Stories From The Field

Interview With District Supervisor Edwin Yaxón

Edwan Yaxón at a meeting of his district leadership team.

Edwan Yaxón at a meeting of his district leadership team.

As the district supervisor for the San Antonio Palopo school district, Edwin Yaxón has a big vision for the future. He hopes that someday soon, every student in his district will have the opportunity to break the cycle of illiteracy and learn to read.

It’s a tall order in a rural, impoverished district like San Antonio Palopo, where many students are forced to leave school early to work and help support their families. But in his three years as district supervisor, Yaxón has taken numerous steps to stress the importance of literacy and improve the quality of education in his schools, including developing a growing partnership with Child Aid.

Yaxón first participated in Child Aid’s Reading for Life trainings as teacher and, since becoming district supervisor in 2011, has been one of the program’s strongest advocates. This year, Yaxón took the unprecedented step of inviting Child Aid to bring the Reading for Life program to every primary school in his district and has worked closely with us to ensure its long-term success.

Yaxón spoke to Child Aid recently about his own experiences in the training workshops, the importance of getting school principals involved and his hopes for building a culture of literacy in his schools and community.

 

When was the first time you worked with Child Aid and what do you remember about that experience?

I participated in Child Aid trainings for two years when I was a sixth grade teacher at the Agua Escondida school, before I became District Supervisor. We worked on various teaching techniques around reading. I liked it very much. I remember very well the techniques we learned like “Asi no es. Como es” (“It’s not like that. How is it?”) and the “Word Wall” because it was the first time we had worked with them. It also helped us quite a bit to learn to read aloud in the classroom and how to make reading a happy and fun time for students. So the trainings were an experience that helped us a lot.

As teachers, I think many times we understand the concepts and techniques for teaching reading but we don’t apply them in the classroom. So the experience of participating in the Child Aid workshops adds a bit of pressure. Because when a colleague is nearby, working alongside you, you are more motivated to do it.

Why did you decide to invite Child Aid to bring the “Reading for Life” program to all the primary schools in your district?

When I became the supervisor, I hired one of our teachers to come work for me as an assistant so he could do work in the field. Because at times, with all the administrative work I have to do, I don’t have time to leave the office. He was the best teacher that we had in Agua Escondida, very diligent and hard-working. He began to work in all of the schools and we proposed a goal that he promote two literacy techniques with every teacher. I was also talking with Child Aid about the possibility that they could help us with materials for all of the schools because at the time they were only working in a couple of our schools.

So in the wake of that experience in 2012, I remember thinking, ‘If Child Aid can work with two schools why can’t they work in the entire district so that all the schools are involved?’ That was at the root of it because we realized that we needed more materials and support. And the teachers needed a bit of a push.

What changes are you making to help implement this program across the entire district?

Although the principals consent to have Reading for Life in their schools, they often do not participate in the workshops, only the teachers. And while Child Aid is working with the teachers, the school principals need be a support for the teachers.

So I’ve put together a leadership team of some of my principals whom I chose because of their qualities and the abilities they have. We are working directly with Child Aid to help prepare the principals to promote literacy in the schools. I am very excited about it and I hope that we come up with many ideas to motivate the rest of the principals.

Soon we will be working a lot with reading in the schools. We are working now on the organization of the books, doing reading activities and competitions, both with the teachers and students, as well as involving the parents.

I feel the work we are doing is already making a difference and motivating teachers. For example, in Xequistel today I saw many teachers planning their reading lessons. And before, they never did any planning. So now the teachers already know what activities they will do, what books to read, what tools to use. This is significant because it is like a seed we are planting now that in five or six years will be sustainable. It is our hope that, for all of the schools in our community, it will bring good results.

What changes do you hope to see in your students and teachers as a result of the ‘Reading for Life’ program?

I hope to see better readers. This is the goal of the Ministry of Education and this is my objective. Right now, I see it in some schools but not all. I see many schools with kids that can’t read. They can read the words but they don’t understand what they are reading.

So I want to come to a point where the district of San Antonio is different from the others in that we have a culture of reading here. Because a student’s routine right now is to read because they have to, not because they like to read. And what I would like is one day for a student to come and say ‘I’ll take this book because I want to read it.’ At a minimum they would read five books a year by their own choice. Not because the teacher asks them to or tells them they have to.

I believe that if a student is a good reader, if they have a good habit of reading, they will always have a hope of being successful. Reading allows a child to develop as a student and expand the scope of his opportunities and continue with his studies, including finishing primary school, continuing to basico [middle school], having a career and becoming a good person in the community.

