Morgan, with the exercise band still wrapped around her legs, side-stepped as fast as she could onto our porch as the escaped cow charged her in our front lawn in the middle of her leg workout. The kids in the truck passing through our yard cackled as Miss Morgan screamed and shuffled into our house, the cow finally taking a sharp turn back towards Agro. A typical Saturday for us - an escaped farm animal eating our grass or drinking out of our pila, all the while our students’ laughs and greetings carry through the wind to our front door.
When thinking of how my educational experiences growing up differ from the experience myself and the BECA team of teachers provide, that’s probably the biggest contrast - we not only teach our kids from 7:10am-2:15pm, but we spend weekend afternoons, holidays, two meals a week, and much more with half of our student population. WE LIVE IN A HOUSE IN THEIR YARD RIGHT NEXT TO THEIR FARM! When we walk to school at 6:40 in the morning, we hear choruses of “GOOD MORNING!!” through our headphones and feel tiny arms wrapped around our legs with toothy grins full of breakfast beaming up at us.
Even outside of our closeness to the children at Amigos, the families of our students who live in the community are equally as welcoming. They frequently drop baked goods or ‘elote’ (corn) off in the teachers lounge for us, or will even buy us a coffee when passing us in town. The community parents put in so much effort into inviting us into their homes, at times even for the entire weekend, and treating us to days on the river with an array of grilled meats and vegetables. A lot of times there’s this idea that only teachers teach, but, in reflection, I’ve realized that as much as we as teachers try to SHOW and TEACH how to learn, how to be empathetic and how to be supportive members of a community, the community culture this school and these neighborhoods have established has actually taught US how to be better, more productive, and more supportive members of society.
One aspect in the classroom itself that differs from the education I received is the focus on socio-emotional learning. Our teachers put in SO much effort to create and foster safe, loving, open environments for learning. Between the school staff, the Honduran volunteers, the BECA volunteers, and the ADJ volunteers, our students have a slew of adults in the school who not only spend their time teaching, but truly seek out ways to LEARN how to better support and empower each individual student. Many lessons in the classroom are constructed with purposeful attention to not only classroom needs but also individual student needs, and teachers work hard to be eye level with the students and remain calm, rational, and vessels of love even in moments of pure craziness. A quote from a recent training we had on working with students with trauma that really struck me was, “It’s not you against the child. It’s you AND the child against their BEHAVIOR.” I mean, wow….that’s powerful. When you think about an entire school of adults trying to live and teach with that mindset, you can imagine the love that flows through every moment of the school day. It’s truly astounding to be a part of. That aspect, the consistent focus on socio-emotional learning- both for teachers and students- is one part of the education we provide here that differs from the education I received.
Another part of the education here that is different, yet not so heart-warming, is our printer situation. For the entire year we’ve fluctuated between a semi-functioning printer to no printer at all. I remember a LOT of worksheets growing up. In fact, it was mostly copying from the board, completing worksheets or reading packets, filling out test packets or reading through class set books. Here, we can’t do that. We have an unreliable printer, we emphasis not wasting computer paper, and we have little to no class sets of books. This means it takes a lot for the teachers to make individual resources for all of their students, to come up with games and manipulatives, and to find ways to be interactive throughout every lesson.
Pictured above are several of the BECA teachers with their students, many of whom they have the opportunity to spend time with inside and outside of the classroom.
An example of what this can look like: Most recently, I was on my way to bed when I found out that the backup printer we had been using had broken and I suddenly had to hand write 18 exams and 18 supplements for an exam the next day. Luckily, my roommate overheard the moment I found out and sent a message to the rest of our house and half my house came to my rescue- writing multiple pages each! (Another example of the amazing sense of community and support our school/ADJ fosters!) Even when we DO have a functioning printer, the frequent power outages or random printer breakdowns keep us from being able to use for stretches of time, leaving us again to lean onto our fellow teachers and come up with fun, creative lessons.
All of these aspects highlight the unique collaboration that characterizes the education we give. The three groups of volunteers, amazing school staff, Amigos staff, and community families all collaborate constantly to provide so much love and support to each and to every student. Even our older students, through our Reading Buddies and the 6th Grade Helpers Program, collaborate with each other and with teachers to surround younger students with encouragement and an example to follow. The student-teacher interactions in and outside of our school, the creativity and effort that goes into our lesson plans, the focus by both student and teacher on socio-emotional learning and community building, and the immense levels of care and collaboration from every person in our school to facilitate learning and empower these amazing kids really highlights the unique experience of providing (and receiving!) an education at the Amigos de Jesús Bilingual School.
Reading Buddies and the 6th Grade Helpers Program encourage students to not just invest in their own education, but also that of other students, especially younger students at our school.