at the novel sight of us and hoping for handshakes as we walked by.

Reflecting on these visits afterwords, I found that I did not feel at all jealous of the resources Happy Days teachers could utilize and offer their students but rather grateful for those that we are lucky enough to have at our school.  I felt a strong sense of pride for Santa Mónica, for the effective and successful teaching we have all been able to provide our students, despite our minimal resources.  We think outside the box when creating reusable center activities.  We sing and dance even though we do not have a TV to provide us with videos.  We are fortunate to now have one brand new computer lab, which the older grades have started to use on a weekly basis.  We see and talk to parents of our students all day long, while they take part in the smooth functioning of our school.  To be honest, not one of us could probably make it through the day without using our fine-tuned classroom management systems, but our students have spirit.  They get excited about books and puzzles and new crayons and tell us on a daily basis they are happy because they are in school.  Overall, my observations at Happy Days and the public school proved to be a confirmation for me that I am delighted to be teaching at a school like Santa Mónica, where we feel we are making the biggest difference and also gaining the most from the community.

Visions of los Estados Unidos

Me voy para los Estados Unidos,” one of my student’s fathers told me on Monday as I sat by the swings.  With few questions from my end, he explained how he is hoping to work for some family members in North Carolina to provide more money for his three children here–my student, a nine-year-old, and a four-year-old.  He told me he only planned to go for “un ratito,” which he later clarified to mean five years.  Since their mother is not in the picture, the children will stay with their grandmother.  The sisters from our school have helped this man acquire money and documents to legally make it to Mexico, but after that, he will rely on a coyote to help him cross into the States.  Having recently watched the documentary Which Way Home, which follows several Latin American children attempting the risky journey to the United States, I couldn’t help but feel apprehensive about what the future holds for this father.  The worst part, however, was hearing this man open up to me about how much it is going to hurt him to leave his children.  Although my student likely does not have a true understanding of why his father is leaving or how long he will be gone, he has been giving his father many hugs and asking him not to go.  It broke my heart seeing them playing soccer together during lunch at the end of this week, knowing that, if all goes as planned, my five-year-old student will not see his father for such a long period of time.

Travel to the United States has been an ever-present theme I’ve noticed while living here in Honduras.  Children and parents alike have this ideal vision of the United States in their head, like it’s a perfect land where everything is beautiful and everyone can easily succeed.  What many of them don’t realize is just how difficult it is to even make it across the border safely and then to find employment, especially if they are in the country illegally, are discriminated against for their ethnicity, or don’t speak English.  If they are fortunate enough to find a job and a place to live, they often end up staying longer than they intended, continuing to send money home but not able to return to see their family or bring them to the States.  It is impossible for me to completely put myself in their shoes, but I always wonder if it is truly worth missing years of your children’s lives for the small chance that going to the United States will actually improve their quality of life.  I suppose they are driven by hope and I cannot argue with that, but sometimes I just want to tell these families to stay here.  Although many of them do not have much, their children are just as happy if not happier than those in the United States.  Hopefully some day they will understand that their parents were being completely selfless and doing the best thing they knew to do.

Un Día Típico

5:30 a.m. The alarm goes off.  This early hour was not so difficult a few months ago when I could watch a beautiful sunrise on the porch while eating breakfast.  Right now, though, it’s pitch black for about the first half hour of being awake. 6:30 (well, 6:40, it’s Honduran time), we’re in the truck with Jose, the “guard” of the school, leader of the church in Vida Nueva, and our driver.  After about a five minute drive out of Cofradía, down the highway, and into Vida Nueva, during which we pass lots of dogs, chickens, pigs, and goats roaming around, we arrive at Santa Monica.  Anderson and his mother are waiting by the gate; if they’re not, someone is sure to ask, “Where’s Anderson?” He’s always first so he can put his backpack on the first prepa hook.  The students trickle in as I prepare my materials for the day.  Eduardo proudly shows me the dinosaur or snake toy he has brought in that day and tells me what colors it is in English.