For the teachers, it is the same idea. I want to see more interest and motivation in teachers. There are good teachers in some, but not all, of the schools. At times, the teacher arrives and says to the students “Take out your books and read page 5 while I sit over here.” This is a different teacher than I want, understand? We want them to read and work with the kids.

There also needs to be an awakening of interest in reading in the teacher. Because if the teacher is a good reader, they will transmit this interest to their students.

What would you say to other district supervisors about your experiences working with Child Aid?

Actually, I was talking about it recently at meeting of district supervisors. I was saying that we have a big vision for our district because Child Aid is working with us. They are helping us strengthen our work and meet the goals and objectives of the Ministry of Education. Often these objectives and goals are only recommendations to directors and their supervisors. The Ministry doesn’t focus well on providing resources. For the supervisors, this is a bit difficult to handle on their own. They need a team, like the one Child Aid has, with a good organization, with techniques that are working in each of the schools and a good foundation established.

I am very grateful to Child Aid, firstly for working with the first schools in our district and now allowing us to work with all of the schools. I think my message for other municipalities and other supervisors is that Child Aid comes to complement the work and the goals of the Ministry of Education. In the times when the Ministry can’t give the support, Child Aid is able to provide the extra push.

Categories: Stories From The Field
04/14/2014 8:28 AM | 0 Comments
Staff Profile

How We Learned to Read

Graciela Pichiya

Teacher Training Coordinator Graciela Pichaya reads a story aloud to a classroom of students.

 

Nancy Samoya remembers very well who taught her how to read.

After coming home from school in her small town of Agua Escondida, Nancy recalls sitting down in the kitchen with her mother for reading sessions.

“She would prepare a space on the table with a newspaper or old magazine because we didn’t have any books in the house,” says Nancy, now a Child Aid literacy trainer. “She would tell me to read a section or we would read it together. In our school, we didn’t have many resources and we spent a lot of time copying lessons or memorizing words. So we really didn’t have much comprehension of what we were reading. My mom helped me a lot in the process of learning to read. She was the only one who really helped me.”

Nancy and her Child Aid colleagues know how difficult it is to learn to read in typical Guatemalan schools. Most of them attended schools with few books and teachers with a lack of skills or interest in teaching reading, conditions that are still prevalent today.

Despite facing many obstacles, these individuals developed their reading skills through perseverance, support from families and a desire to improve their own lives. Not only have they learned to read but have gone on to pursue further education and develop professional careers as teachers and trainers.

These early experiences give Child Aid’s literacy trainers a unique insight into the challenges facing the students and teachers whom they work with today and the extra motivation to bring about changes that will improve things for the next generation.

During a recent meeting, the staff shared their experiences growing up in the Guatemalan education system and how they learned to read. There were many common themes.

Sample page from Victoria book.

A sample page from the “Victoria” textbook, one of the books commonly used to teach basic reading skills.

One of the biggest obstacles, they agreed, was the lack of access to good books.

For the most part, the only books they had in school were textbooks – with names like “El Nacho”, “El Buen Sembrador” and “Pinocho” – whose primary purpose was teaching the mechanics of reading.

“The book we used when I was in primary school was called ‘Victoria’.” said Marilena Ixen. “It was for learning the consonants and how to read words and simple sentences. It had letters on a page and a few words and sentences using the letters.”

Although some of the textbooks had simple readings for students to do, storybooks with engaging stories and colorful pictures were almost non-existent.

“The books we used had letters, but very few pictures.” remembered Jorge Sanum. “My favorite book in school had only three pages but it had a picture of a duck at the end. I think I liked it because of that one picture.”

“I remember that the first book that we read was ‘The Blue Heron,’” said Carlos Pos, “but that wasn’t until I was in second basico [middle school]. We had to buy it and read it in our free time. But in all of primary school, we never had books like that.”

Access to reading material outside of school was also a challenge. If there was a library in the community, it probably didn’t have books appropriate for young kids. Buying books was rarely an option for families who were struggling to get by. Most had to find their reading material in newspapers, magazines or whatever was at hand.

“I spent a lot of time reading the New Testament,” said Graciela Pichiya, “because the Bible was the only book that we had in our house.”

With few resources in the classroom, the instruction they received was limited to lectures from teachers or copying lessons out of their textbooks.

“We had to copy two lessons per day from the book and deliver them at the end of the week to the teacher.” said Jeremias Morales. “The book only had thirty lessons, so when we got to the end, we just started over from the beginning.”

