Meet some of the teachers, students and staff who are benefiting from your support of literacy and education.
Meet some of the teachers, students and staff who are benefiting from your support of literacy and education.
Meet some of the teachers, students and staff who are benefiting from your support of literacy and education.
See the excitement of students and teachers as a delivery of new books arrives for the local school in the town of Cerro de Oro, Guatemala. Each school participating in Child Aid’s teacher training and literacy program, Reading for Life, receives a donation of books each year, providing a vital and treasured resource for the schools. The books are used in classroom instruction and to provide students more opportunities to read and develop their skills.
For a child who is learning how to read, having a skilled and effective teacher is critical to her success. An effective teacher can make reading engaging and fun, uses questions to stimulate conversation and critical thinking and adapts their techniques to the needs of their students.
But today, schools in Guatemala face a chronic shortage of skilled and effective teachers. Many Guatemalan teachers have little training in literacy instruction and often struggle to move beyond traditional techniques of rote learning and memorization.
Through its intensive, four-year teacher training program, Child Aid’s is transforming how reading and literacy are taught in Guatemalan classrooms and helping teachers become more confident and effective educators.
In this video, visit a teacher training workshop in Guatemala to see how Child Aid is helping teachers learn practical techniques for developing the comprehension and critical thinking skills that are critical to literacy and learning. After the workshop, Child Aid trainer Marilena Ixen visits a classroom for a one-on-one coaching session, helping the teacher integrate and adapt what she has learned into her classroom instruction.
This process of modeling and practicing helps teachers put theory into practice quickly and effectively and gives them the skills and experience they need to achieve better outcomes for their students.
In Guatemalan classrooms, the traditional methods of reading instruction focus on memorization and decoding. Students learn to read simple sentences but often do not understand what they are reading. In this video, see how Child Aid’s teacher training program is transforming how reading and literacy are taught in Guatemala. In our training workshops, teachers learn practical techniques to help students become better readers, writers and learners.
Visit a classroom, where teacher Demetria Estacuy de Leon is using read-aloud techniques she learned from Child Aid to help her first grade students understand and remember details of a story. Students mimic her actions while she reads, responding to questions and practicing the habits of good readers.
When teachers in Guatemala join Child Aid’s literacy training program, one of the first techniques they learn is how to read aloud to their students. Story time is a natural place to engage kids in reading and introduce them to the joys and habits of good readers. When a teacher reads with expression and enthusiasm, they are helping students feel the emotions of the characters, the changes in action, and the most exciting, saddest, or happiest events. A read aloud session is also an opportunity for students to begin to develop the reading comprehension and critical thinking skills that will help them become active and engaged readers and learners.
These skills are vital components of literacy and learning. Without them, students struggle to make the transition from learning to read to reading to learn. “I live for reading with the kids,” says Demetria. “When I am doing a reading, I have to use my imagination and creativity with them. It has helped me a lot because I see their achievements and how much they enjoy the reading.”
In early July, representatives from 19 schools, libraries and community organizations from around Guatemala came to Antigua for Child Aid’s Book Distribution Day. There was a lot of excitement as attendees participated in a half-day orientation and then lined up at our warehouse to pickup boxes of brand new books to take back to their communities. Watch a slideshow of some of the day’s events.
An assortment of cars, pickup trucks and minivans snaked through the fields of the Azotea coffee farm near Antigua a few weeks ago, waiting to pick up boxes of new books.
Representatives from 19 schools, libraries and community organizations traveled from around Guatemala to Child Aid’s book warehouse for our Book Distribution Day, a yearly event that helps get books into the hands of kids in communities around Guatemala.
Last year, Child Aid distributed over 100,000 Spanish language books donated by international book distributors International Book Bank and the International Book Project. This year we are on track to surpass that number.
Many of the books are packaged and delivered to our partner schools and libraries throughout the year. The remainder are distributed through book distribution events, which are open to any community or organization that wants to participate.
This year, groups came from as far away as La Libertad, in the northern state of Peten and Rio Blanco near the western city of Quetzaltenango.
Each group is asked to pay a small fee and provide their own transportation for the books. The event kicks off with a four-hour training, which helps familiarize participants with the books they are receiving and provides instruction on cataloging and displaying books and other strategies for making the books more accessible to their patrons.