If it’s a Monday, the whole school treks over to the open-air church (on the same property as the school) for Acto Cívico, our weekly assembly to start the week.  During the half hour, we give out our Stars of the Week and Respect Ticket prizes and listen to the kids belt the national anthem at the top of their lungs – five months later and I still don’t know the actual tune.

My kids start the day with their Honduran teacher, so I fill my prep periods with coloring, cutting, gluing, and contact papering.  At 9:15, all the kids go outside for merienda and recess.  After getting everything set up in my room, I enjoy a few minutes of sitting with the kids on the benches, eating baleadas and topogios.  My kids have now learned from the older kids that this is the time to earn Respect Tickets by walking around with the lid of the trash can yelling “Basura!”

At 9:40, the bell rings and my kids line up outside the classroom for English.  Fabricio is trying to hide behind the pole, Edgardo is still spinning in circles in the grass, Jesús is hiding in the classroom, and several are fighting over who is line leader.  Once in the room, my students reply to my good morning with, “Good morning Miss Alyssa how are you happy!”  During our morning and math circles, the kids still yell, “Profe!” or “Maestra!” looking for praise for showing me the quiet signal or having their eyes on me.  During centers, I remind every table to share at least once after hearing complaints of “¡Este guirro me quitó los juguetes!”  When the kids are focused and listening, read-aloud is my favorite part of the day because the kids get to talk about the pictures using their color or animal vocabulary.  After all the kids have been dismissed, Jusmary and Karen always come right back into the classroom asking if they can take down the table stars or write tomorrow’s leaders on the board.  Ibany, Pamela, Daniel, and Leonel just want to draw on the board (they’re still working on remember to puts the caps on the markers).  My little Edgardo never fails to come in asking where to put his homework and his water bottle and waiting for me to help him get his arms into his backpack. (I could go on forever about every one of my students’ quirks and accomplishments.)

During lunch, I am sometimes responsible for the detention room or the soccer field, but most often I sit on the sidewalk next to the columpios.  While eating my rice, beans, vegetables, and tortillas, I listen to a million complaints of “Miss! He’s not sharing the swing!”, give out many reminders to go one at a time and in one direction on the monkey bars, and try to guess which child is covering my eyes with their dirty hands.  Despite this being the most hectic lunch duty, I enjoy it most because it is where the kids love to sit and eat with you.  My student, Rikelmer, and his second-grade cousin Brenda are regulars.

After lunch, I have several one-on-one pull outs with second- and third-graders who are struggling in English—Kevin, Roberto, Michael, Javier, and Dennis.  These usually consist of reviewing letter sounds and basic sight words, sounding out short words, and reading some books at their levels.  I love this time of the day because I get to focus individually on one student at a time and give them the attention they really deserve.  When these struggling students get excited about a phonics game or being able to read “Go Animals Go” it shows me my efforts are paying off.  It’s also nice to step into a classroom and have all the kids raise their hands and yell my name, hoping it will be their turn to work with me.  I finish my afternoons going into the second- and third-grade classrooms to help with writing workshop or English centers.  I love reading the stories they write.  The second-grade stories often look like “I see the Miss Leah.  The Miss Leah is happy,” and a lot of the third graders love to write about super heroes and their favorite cartoon characters.  The progress I’ve seen in the kids writing over the first half of the year is incredible.

On Mondays and Thursdays, we have reading club after school, where first-grader Crístian begs me to spend the whole time reading with him.  Third-grader Andy shows me a picture of a faraway planet and says, “Miss, you live here” or a picture of a dragon and says, “Miss, this is you.”

As for the remainder of the day, on Mondays and Thursdays, I also tutor a four-year-old named Jasmin, in the hopes that she will take and pass the entrance exam for prepa at SJBS the following year.  Tuesdays are long, between being on cooking team and having BECA and SMBS team meetings.  By the time dinner is over, I usually enjoy reading, watching a movie, or hanging out with some friends in the apartment before going to sleep around 9:30.

Hopefully this wasn’t boring to read, but I thought it would give a better glimpse into what a typical day actually looks like here in Cofradía!