“Our teachers then were very strict,” said Sarah Campo. “If we did not memorize what they said, they gave us paddlings or hit us on the head. It was a very traditional education.”

So how did they learn to read? Many of the literacy trainers credited their parents or other family members with filling in some of the gaps left by the school. Like Nancy Samoya, Marilena Ixen received extra instruction from her father, who also taught a class in an adult literacy training program. Evelyn Camey remembers being sent in the evenings with her cousins to the house of an uncle, who was a teacher, for extra help with their studies.

In her first grade classroom, Kelly Batz says she was able to memorize the sounds and words from her textbook, but really wasn’t reading. When her parents realized this, they took matters into their own hands. “My dad got a blackboard and began to teach the letter sounds with things or objects that I already knew. He gave me words from magazines that he had to see if I was learning or still just memorizing.”

For some, like Carlos Pos and Jorge Sanum, the challenge of learning to read was even greater because they could not find the extra help they needed at home.

“Unfortunately my parents only finished second grade in primary school so my dad could not even help me with my homework or give me ideas to improve my education,” he said. “But I always received the moral support, encouraging me to continue my studies.”

Jorge added that, for those without educated parents, learning to read took a great deal of perseverance. They often had to find their own resources and look for inspiration in the few teachers or other adults who encouraged them to read.

“Although my school did not have any resources, I still enjoyed going to school,” said Graciela Pichiya. “I got up very early to be the first one there. But I feel that most of it was self-motivation. I had only one teacher in my life who would read aloud to us, usually from the newspaper. I liked how he used his voice to create emotion and tell the story. I liked to watch him and how he read and I wanted to read like him. That had a big impact on me.”

Despite their early challenges, many said their experiences growing up have only fueled their desire to learn and pursue higher education. Working with Child Aid has also played a role in their professional development. Many in the group said that the training and experience they have received has helped them become better readers themselves and has given them skills they have used in other areas of their lives.

Carlos Pos said he’s been reading more in his free time and has discovered a love of historical fiction. Jeremias Morales has been challenging himself to find new information through books and has learned to think more critically and ask questions about what he is reading. Edgar Garcia added he has been able to apply much of what he has learned at Child Aid to his university classes, where he is studying to become a lawyer.

“The most important thing has been to improve my reading skills and have the tools that facilitate a better comprehension of what I am reading,” he said. “That has helped me expand my knowledge and improve my life.”

But perhaps the most personal response came from Carlos, who said that Child Aid has inspired him to read more to his four-year-old daughter. He sees that she is already benefiting from opportunities that he never had.

“I have brought various books to the house and we read at least 3-4 times per week. At times she even demands to have us read to her,” he said. “And recently I observed her beginning to recite the story from one of her favorite books without my help. This is really incredible to me and I see it as a result of the kind of work that I do and the impact of what I am doing with Child Aid.”

 

Categories: Staff Profile
04/7/2014 8:29 AM
News

New School Year Brings New District Partnership

San Andreas Palopo School Directors Meeting

Child Aid Country Director, John van Keppel speaks with principals at an introductory meeting last year.

When Edwin Yaxón, District Supervisor of the San Antonio Palopo district, sat down to talk with members of the Child Aid board of directors in early 2013, he had many positive things to say about the Reading for Life literacy program. Before becoming a school principal and later District Supervisor, Yaxón had participated in Child Aid trainings as a teacher at the Agua Escondida school and had seen, first-hand, the effectiveness of the program in preparing teachers and improving students’ reading skills.

But there was one comment that Yaxón made during the meeting that particularly stuck out for Child Aid CEO Nancy Press.

At the time, Child Aid was working with four of the district’s thirteen primary schools. When asked how Child Aid could help him build on these successes, Yaxón quickly responded that he would like to see Reading for Life in all of the primary schools in his district.

“It was first time that we had had an invitation from a District Supervisor to work with an entire district,” says Press. “It really got us thinking about what the advantages and opportunities would be to work at the district level rather than on a school-by-school basis.”

Yaxón’s comment spurred additional conversations and planning that have culminated in a “district-wide” initiative to bring Reading for Life to all of San Antonio Palopo’s schools.