In a country where books of any kind are hard to come by, an event like this is a joyous occasion. The smiles were big and the enthusiasm contagious as groups pulled up to the warehouse and loaded boxes of books into their vehicles.
Mario Hernandez Orellana, from the small town of Parramos, was beaming when he described how the donation of over 1,500 new storybooks and non-fiction books for the the town’s municipal library would nearly double the size of their collection. “These books will be a great addition to our community,” he said.
“We try to make the day a big event,” said Child Aid Country Director John van Keppel. “It helps reinforce the feeling that these books are a valuable resource and gives participants a sense of excitement to bring them back to share with their communities.”
As the last truck pulled away, members of the Child Aid staff congratulated each other in a nearly empty warehouse after distributing over 28,000 books in just a few hours. But they won’t be able to relax for long. A new shipping container full of books arrives in Guatemala this week.
Established by UNESCO 1995, World Book and Copyright Day celebrates literacy and commemorates the lives of some of the world’s greatest writers. For the past couple of years, the day has also provided an opportunity for Child Aid’s partner libraries to reach out to their local communities and continue their role as ambassadors of literacy.
The typical Guatemalan library is seen solely as a place for students to do their homework. Book lending is rare and collections are very limited, so it can be struggle to get parents, younger children and the community at large to see the library as community resource that everyone can use.
To celebrate World Book Day on April 23rd, this year libraries planned and hosted a variety of activities and events that served to educate the public about their services, engage kids and parents, and promote the love of reading.
Child Aid’s library program helps librarians develop vibrant, active libraries that are educational resources centers for their communities. But even when they have created welcoming environments and great programs, many libraries face the challenge of getting the public to visit the library and use their services.
That’s why community outreach and education is an important component of Child Aid’s work with libraries. At the most recent librarian training workshop, held in late April, librarians gathered to discuss a variety of ways they can inform the public about their library’s programs and services. The librarians learned how to use signs, book displays and special activity corners to help orient new visitors and practiced strategies for guiding users to discover all the resources the library has to offer.
“In this workshop we are focusing on ways we can capture the public’s attention,” said Child Aid Library Coordinator Carlos Pos. “So when people walk into the library they immediately see it as an inviting and interesting place to be.”
But sometimes, in order to capture the public’s attention, you have to hit the streets.
So for this year’s World Book Day, libraries found a variety of creative ways to promote themselves in the community. Members of Child Aid’s Library Team attended several of the events and shared some photos and highlights from the day’s activities.
The Miguel Angel Asturias library in the town of Las Canoas Bajas celebrated World Book Day for the first time with a book parade through the community. Teachers and students from pre-school to sixth grade walked through the streets carrying books they have read and signs with the names of their books and a small description. While the students walked, the school principal used a loudspeaker to promote the activity, inviting parents and community members to come out and watch the parade.
In the town of Agua Escondida, librarian María Olivia Urrea de Holl created a special reading corner on the school playground. The space was used throughout the day by students for independent reading and to hear stories read aloud. Parents were encouraged to visit the school with their younger children during recess to read books and explore the library.
In preparation for World Book Day activities, students and teachers in Tzanchaj decorated their school’s multi-purpose room with book displays, reading corners, game tables and examples of student writing. Librarian Marcos Elías Tacaxoy Sapalú used the celebration as an opportunity to promote his library’s many services including reading programs, book lending, story hours, a research area, and special activity corners. The day’s activities began with welcoming remarks from the school principal followed by a reading contest. Students from all grade levels selected books from the library to read out loud. A group of judges scored the readings based on fluency and expression. Winners received a diploma and gift for their great participation.
The Pamezabal Community Library in the town of Santa Lucia Utatlán held daily read aloud sessions throughout the week. School children from around the community were invited to participate and to choose a favorite book to read at home.
The Chicacao library celebrated World Book Day by hosting a storytelling festival in the town park. Children from both urban and rural schools around the area were invited to come and listen to stories. In another area of the park, a “Literary Restaurant” was set up. Library staff dressed as chefs and waiters while the children had the opportunity to explore the “menu” and order books that they wanted to read.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”