¡Feliz Navidad y  Feliz Año Nuevo!

Dando Gracias

It would be cliché of me to write a blog about all the things I’ve been thankful for during the first half of my year in Honduras. However, while writing in my journal a few days ago about my Thanksgiving here, I realized that the event perfectly embodied for me what BECA is all about and why I appreciate this program so much. After spending the afternoon cooking, all the BECA teachers and all the Honduran teachers and sisters from our three schools came together to share a delicious dinner at San Jerónimo. The table stretched long enough to fit about fifty people, and we enjoyed lots of conversations and photos (Hondurans love taking pictures just as much as I do). Toward the end of the dinner, Mr. Sean, one of our administrators, stood up on a chair to say a big thank you to the Hondurans, not only for sharing the holiday with us but for sharing their schools and their vision for their students, their community, their culture. There is no way any of our schools could function without the huge amount of work the Honduran administrators, teachers, and parents put in and how much support and love we receive, despite the fact that a whole new bunch of gringos shows up every year. For me, this completely equal partnership is what makes BECA so unique. No one came down to Cofradía believing they had the answers to all the problems that exist in Honduras. No one pretended to have all the knowledge or resources to improve a place judged to be worse off than our home countries. The members of the community met a teacher from another bilingual school, collaborated with her to start their own school, and the cooperation has continued ever since.

Reconsidering this aspect of BECA reminded me of a theme I often discussed with others as a member of HOPE (my college’s alternative spring break program): helping versus serving. One of my favorite quotes about service, which many of you may have heard, comes from Rachel Naomi Remen, an author, professor, and pioneer in integrative medicine. She wrote, “Service is a relationship between equals. Helping incurs debt. When you help someone, they owe you one. But serving…is mutual. There is no debt. I am as served as the person I am serving. When I help, I have a feeling of satisfaction. When I serve, I have a feeling of gratitude.” This was exactly the way I felt on Thanksgiving and every day I have spent here. Yes, as English speakers, we are providing a huge asset to these families in giving their children a bilingual education, but we are not here to “help” or to “fix” something, a system, a culture, a country, that needs improvement. We are here being served by the amazing people we interact with every day. They learn from us, we learn from them. Neither party has more value than the other, no matter their life experiences, resources, beliefs or customs. We are thankful for each other.

Llega la Lluvia

None of us believed the returning teachers a month ago when they said that yes, it would actually get cooler soon, but it has.  It’s like someone flipped a switch this week and all of a sudden the rainy season arrived.  For the past few days, we have woken up to a dark, rainy morning, the kind I would normally hate at home but so far I have welcomed here.  I might get sick of it soon, but for now it means wearing a sweater at least until 8 a.m. rather than sweating through your clothes, sleeping with a blanket all night, and realizing the cold showers actually feel cold rather than refreshing.  The rain does make things a little tougher at school, though.  The classrooms are full of mud, and we have to keep the students in the pasillo or the classrooms during lunch and recess.  Sometimes it’s also so loud on the roof it’s hard to hear someone talking to you from a few feet away.  The kids have been very excited about the arrival of the rain and have come to school this week wearing winter hats and coats and complaining that it’s cold (it’s probably still a good 75 or 80 degrees).  I guess it’s all relative.

One of the highlights of the past week for me was helping out with a dental clinic at SMBS last Saturday.  A bus full of dentists from San Pedro came to the school to serve the families from Vida Nueva.  We arrived at the school around 8 in the morning and a line had already started to form.  The dentists set up in two of the extra classrooms and began doing initial screenings of the students and parents.  Depending on the decision of this first doctor, they were sent to receive either a cleaning, crowns, or to have teeth pulled.  Unfortunately there was a large number who fell into the last category.  A combination of the diet and lack of medical services here leads to many people with rotting teeth, even at the age of five.  (Ironically, many of the children waiting in line were eating topogios or drinking Pepsi.)  As the families passed through the line, our job was essentially to make sure people knew where they were supposed to go and try to keep the kids somewhat less terrified than they already were.  The classrooms in which the dentists were working don’t have windows, which meant that everybody waiting could be staring into the room seeing what was happening and hearing the screams of the children getting teeth taken out.  That was the worst part of the day for me, even though I knew it was beneficial for the kids.  I almost felt like crying with them, especially when three of my favorites were all in the room at the same time.  And some of the students didn’t even come with parents!  I can’t imagine doing that alone.  Needless to say, it was a very eye-opening experience to see how much I’ve taken for granted the fact that I have accessible health care at home and how important it is in developing communities.  At the end of the five hours, the dentists ran out of gloves and anesthesia and it was so upsetting to see the last few families being turned away, but we hope we will have another clinic soon.