Edwin Yaxón, San Andreas Palopo District Supervisor

Edwin Yaxón, San Antonio Palopo District Supervisor

For the 2014 school year, which began in January, Child Aid is working in nine new schools in the district and continuing programs in four others. To accommodate this growth and meet the new demands, we have added to our literacy training staff. The Child Aid team is also working with a committee of education leaders from the district to develop a series of training workshops for the district’s principals to be held throughout the year. The objective of the workshops will be to help principals sustain the literacy program when Child Aid leaves and to effectively manage the continued professional development of their teachers.

Country Director John van Keppel says this new partnership with the San Antonio Palopo district is an opportunity for his team to work at the district level to facilitate greater communication and cooperation between teachers, principals and schools.

“We have become very good at working at the classroom level, engaging teachers and helping them become more effective at promoting reading, writing and learning skills.” says van Keppel. “But we haven’t focused as much outside of the classroom – with the school principals, district supervisors, parents and the broader community. With this district-wide partnership, we have the opportunity work directly with the principals and district supervisor and to learn what it takes to integrate them in the program and engage them in our efforts to improve education in their schools.”

The Child Aid team has met with Yaxón and the San Antonio Palopo principals several times in the lead-up the new school year, introducing them to the program and soliciting their feedback and advice on how best to implement it in their schools. That process will continue with the workshops, which van Keppel expects to be very interactive and participatory.

“It has been important for us to include the school directors from the very beginning,” says van Keppel. “This is partly because we know that if they participate in the implementation of the program they will feel a sense of ownership and want it to be successful. But also, their involvement will ensure the long-term sustainability of the program in their schools, which is one of our primary goals.”

“We are going to learn a tremendous amount from this process,” adds Press, “which will inform our work in other schools and districts. I’m hopeful that it will generate more communication between teachers, principals and schools and that this initiative will be a jumping off point for engaging parents and the community as well. Because the more people we get involved in the process of education the better it is for the success of the kids.”

Categories: News
03/11/2014 7:54 AM
Slideshow

The Child Aid Literacy Team in Action

The Child Aid staff does a tremendous variety of activities in their work promoting literacy in Guatemala. They run training workshops, distribute books, provide one-on-one support for teachers and librarians, work with students and even pitch in to help label and organize books from time to time. Watch this slide show to see the Child Aid staff in action and learn about the many ways they are making a difference in Guatemalan communities.

 

View the slideshow ›

Categories: Slideshow, Staff Profile, Stories From The Field
03/7/2014 8:00 AM
Stories From The Field

VIDEO: Read Alouds Bring Joy and Learning

In the communities of rural Guatemala, storybooks in children’s homes are extremely rare and many parents are illiterate. So when an adult sits down to read a book aloud to a group of kids, it is a time of magic and joy. Kids crowd around the reader, eager to see the pictures and hear stories of far-away places and new adventures. For many, storytime is where their love of reading begins.

It’s also where Child Aid begins with it’s training of new teachers and librarians in our efforts to help them promote literacy and improve students’ reading skills. In our literacy trainings, we show them how to make read alouds fun and interactive and provide techniques they can use to develop students’ vocabularies, comprehension and critical thinking skills.

In honor of World Read Aloud Day on March 5th, members of Child Aid’s Literacy Training Team share some of they ways they make story time fun, engaging and educational.

Categories: Stories From The Field
03/4/2014 1:18 PM
News

‘Adventures in Reading’ Newspaper Celebrates Success Stories

Librarian Gloria Muños Garcia reads to students in the San Miguel Morazón library.

Librarian Gloria Muños Garcia reads to students in the San Miguel Morazón library.

To commemorate another successful year of our school break reading program, last month the Child Aid staff put together it’s first “Adventures in Reading Newspaper.” Articles contributed by both staff and librarians highlighted activities, special events and accomplishments from the 36 school, community and municipal libraries who participated in the program this year.

Library Coordinator Carlos Pos leads a small group discussion identifying areas of success in this year's Adventures in Reading program.

Library Coordinator Carlos Pos leads a small group discussion with librarians aboutidentifying areas of success in this year’s Adventures in Reading program.

The newspaper was shared with librarians at a wrap-up event held December 6th in Tecpán. Librarians and staff gathered to celebrate their accomplishments, share their experiences and discuss ways to improve and expand their programs next year.

The articles and group discussions focused around three aspects of the Adventures in Reading program: promotion and community outreach, educational programs and activities and techniques for engaging kids and maintaining attendance.

“This event is a celebration, but we also approach it as part of the librarians’ training,” said Library Development Coordinator Carlos Pos. “It gives them an opportunity to reflect on the work they have done. It is also a way for librarians from different communities to share and learn from each other.”

