Sunday, July 10, 2011

July 10, 2011

Hi there,

Well, we have 17 more days in Antigua, and still loving our life here. We will be glad to back in Dallas for a few days to see the family, do a bit of work, and go to the Greatest Show on Earth, the circus. Thanks to Adam, we have been going back to the Ringling Brothers event since 2002.  The party will continue.

During our week here in Antigua Tom has been out exploring possibilities for shopping wood items and we hit pay dirt today with a visit to two villages outside Antigua. The artists in Jocotenango and San Filipe are known for their woodworking resulting in beautiful bowls, platters, and particularly fruits and vegetables that are painted and shined to be amazing replicas of the real thing. This is down down to the seeds in the fruit and the intricate lines in the seeds.  We had a quiet, peaceful morning walking through the villages, after our lovely breakfast on the hill at the Finca Filadelphia coffee farm, where we watched Fuego Volcano puff huge belches of white, grey, and even black smoke.  The mountain has been active all week, but today was exceptional. We were a pretty safe distance from this activity, so it was fun. Up close might be another matter. We will find out soon enough, as we plan to hike Pacaya in a couple of weeks.

My week here has been filled with school visits, but this time in public schools, Monday through Thursday. The school is in Jocotenango, a small village 10 minutes ride in a tuk tuk from where we live.  It is at the foot of the mountain, so is nestled in a bit closer as a village, whereas Antigua is a bit more spread out in the valley. The school is a primary schools with grades K-6.  Each classroom is approximately 15x30, into which approximately 36 desks are set, crammed together in 5 columns.  As in the private school, the students are in uniform, though considerably simpler than the private school I observed Feb - May.  There are no, nada school supplies provided by the school through governmental agencies; no books, no paper, no materials, no overhead project, no computers, no pencils, pencil sharpener, no nothing. The teachers have a textbook that was issued by the government in 2002, and includes all subjects the teachers are to teach, so the materials are basic and limited.  The classes consist mostly of the following steps: 1. the teacher talks about the concept being taught.  2. The teacher dictates what the students are to write in their notebooks about this topic.  3. The teacher gives a few examples on the white board (the only supply). 4. The teacher gives an assignment, either for in class or homework.  Students sit in their desks from 7:30-12:30, with the exception of a 30 minute break to play on the concrete playground in the center of the school. The wild thing is that the half of the school that is not at recess, get to hear the wild, fun squeals of the children who are, hence the noise in the alternate classrooms hits 90 - 95 db when the other group is out.  Que lastima.

I did get to see an exceptional thing this week, a teacher who talked about measurement, then allowed the students to go outside and really measure many things, including the length of the playground, the height of their partners, etc. The students loved it, worked diligently on the task, talked incessantly about the methods they used to complete the assignment, and were eager to do other measurements at home later. This was in a sixth grade class, which was an altogether new experience here in Antigua.  I felt like I was in Denton watching Amy Anderson's class. The teacher and I talked during the 30 minute recess time and I learned that she is studying to get her professor certification, which is equivalent to our bachelor's degree. She only lacks her final exam, so I hope she gets it soon.

The icing on the cake was a trip to Guatemala City with our hostess, Marie del Carmen, who arranged a meeting with a group of people in the Ministry of Education who have developed, tested, and implemented a new math curriculum for the country.  We met with the development team and the team of five teachers who were part of the in-school development team, who now work as deliverers of the curriculum nation-wide.  It was terrific to hear about their systematic approach to the development and the concerted effort they made to include teachers in the design and implementation process.  We left intrigued with each other, with the hopes of possibly working on a partnership of shared documentation.  The curriculum, both in recommended, objective form, also had teacher edition books and student workbooks.  It was grand, with the caveat that the government wants to roll this out as the Guatemalan official math curriculum, but has not offered any financial support to get books in every teachers' and students' collective hands. The original project, Guatematica, was supported by the Japanese government equivalent of Peace Corps, JICA, but that has a limited funding source, designed mostly for development and support. Hopefully, following the maddening election here in September, someone in charge will recognize the value of education and find some funds somewhere.

The rest of this week is the final run of our Spanish lessons.  This past week our teachers both decided that with so little time left, it's time to turn up the burners, so we have both been sweating a bit, but enjoying the sauna of the moment of more learning and improvement. Tom is light-years ahead of me, buried in pluperfectsubjunctive, while I am still sorting out por, para, ser, and estar.  We both speak Spanish here to all who will listen, and get better at it each day.  At the new school, no one speaks English, so if I am going to do one legged interviews, I have to jump in, which I do, haltingly, but doing it anyway. So far, it is working.  Also, our good friend Johnetta Hudson arrives on Thursday afternoon, and we have evoked the powers here to give us more than 24 hours in the day and night so we can do all the things we think she will enjoy during her four days here. 

Signing off as I look out at the light rain, clouds over the mountain, enjoying the cool mountain air, knowing that the heat of Dallas awaits.  17 more days of paradise, then we shift paradise to home.  Hope all is well for you and yours.  jt

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