The great thing about the day was being able to just hang out with the students and their families for a few hours without classes to think about.  I wish we had more opportunities to do that.  I had a blast finding the shapes on the playground, playing hand-clapping games, helping kids cross the monkey bars, listening to four of my boys belt the national anthem at the top of their lungs, and looking at a spider and its eggs with one of my students (who used the word spider in English, unprompted!).  I got to give all my kids huge hugs when they came out of the classroom, their mouths filled with gauze, and tell them how brave they were.  I got to see many parents showing just how dedicated and supportive they are of their kids.

Another exciting part of this week was starting a tutoring job.  One of my friends has a student whose family lives right next door to the BECA house.  They were interested in getting a tutor for their younger daughter who’s 4.  You might think that sounds crazy, but when she didn’t get one of the kinder spaces for the upcoming year, they knew she would have to fight for one of the five prepa spots the following year by taking an entrance exam.  To these families, getting their students into SJBS or SMBS is huge.  I thought it would be a great and fun opportunity for me, especially since she will be learning pretty much the same things as my students, and I’ll be able to get to know another family in Cofradía.  I have gone for two sessions this week and had fun helping the girl learn to write her name and recognize colors.  I’ve also really enjoyed talking with her sister, the third-grader, and her parents.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a few moments where I’ve realized how frustrating it can be sometimes trying to express what my every day experience is like here.  I had these same feelings when I was on a Stonehill HOPE trip or studying abroad.  It’s really difficult to get others to fully understand and appreciate exactly what you’re doing without them being there to see it for themselves.  I find that when I’m talking to people from home, I am unable to put into words all the little stories that perfectly convey the personalities of my students or the moments in which they make a brilliant connection.  I am unable to describe the joy in one hug that turns my day around or seeing my kids point to their smiling mouths and scream “Happy!” because they now know that is the common response to “How are you?” at SMBS.  Sometimes I rely too often on the pictures or videos I take to tell the story for me, but I’m hoping that when I visit home (one month!), I will be able to somehow capture in words everything that I want my family and friends to experience with me.

From One Bubble to the Next

For the past four years, I was living in what is commonly referred to by students and faculty as the “Stonehill bubble.”  Despite the fact that many students travel abroad and are involved in community service, my college campus is quite sheltered and tends to foster a less-than-enthusiastic attitude toward issues in the larger world.  We had our meals made for us, people to clean up after us, and for the most part, a safe community.  Therefore, many would say that a move to Honduras, one of the poorest and most violent countries in the world, would be quite the opposite of this bubble, and in many ways, it is.

We live in a town with mostly dirt roads, where trash lines the street and sewage water flows without proper pipes.  The residents are used to the water and the electricity going out often.  Many people do not receive an education past middle or high school, and the crime rate is extremely high due to drugs and gangs.  Armed policemen guard the banks and supermarkets and set up checkpoints along the highway to ensure people have the documents they are supposed to have.  Many of our students come from homes where they experience abuse and malnutrition.  During a conversation about the upcoming election with my fourteen-year-old host sister, she mentioned that it never seems to matter who becomes president in Honduras because they all promise to decrease the violence and nothing ever changes. (Pretty profound statement).  All of these things could not be more different from the Stonehill bubble.