This year, a total of 2,300 children between the ages of 5 and 14 years participated in the Adventures in Reading programs which were held from late October through early December.

The "Periodico Adventureas de Lectura" shared success stories stories from Child Aid's school break reading program.

The “Periodico Adventureas de Lectura” shared success stories stories from Child Aid’s school break reading program.

During their time in the library, the children had the opportunity to hear books being read, write their own stories, read independently and play educational games in spaces designed for use by every age. Some libraries also integrated other activities with themes related to the environment, arts and crafts.

To enhance the educational depth of the programs, this year staff and librarians worked together to add several new activities. In addition to regular read-aloud sessions, many libraries hosted book clubs for higher level readers.  Run by Child Aid staff, the clubs gave kids the experience of reading more challenging books and sharing their thoughts and opinions in a discussion group. Libraries also focused on a variety of writing activities such as producing a school newspaper, creating personal journals and writing contests.

At the end of the wrap-up event, the Child Aid team presented awards to individuals and libraries to acknowledge and celebrate their efforts and accomplishments in the three focus areas. The librarians expressed satisfaction with the success of the Adventures in Reading program this year and the importance of their work promoting a love of reading and writing with the children in their communities.

 

Excerpts from the Adventures in Reading Newspaper

Read a selection of articles submitted by Child Aid staff and participating librarians and see photos from this year’s program.

El Tejar Mayor Visits Adventures in Reading
By Marielena Ixen, Child Aid Literacy Trainer

On November 11th, municipal officials from El Tejar visited the children at the library at San Miguel Morazán to attend a session of Adventures in Reading run by librarian Amalia Muñoz.

During the visit, Mr. Manolo Méndez, mayor of El Tejar and a former librarian, read the story of the “Beautiful Nose of the Grandmother” to more than eighty children. During the reading, he highlighted the characters and important events of the story, ending with some questions to get the children’s participation. He was happy to see the smiles and attention of every one of the children while they listened attentively to the story.

After the reading, the mayor and his wife congratulated all of the children for participating in the Adventures in Reading program and for taking advantage of the opportunity to help themselves prepare for a better future.

Literacy Trainer Marielena Ixel reads to a group of students at the Melotto School library in El Tejar.

Literacy Trainer Marielena Ixel reads to a group of students at the Melotto School library in El Tejar. The library celebrated it’s sixth year running the Adventures in Reading programs.

Adventures in Reading a Big Success in Sumpango
By Luis Cubur, Librarian, Sumpango Municipal Library

In the Sumpango municipal library, we had a fabulous and entertaining Adventures in Reading program during the school vacation this year.

More than 200 boys and girls of different ages and from different schools in the city participated in the program. The program was planned and directed by head librarian Telma Morales. For two hours per week, the children gathered to hear stories read aloud, participate in activities and enjoy spending time in the library with many books to read.

For me, this program is very important because it helps the children get involved in the world of reading. Also, they can participate in something positive and not spend all of their vacation time at home watching television. I would recommend that the program not only be held during the vacations but also throughout the year because we have very little culture of reading in our communities.

Child Aid's Jorge Sanum leads the book club at the Tzumpago municipal library.

Child Aid’s Jorge Sanum leads the book club at the Sumpago municipal library. The group met weekly to read and discuss books together.

The “Bookworms” Book Club
By Evelyn Camey, Child Aid Literacy Trainer

This year, the library in Chicacao, Suchitepéquez held it’s first book club as part of the Adventures in Reading program. Twenty youths read a book titled “El Libro Salvaje” (“The Wild Book”) by author Juan Villoro. They showed much interest and enthusiasm to be part of the club.

All of the students had participated in the Adventures in Reading program last year. So this year, they were ready to challenge themselves with a book more than 200 pages long! The kids attended every Tuesday and Thursday during the month of November. They started each session doing different activities and reading part of the book. They also had the opportunity to talk about the book with their fellow participants, sharing their observations and making connections between the story and their own lives. For the students, the purpose of the club was to enjoy themselves, form the habit of reading and become better readers.

Participants in the Tzumpago Adventures in Reading were able to check out books to read at home. A boy shows off his selections.

Participants in the Sumpago Adventures in Reading were able to check out books to read at home. A boy enthusiastically shows off his selections.

An Early Start on Reading
by Norma Guzmán, Child Aid Literacy Trainer

The Child of Hope Project works with affiliated families with scarce resources, offering them health and education services for their children. This year the librarians from the Child of Hope Project’s library integrated activities for children between the ages of 2 and 5 years old into their Adventures in Reading program, giving these young children an early introduction to books and reading.

