Meet an Amiga ~ Laura Montes (2016-2018 BECA Volunteer)

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Laura Montes, or Miss Laura, is in her second year teaching at the Amigos de Jesús Bilingual School. In her two years as a BECA volunteer, Miss Laura has served as both the 1st and now 4th grade teacher, connecting with, investing in, teaching, and loving both children who live at the ‘hogar’ as well as those who live in the surrounding communities. Miss Laura has an incredible ability to focus on individual students and their needs while also creating lesson plans and developing activities that keep her entire class engaged in the learning process. Her honest and reflective demeanor, coupled with her ability to laugh at herself and learn from each experience she passing through also make her a great support for the volunteers around her. Her intentional presence to our children outside of the classroom in the ‘hogar,’ effort into forming relationships with school families, and investment in the positive growth and development of all the children at our school make Miss Laura a well-loved and valued part of our family. 

Read more about Laura in her interview below:

  1. Age: 23
  2. Hometown: Rochester, Michigan 
  3. University: The University of Michigan 
  4. Majors/Minors: Bachelors of Business Administration with a Minor in Social Justice

What is your role at Amigos this year?

During my first year here, I was the first grade teacher and in my second year, I work as the fourth grade teacher and as a resource teacher. 

How did you first hear about Amigos de Jesús?

I first heard about Amigos when I applied to BECA. When I signed on with BECA, I was given the choice to elect one of the three schools that BECA works with and I thought that Amigos seemed like the best fit for me. To be honest, though, before coming to Amigos I didn’t really know much about it aside from the fact that it was an 'hogar' (home) for children. After my first visit, it was so clear that I made the right choice and I could not be happier with my decision. My time at Amigos has been life changing and more than I could have ever imagined.

What made you decide to stay for a second year?

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My decision to stay for a second year was a little bit unconventional. Most BECA volunteers have to decide if they want to stay for a second year by early April. At that time last year, I would have never even considered staying - I was in the middle of a 'low' (a term often used by individuals adapting to living long term in a new country and culture to describe a difficult period in the adjustment process) and ready to go home. However, by the time May rolled around, I had emerged from my (very long) low and started to panic about having to leave. Throughout the months of May and June, I was barely sleeping as I stressed over the idea of leaving. Finally, through a conversation with Amy, I came to the conclusion that staying for a second year might still be a real possibility. She gave me really great advice to reflect on why I wanted to stay; to make sure that I wasn’t just avoiding the sadness of having to leave.

As I reflected, I realized that I wanted to stay a second year because there were so many things that I would do differently (and hopefully better) in a second year. It took me so long to become accustomed to life down here and I wanted a chance to re-do my first year, but with the growth and experience that I had undergone and experienced in the first year. I knew that I would be such a better teacher, community member, and person this time around. I joked with people that this would be my “redemption year,” but there is definitely truth in that. While I have not been perfect this year, I think I have been a much more patient and compassionate person and I am so glad that I stayed.

What is your favorite part about your job?

When I signed up to be a teacher in Honduras, I do not think I fully understood the ramifications of what I was getting myself into. The fact that I would be an actual elementary school teacher somehow escaped me. As I settled into the job, I realized this experience would be more challenging, but also more fulfilling, than I could have ever anticipated. At times it can be frustrating, but there are so many things that I love about teaching and working at Amigos specifically.

Being at Amigos is so unique, because we get a chance to live so close to our students. Because of this, I have developed some very close relationships with my students and truly love them. I love the fact that I am able to spend so much time with them outside of the classroom. Whether it is having a dance party with them in their 'hogar,' going on their birthday walks, playing soccer, or getting a hug after a long day, I love that I get to goof around with my students and be their friend, rather than solely an authority figure.

Even with my 'vecino' (neighbor; students who live in the surrounding communities but attend our school) students that don’t live at the hogar, I have formed a special relationship with them that I think is unique to the culture here. So many of the families are so kind and I have been lucky enough to go on vacation with them, spend the weekend at their homes, attend family parties, and learn how to cook from my students families. Overall, the relationships that I have formed, with ALL of my students, are hands down my favorite part of the job.

What are some of the differences you've noticed or experienced in teaching two different grade levels during your time?

It’s funny because on one hand, there are so many differences between first and fourth grade, yet on the other hand, kids are kids regardless of their age. The biggest difference is the level of English and the fact that the students in fourth grade can read and write. When I was teaching first grade it was a lot of gesturing, pictures, introducing letters, and songs. I was shocked when I started teaching fourth grade and my students could understand when I wrote things on the board. It certainly makes my job a little bit easier.

 On the flip side, I have noticed that many of the behavioral issues, such as name calling, hitting, not wanting to work, etc. are the same among all grades. They may have matured a lot academically, but I know that I still have work to do in helping my fourth-grade students emotionally in order to help them to be kind, loving, and respectful adults.

What's your dream for your students?

  Miss Laura and one of her 1st grade students celebrating Día de la Identidad Nacional (National Identity Day) last June.

Miss Laura and one of her 1st grade students celebrating Día de la Identidad Nacional (National Identity Day) last June.

My dream for my students is they will be able to accomplish whatever they want in life. I have talked to some of them and they want to be doctors, lawyers, architects, professional soccer players, presidents, you name it. My job is to inspire them to get there and to let them know that there is no bar that is too high for them. I truly believe each and every one of them is so capable and will change the world.

Some of them talk about wanting to move to the United States, and knowing English will help them if they do, but I really hope that my students will give back to Honduras and help to elevate the country through their education. I have grown to love this country so much and really believe these amazing children, and 'jovenes,' at Amigos can be positive spark to change this country. 

What's something you hope your students take away from your classroom?

I hope each and every one of my students leaves knowing they are loved, important, special, and that they can accomplish anything that they want. There are definitely specific curriculum related goals that I have, like learning long division or being able to write an informative essay, but at the end of the day, my main goal is to have my students feel safe, supported, and confident in my classroom. No matter what the rest of their life looks like, I hope they know that for the four or five hours that they are with me everyday, they have a home.

I hate to be cliche, but the Maya Angelou quote, “people will forget what you say, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” perfectly summarizes how I feel about my classroom. I definitely fall short, but keeping these words in mind help me remember why I am here and I hope that my students feel loved.

  Miss Laura and her 4th grade students at the Christmas concert this past December. The fourth grade students performed to the song, "Frosty the Snowman," by dancing and singing along in English.

Miss Laura and her 4th grade students at the Christmas concert this past December. The fourth grade students performed to the song, "Frosty the Snowman," by dancing and singing along in English.

  Laughing and enjoying ice cream with one of her students...doesn't get much better than that!

Laughing and enjoying ice cream with one of her students...doesn't get much better than that!