And yet, a recent conversation with a friend here, and reading several others’ blogs, has made me aware that, while living in a developing country, we still find ourselves in a “bubble” here in Cofradía.  After three months, I still find myself disappointed with my lack of knowledge of the local and deeper societal issues present here.  I hate that I don’t know everything about the backgrounds of my students because we are so protected in the community of Vida Nueva.  While some children come to school without a snack or lunch, we get spoiled with at least one helping of the delicious lunches prepared by parents.  While our students may not have access to running water or electricity, we complain that our shower is cold or that our internet connection is slow.  It is rare that the kids in Vida Nueva have seen anywhere other than San Pedro, whereas we had the privilege of taking a staff trip to a beautiful beach-front house that proves just how much disparity there is in this country.  So yes, with our living conditions and lifestyles still much better off than those we work with, we are in a bubble.

Because of the nature of our community, we cannot be with our students during the time they spend outside of school, and therefore, we do not get to see everything they might go through. However, I think one of the reasons why some of these negative realities may seem less real and less tangible to me is because there is such an overwhelming amount of good to be seen, too.  No words can capture the pure joy we see every day in children’s smiles, when they are playing soccer, proudly showing off a picture they’ve drawn, or getting excited about the first time it’s rained during school.  Each day, I am greeted with one more “good morning” in English than I was the previous day, and if I’m lucky, I get bombarded with hugs and high fives as the children leave.  When I ask one of Miss Leah’s second-graders how is he doing, he never fails to reply, “I am happy, and you?”  After I spend my resource time assisting with writers’ workshop, one student always says, “Thank you for helping the children.”  We have students who offer us their bracelets or topogios (well-loved popsicles in a bag) and families who feed us delicious meals and coffee in their modest houses.  We see dedicated parents who come in every day to find out how their child has behaved or what they have for homework.  When these positive moments occur so frequently in our day-to-day lives, sometimes I feel I have to remind myself where I am and what happens all the time all around me, even if I am not immediately affected.  I hope that as the year goes on, I can gradually break down the bubble of privilege that still surrounds me here in Honduras.

Despedirse de septiembre

As our first full month of school comes to an end (it went so quickly!), here are some of the highlights from Septiembre!

  • I am excited to say that this past week of school was the first week in which I felt like each day went pretty much as I hoped it would.  Like I said in my last post, this is not to make it sound like things have been easy, but I’m doing my best to look for the positives and recognize what it was I did that made them positives.  Before this week, I thought about each of the times I had summarized my day with, “My kids were so bad today.”  Then I found myself wondering, well, were the kids bad or was I?  I realized that when the kids do not behave as I want them to or are not able to complete work in the way I imagined, it is often because I was not clear in my expectations or instructions or did not model well enough.  Throughout this past week, one of my biggest goals was to take a small step back from academic coverage and really reinforce procedures for our centers, such as making sure my students do not touch the materials until I tell them it is time and reminding them how we treat books, markers, and toys.  I think focusing on goals like that was what really made this week go smoothly.
  • I spent our five day break for Honduran Independence Day on the island of Utila with some friends from my group.  It was a great combination of relaxing and adventurous, with some beach time, kayaking between the keys, snorkeling, and bike riding.  It definitely did not feel like the Honduras we’re used to, with travelers from all over the world and the majority of people speaking English.
  • Last weekend we had a professional development at our third school, Amigos de Jesús, which is about an hour from Cofradía.  Amigos is located on the grounds of a children’s home, which houses almost 100 children.  It is the first year BECA has partnered with that school to offer bilingual education in kindergarten through second grade, and it was great to finally see where our other teachers are located and what their work is like.
  • One of the best things I have done over the past few weeks has been two home visits with my students.  It is much more difficult for teachers at Santa Mónica to go on home visits because of the nature of Vida Nueva.  The crime there tends to come in waves and right now it is during a time when the nuns and our administrators have suggested we do not go to any houses there.  This can be frustrating when we see all our San Jerónimo friends spending time at students’ houses several times a week.  However, I have about five students who come from towns other than Vida Nueva and I want to try to visit as many as possible.