The librarians demonstrated to the mothers how to read a book to their children, giving the children the the experience of manipulating and browsing a book. Using the technique of asking “What are the characters thinking?” the mothers were shown how to address themes such as the feelings of the characters in the book, giving the children the opportunity describe what they observe in the story and illustrations.

This is the first year that Lesbia Morales is participating in the program. She has three children, ages 12, 5 and 3. Lesbia commented that the project complements another Child of Hope program called “Nurturing with Affection,” allowing her to educate and raise her children with love and care.

Lesbia can especially see the change in her youngest child, three-year-old Fátima. Lesbia says Fátima expresses herself better, talks more and has an improved vocabulary. Also, when Fátima goes out of the house, she makes connections with what she has seen in her books.

Lesbia thinks the program is a great benefit, not only for Fatima but also for the other children who are now better at reading. She is proud of what she is learning so she can help her children have a better education. Now she dedicates time every day to read with her children. They enjoy learning how to read together.

Members of the book club work on identifying unfamiliar words from their book "La Sopresa de la Noche."

Members of the book club work on identifying unfamiliar words from their book “La Sopresa de la Noche.”

Adventures in Reading Makes Young Journalists
By Jeremias Morales and Graciela Landa, Child Aid Training Coordinators

Child Aid always looks for ways to innovate and improve the reading and writing of children in the communities where we work. This year, we wanted to improve the Adventures in Reading program by creating a bridge between being a reader and becoming a writer. We introduced the children to how to become a writer through the magnificent tool of the school newspaper. This experience gave the children the opportunity to practice the writing process and write for a variety of audiences and try a variety of types of writing.

They began by writing news articles about local events. Later they conducted interviews with parents or prominent people in their communities. Through the medium of writing, they were able to make connections between previous knowledge and new knowledge.

During the course of the development of the school papers, the boys and girls had the opportunity to participate as reporters, editors or photographers but all gave their ideas and opinions about what they wanted to write about and communicate to the community.

With faces full of smiles and pride, the children participated with much enthusiasm and interest during these sessions of Adventures in Reading. The experience encouraged them to practice the characteristics of good writers.

We hope that more teachers and librarians will learn to use this newspaper activity with their students because it offers diverse reasons and audiences for the student’s writing and will help them find real success during this important phase of becoming a good reader and writer.

Student writing journals on display.

Student writing journals on display. This year librarians integrated a variety of writing activities into the Adventures in Reading program.

Spreading Reading Through the Community
By Graciela Landa, Child Aid Training Coordinator and Nancy Santizo, Child Aid Literacy Trainer

This year, the kids participating in the Adventures in Reading program in Agua Escondida joined with the librarian and the Child Aid team for walks through the town’s streets to promote reading in the community.

The walks were held every Friday during the month of November, inviting the community to access and use the books in the local library. The kids carried various books from the library with them and offered to loan books to people they met in homes and on the street who were interested in reading. The walks also promoted the library’s programs within the community and the importance of developing a habit of reading, not just for the children but for all of the members of the community.

Categories: News
01/24/2014 8:12 AM
News

Teaching Students Bring ‘Adventures in Reading’ Back to Their Communities

Socorro de Belen Graduation

Instructor Jorge Sanum (far right) with teaching students from the Socorro de Belen school.

After two years of studying to become teachers, the students at the Socorro de Belen school took on their last and most challenging assignment. Last month they returned to their hometowns to set up and run Adventures in Reading, Child Aid’s school break literacy program, in their communities.

At the end of the school year, the students gathered to collect their certificates of completion and receive packets of storybooks that they used for read-aloud sessions and writing activities, sharing what they’ve learned with a new generation of readers.

They also got some last minute instructions and encouragement from Teaching Training Coordinator and Instructor Jorge Sanum.

“It is a challenge for such young students to start a literacy program in their communities, especially finding a space and recruiting students,” said Sanum. “They are all a bit nervous but also determined.”

Socorro de Belen Teacher Training

Instructor Jorge Sanum demonstrates techniques for conducting a read-aloud session.

The students are part of a unique Child Aid program at Socorro de Belen, a private Catholic school in Antigua that provides scholarships for indigenous women to become teachers. For the past two years, in addition to their regular studies, the students met weekly with instructor Jorge Sanum to develop their their own reading and writing skills and learn techniques for teaching reading comprehension and critical thinking in the classroom.