The first student I visited was one who lives here in Cofradía.  I was excited to see what his home life was like because he has been one of my more difficult students.  We found that he has very supportive parents who do a lot of art and academics with him at home, although his father works and takes classes so he is rarely around during the week.  We enjoyed watching my student teach his cousin the colors in English and repeatedly talk about being on blue on our stoplight.

This weekend, I went with five other BECA teachers and two Honduran teachers to visit another one of my students who lives in a colonia about ten minutes away called Casa Quemada (in English, “burned house”). This student is the nephew of one of our Honduran teachers, so he brought us to his house for lunch and then up the road to my student’s house.  We got to meet his parents and grandparents, play with his puppies, and take home some grapefruits and avocados from their trees.  While this student spends a lot of time with his grandparents so his parents can work during the week, I again found it to be an incredibly supportive family.

Home visits like these are so key to getting to know our students better. (Teachers should do them more in the US!)  Especially with the age group I work with, I have found it a bit challenging to get to know my students on a more personal level because of the language barrier.  My job is to teach them in English, so I try hard to converse with them in my own native language inside and outside of the classroom.  However, sometimes I just want to ask them “What’s your favorite animal?” or “How many brothers and sisters do you have?” in Spanish.  I know that I will learn more about each and every one of them as time goes on, but visiting their homes gives great insight into the students’ backgrounds that is so useful to have in the classroom.

  • Finally, on Friday, after a long but satisfying run to the river and back, I stood on the balcony of our apartment and watched the sun go down over the mountains.  As cheesy as this may sound, I had one of those “life is good” moments, when I feel like I am able to take a step back from the day to day chaos and see everything in perspective.  I thought about how fortunate I am to be here in this beautiful country working with such loving, deserving children and their families.  While I miss home every day, I feel like I am right where I am supposed to be.

Las Cosas Pequeñas

Throughout our first few full weeks of school, I have been trying to think of what has stood out to me the most to share with everyone.  Every day has certainly been eventful, bringing a new challenge to overcome, a new lesson to be learned, or a new victory to celebrate.  I have started forming relationships with many students and parents and spent a lot of time collaborating with my BECA and Honduran colleagues.  At the end of a long day (we get up at 5:30 and come home around 4:00), it is sometimes hard to process everything that has happened, but what usually stays with me is, to quote one of our favorite Latino artists, las cosas pequeñas, or the little things.

  • During the first week of school, I had two students who cried because they didn’t want to leave the family member who had dropped them off.  One of these had a particularly difficult time when her father was at the school helping out and she kept just leaving the room in tears looking for him.  Now, both students make it through their day with big smiles on their faces.
  • When my students first started learning how to write their names, I had one who consistently told me “No puedo.”  Two weeks later, he tries writing it even when he is not asked, and several letters are recognizable!  I have six or seven other students who can pretty much write their names all by themselves!  I can tell all of them are determined to practice because when I give them whiteboards or paper just to color, they all automatically ask me to write their name so they can try to copy it.
  • English!! Every time I hear one of my students use words in English, I get so excited.  They have only been in bilingual school for two weeks! When my students ask to use the bathroom, I have them repeat “Bathroom, please” before they can go.  I have several students who now ask in English unprompted.  Last week, when my students were in PE with their Honduran teacher, I heard one boy said “Hay three conos!”  This morning, I was greeted with two “good mornings” before I said anything.  As we learn our colors, the students have started to yell out “blue” or “yellow” to describe the pictures in our story.
  • The times I can’t help but laugh at something the kids say or do.  One of my tiniest students sings along to the ABCs at the top of his lungs with complete nonsense sounds.  Several of the boys love drawing portraits of Mr. Tomas with lots of freckles.  Every time I point to myself to explain that I am going to do something they will repeat, a chorus of “Miss Alyssa! Miss Alyssa!” starts.
  • My most difficult student made it through one day on the blue superstar of our stoplight behavior system!  (For that, I bought myself a chocolate/oatmeal licuado.)  Walking through the school and having any student excitedly tell me “Estoy en blue!”  always puts a smile on my face.
  • Seeing the extremely proud faces of the second and third graders I have been working with during writing when they finally get some words on their paper.
  • One of the first graders I had during Academy telling me in Spanish that he is always thinking of me because I am the best teacher.
My goal has been to be able to name at least one of these little victories at the end of each day, despite the fact that my kids sometimes don’t listen at all during circle time or throw toys during center or fight with each other during PE.  Having one of these cosas pequenas in my mind reminds me that every day both my students and I are making progress together.

Preparando

Hola! I wanted to try to get in one more post before we start school on Thursday just in case things get busy.

All of last week and the first half of this week have been designated prep time for all the teachers to go into their classrooms, make materials, hang up posters, organize, etc.  I was fortunate enough to inherit a lot of posters and materials from last year’s prepa teacher and get some things that were already in the bodega at the school.  Still, I was busy making attendance and job charts and alphabet posters and setting up the room.  I have (almost) become  an expert at contact papering everything before putting it up on the wall.  I have yet to figure out whether blue tac, Velcro, or a combination of packing tape and glue is the best method for getting things to stick on the wall despite the Honduran heat and dust.  I quickly learned that I need to let go of my perfectionism here and accept finished products that have a wrinkle in the contact paper or are a different color than everything else.  Although I’m sure I will make a lot of changes over the next few weeks, I finally feel like my classroom is ready for my little ones.

So far, I have met about seven or eight of my students and some parents as they’ve come into the school either to help with a task or to get their uniforms and school supplies.  Most of them were pretty shy, especially when I tried speaking to them in English, but one helped me put Velcro on my posters and another colored with me and then gave me multiple hugs before leaving.  I’m really excited to meet them all on Thursday!  We’ve also had a little time to start getting to know the Honduran teachers (Teresa and Ricardo), administrators (Miss Glenda), and nuns (Kenia, Cornelia, and Martina) that work at the school.  They all seem extremely knowledgeable and helpful and I’m looking forward to collaborating with all of them in such a small school setting.   Today I also got to help our driver Jose work on homework for a class he is taking to improve his literacy.

Since I haven’t explained a whole lot about my position and my school yet, here’s a little bit before I get too far into the year.  Santa Monica is one of three schools that BECA has partnered with to offer a bilingual education to local students.  This will be BECA’s third year with Santa Monica, although the school was around before then and run by the Augustinian nuns.  The school goes from kindergarten through fourth grade, but each year they plan to add a grade until the current fourth graders graduate from ninth grade.  My school is located in a small colonia called Vida Nueva (new life), which was established in 1998 when many people were displaced after Hurricane Mitch.  It’s a much more impoverished town than Cofradia where we are living.  Although Santa Monica is a private school, the tuition has been set at a very low level that makes it possible for families to afford.  It costs 300 lempiras (about 15 dollars) a month for a student to attend (whereas San Jeronimo costs 750).  To make up for that difference, families must contribute a certain amount of hours of work to the school.  They can do this by painting, cutting the grass, cooking lunches, etc.  From what I have seen so far, I really like the system because it ensures that parents become a part of the community, are invested in the school, and are often on the grounds getting to know the teachers.  At all BECA schools, students who have siblings (or sometimes cousins) already in the school have priority when registering and then spots are opened up to others based on entrance exams.  Therefore, I have some students from Vida Nueva but also some from Cofradia and other surrounding colonias.

As most of you know, I will be teaching kindergarten, which is called preparatoria here.  My students have class in Spanish with Teresa from 7:15-9:15 and then I have them (all 25 of them) from 9:45-11:45.  Fortunately, I will also have our resource teacher Mr. Tomas in the room with me helping out. When I am not with my own students, I will be serving as another resource teacher, assisting in other grades and pulling out students who may need extra help.  I’m excited about this combined role–I get to have my own students and classroom and develop relationships with students and other teachers across the school as well.

I’ll fill you all in on my first days of prepa as soon as I get the chance! :)

Here’s a picture of my classroom!