In Guatemala, most teacher training programs are taught at the high school level, where students get a basic certification to teach.

“We’ve found that most of the teaching students have poor primary education backgrounds themselves and lack basic reading comprehension and critical thinking skills, says van Keppel. “That was especially true for the the Socorro students, who come from very rural and impoverished communities.”

“So we designed a two year program for them. The first year focuses on helping them develop reading and writing skills, using many of the activities and techniques we teach in our Reading for Life program. In the second year we reinforce those skills and help them develop the ability to include them in their teaching when they go back to their communities.”

Through the generosity of the Paiz Foundation, Child Aid is able to offer this program to a total of three schools and 227 students.

Student Flor de María Escobar Coc says the class has given her a new understanding of her role as a teacher as well as practical skills she can use in the classroom.

“My favorite part was learning the techniques” she says, “because it showed me that learning is not only about listening but can also be about participating. I feel that after this experience I can be a better teacher, at least I hope to be. I know now how to treat each child because each child is different in how they learn.”

Socorro students select books to use in their Adventures in Reading programs.

Socorro students select books to use in their Adventures in Reading programs.

For their final assignment, students began preparing for their Adventures in Reading programs in September. They reviewed books and made a book plan, practiced read-aloud techniques, planned and found materials for additional activities and decided how they were going to promote the program and recruit kids to participate.

“The assignment is voluntary,” said Sanum, “but we had 35 of the 37 students at Socorro de Belen participate. Each of the students will do the program differently depending on their time and resources. Many are running their programs in their parents’ homes because there isn’t a library or school space available.”

“The Adventures in Reading piece is an important part of their training,” added Sanum, “because it will give these students opportunities to apply the skills they’ve learned and develop some community leadership experience.”

Categories: News
12/3/2013 6:49 AM
Staff Profile

Jeremias Morales: Followups Deliver Training Techniques That Work

Jeremias Morales Teacher Followup

Literacy Trainer Jeremias Morales works with a teacher during a followup session.

When Literacy Trainer Jeremias Morales walks into a classroom, kids pay attention.

Whether he’s reading a story, running an activity or working with a small group of students, Jeremias brings an incredible amount of energy and enthusiasm to his work. He is adept at engaging kids, getting them involved in learning and making the experience of reading fun and interesting.

“This work is challenging and there can be problems,” he says. “but I’ve learned if you have enthusiasm it makes everything easier to handle.”

As one of Child Aid’s seven Literacy Trainers, Jeremias’ work is at the heart of Child Aid’s Reading for Life program and part of what distinguishes it from other teacher training programs.

Much of his time during the school year is spent on follow-up visits with teachers, one-on-one sessions where the trainers help teachers apply the techniques and activities they learned in Reading for Life workshops in their classrooms.

“In the workshops, the teachers are introduced to the concepts and techniques, but after a few days or weeks it might fade,” says Jeremias. “In the followups we talk about their experiences and can discover what’s working and what’s not. We talk about what they are observing, what problems they are having and what they can do differently.”

Jeremias Morales Teacher Followup

Literacy Trainer Jeremias Morales works with a teacher during a followup session.

On a typical day, Jeremias gets up early at his home in San Lucas Toliman near Lake Atitlan and hits the road to visit one of the five schools he manages in the region. After each workshop, Jeremias will do two follow-up visits with every teacher. In the first session, he works directly with the students, modeling the activity and techniques for the teacher. In the second visit, he observes the teacher using the techniques themselves, offering suggestions and advice to help them improve.

It is time-consuming work. Meeting with 45 teachers over two workshops, Jeremias did nearly 200 teacher follow-up sessions this school year.

“I usually spend an hour or more with each teacher,” he says, “Since school gets out at 12:30, I can do at most three followups in a day – two before the recess and one after.”

But, he adds, the personal support and regular contact is important in helping teachers continue to progress and it’s rewarding to see the changes in teacher’s skills and student’s learning over time.

“I like it when I can see that they understand a concept and I know I’ve helped them get better,” he says.

Jeremias grew up in the town of Las Canoas, near Lake Atitlan, and speaks Kaqchikel, K’iche and Tzutujil in addition to Spanish. Although he was a good student, he says reading was taught by repetition and decoding and was very boring. His parents encouraged him to read, but he had little access to books, especially storybooks and novels. It wasn’t until after he reached university and developed a love of learning that he discovered the value of books in his life.

“I remember when I was a kid, I never had the opportunity to talk about a book. Reading was just for homework,” he says. “Now when I hear about a book on a topic I’m interested in, I want to read it because I want to get the new knowledge.”

In his work with Child Aid, Jeremias says he hopes he can pass on his enthusiasm for reading and help students understand that learning can be fun and important to their lives.

“I want the kids to get as excited about a new book as they are about playing football at recess. I try to show how school can be fun and not so boring. Because when reading is fun, they learn.”

VIDEO: Watch Jeremias at work during a teacher follow up session.

Categories: Staff Profile
11/12/2013 6:41 AM
News

A ‘To-Do’ List for Improving Libraries

Child Aid partner libraries like the Cecopa Library in Patzun focus on creating friendly, welcoming environments for young readers.

Child Aid partner libraries like the Cecopa Library in Patzun focus on creating friendly, welcoming environments for young readers.

As the only librarian in the town of San Miguel Morazán, Gloria Muños Garcia has worked hard to make her small municipal library a resource for her community.

“I have learned how to classify and organize books,” she says, describing her accomplishments. “I invited teachers from the local school to bring their students to the library for story hour, I created a special activity corner for children and I started a backpack lending program to get some of the new books to the schools.”

But when she started the job four years ago, Muños Garcia had little experience as a librarian and few resources to work with.

“The library only had some tables, chairs and a few books,” she says. “There was no system of classification, no reading program and no relationship with local teachers. It was mostly used as a place for students to do their homework.”

At the time, San Miguel Morazán was typical of libraries in Guatemala, where people’s expectations and definition of what a library should be are very different from other parts of the world.

“Since books are so rare and expensive in Guatemala and there isn’t a culture of reading among the general population, libraries have a very limited purpose here.” says Child Aid Country Director John van Keppel.

Like many Guatemalan libraries, the Municipal library in Patzun keeps its small collection of books behind a counter and out of reach of patrons.

Like many Guatemalan libraries, the Municipal library in Patzun keeps its small collection of books behind a counter and out of reach of patrons.

In Guatemala, libraries are principally used to help high school students with their homework. Since schools do not have enough books, students come to the library to find information for a report they are writing or to complete their daily assignments. That usually means making photocopies or copying information, word for word, out of a book.

Guatemalan libraries offer few other services to their patrons. Books are kept behind a counter or in a locked area and are rarely checked out. Most libraries’ collections are out of date and limited to textbooks, encyclopedias and reference books. They have few fiction or storybooks that might engage young readers.

To help librarians like Muños Garcia make their libraries more effective resources in their communities, Child Aid has developed a librarian training program based on sixteen “Characteristics of a Model Library.” For librarians who have never experienced working in a fully functioning library, the characteristics provide a helpful “to do” list for where to focus their efforts and improve their services.

“Our goal has been to develop libraries that can be resource centers for educational initiatives, particularly in the schools,” says van Keppel. “Given the librarians’ limited resources and experience, we have identified a base level that would allow libraries to promote literacy in significant ways.”

The characteristics cover three basic areas: creating a welcoming physical environment, developing administrative and management systems and running literacy and outreach programs. The characteristics offer very specific and practical guidelines – such as creating special activity corners, setting and maintaining regular hours or providing lending programs.

Librarian Gloria Muños Garcia shows off the many changes she’s made in her small municipal library in the town of San Miguel Morazán.

Librarian Gloria Muños Garcia shows off the many changes she’s made in her small municipal library in the town of San Miguel Morazán.

“The librarian’s job in a typical Guatemalan library is often focused on making photocopies of books for student assignments and answering reference questions,” says Director of Curriculum and Instruction Erin Conway. “So the characteristics give them a more complete picture of what a library can be. We emphasize that it’s an ongoing process. Even if you only implement one or two of the characteristics per year, you’ve made your library better.”

For librarian Muños Garcia, the Child Aid trainings and support have given her a vision for how she can transform the mission of her small library. She has implemented changes that have improved the library’s services and extended its reach into local schools. Now her library has dozens of school kids of all ages visiting every week and she is bubbling with ideas for more improvements.

READ MORE: Characteristics of a Successful Library

Categories: News
11/8/2013 9:23 AM
Slideshow

How Book Donations Make a Difference

Child Aid received and distributed over 50,000 donated books from U.S. publishers and non-profit book consolidators this year. See how we got those books to rural schools and libraries, how they are being used and the difference they are making in the lives of Guatemalan children.

View the slideshow ›

Categories: Slideshow
10/8/2013 11:22 AM