Stories From Guatemala

Video: Teacher Testimonial – Luis Vicente Saminez

Luis Vicente Saminez teaches fourth grade at Rafael Tellez Garcia Primary School in Solola, Guatemala. In 2016, Child Aid joined with his school to bring books, teacher training and Literacy Trainer Edgar Garcia, who gives one-on-one support and guidance to Luis and his students. In this video, Luis shares how he and his students have changed thanks to Child Aid.

Categories: Stories From Guatemala
11/15/2017 8:10 PM

New Literacy Trainers Join Child Aid Team

Literacy Trainers October 2017

Four of five newly hired literacy trainers gather at the Child Aid office in Panajachel. Each brings a wealth of experience and enthusiasm to our growing team.

In September, Child Aid added five new literacy trainers to our team, bringing the total Guatemalan staff to 20 people. The additional staffers mean we are on target to help 20,000 students learn to read in 2018.

“Our five new employees blew us away with their poise and presence in the interview process,” says Angus Fredenburg, Child Aid’s director nacional for Guatemala. “We were really impressed with the level of classroom experience and language skills of our applicants.”

These new hires represent the largest expansion of our program since 2015. Now, they begin an intensive nine-week orientation in preparation for the beginning of the school year in January. During orientation, new staff will study literacy best practices and work with current literacy trainers.

“It’s a very hands-on orientation where we may teach the theory of learning on Monday, demonstrate that same theory on Tuesday and ask the literacy trainers to model that theory on Wednesday,” explains Fredenburg.

In order to integrate well into Child Aid’s experienced and skillful staff, the hiring committee sought candidates who are fluent in the local Mayan languages, including Kaqchikel, and who demonstrate competence in leading a classroom. All of the new-hires hold a Profesorado de Enseñanza Media (PEM) certification, which is a two-year, university-level teaching credential.

“As part of the vetting process, we had the interviewees prepare a lesson plan and present that to the interview committee. That experience can be pretty intimidating, but our five hires had great presence and were able to have meaningful conversation in a group,” recalls Fredenburg.

When school doors open, each new literacy trainer will be assigned to a seasoned staffer for training workshops and one-on-one classroom coaching. For the first several months, our new hires will fine-tune teaching methods and become more comfortable in their roles.

“We are thrilled to add these new literacy trainers to our Child Aid team, and we know their work in the classroom will only make our program stronger,” says Fredenburg.

Categories: News
10/16/2017 3:54 PM
Stories From Guatemala

Teacher Profile: Romeo Sen Quino

In his 14 years as a teacher and principal, Romeo Sen Quino says he’s been to lots of trainings and generally found them a waste of time. So when he attended his first Child Aid training workshop a few years ago, he came prepared.

“I usually prefer to bring something else to keep me busy,” he says, “like my phone or a newspaper to read. Because our typical trainings are boring and they just tell us things we should do.”

“But when I arrived at the Child Aid training, I immediately set those things aside. At that moment, I was so excited — I thought,  ‘I’m going to learn something good, something useful.”  And that’s exactly what I’m doing – learning and then putting it into practice.”

Romeo teaches 3rd and 4th grade in the rural community of Sucún and has been participating in the Reading for Life program since 2015. He says he and the seven other teachers in his school appreciate the books, practical techniques and support they have received from Child Aid. It has helped them create a new atmosphere in the school and make changes that have improved the learning environment for their students.

“In Guatemala, they tell the teacher, ‘Do this,’ but no one teaches them how. They say, ‘Here are the tools you use to teach reading,’ but no one ever teaches us how to use them. For me, this doesn’t work. They just tell us to do something and at the end they want a report of how the students have improved.”

“But with [Child Aid], it isn’t like that. We are always excited to go to the Child Aid trainings because we’re interested in learning the techniques, the strategies, the methods and all the tools that they give us. Child Aid gives us a step-by-step guide to have successful results. These are the things that are strengthening and helping us.”

Girls at the Sucún school explore the school’s library for new stories to read. The school was able to create the library thanks to book and self donations from Child Aid.

Romeo has seen many positive changes in his students, especially in their enthusiasm for reading.

“It’s no longer necessary to obligate them to read,” he says. “Before, the students weren’t interested in reading, because for one, we didn’t have any interesting books. But since Child Aid has come, now we have a lot of great books that are about movies that the kids have already seen on TV – like Spiderman – and they are excited to read because they are already familiar with the stories. In the classrooms, when the students arrive in the morning, they don’t just sit down. They go straight for the books to find something to look at.

“There are a lot of books that allow them to relate what they do [in their lives] to what they see in the books. They say, ‘Teacher, I did this and now I see it in this book!’ or ‘I saw this book and then I went to try it myself!’ They’ve done it before or they read something in a book and then they go to do it in their own lives. These are great experiences when the kids do that.”

Romeo says his experiences with Child Aid have changed his own attitude toward learning and teaching. He is bringing books home to share and read with his young son and daughter. He and the other teachers in his school have started a monthly reading club to discuss the books they’ve read and the connections they’ve found with their own lives and experiences. And he says he has learned to adapt his approach to teaching so that all his students can participate in the learning process.

“I always tell them that we are learning together. I say that I am a child, too, and every day I come to be able to learn with them. The kids are happy because we teachers feel like a part of them. We don’t come as bigger and better than them, but rather when we come to class, we are students as well.”

Categories: Stories From Guatemala
08/18/2017 5:08 PM

Does Our Program Work? The Answer is YES!


Child Aid’s goal is to improve children’s literacy skills so they become strong and independent readers and critical thinkers. Our Reading for Life program follows best practices to provide young readers the basic resources they need to learn and thrive: Skilled and confident teachers, engaging books, and opportunities to read every day, both in and out of school.

Each year, we get more and more enthusiastic comments from teachers, principals, school officials and parents about our program. Demand for Reading for Life is growing exponentially.  And that feels great to all of us.

But a key, lingering question has remained: Does Reading for Life actually help kids learn to read?  We see and hear evidence of it every day, but how do we know it works? Would they, for instance, do better on reading comprehension tests than students not exposed to the Reading for Life program?  Well, it turns out that the answer is YES.

In our main study, we used a test provided by USAID and the Guatemalan Ministry of Education, to test second and third grade students.  We tested almost 2,000 students at the beginning and end of school year and measured changes in their reading comprehension skills. Half of the students tested were in schools just beginning the Reading for Life program and half were in matched control schools that did not participate in the program.

The results are now in and they are hugely encouraging. Children in the Reading for Life program schools showed a 65% improvement  in reading comprehension test scores compared with their peers in similar schools.

These results are statistically significant and showed a strong effect size, meaning that our program is very likely the most important factor in improving student scores. This is an impressive result for an educational program, especially after only one year of the intervention.

There is a lot of research showing how difficult it is to demonstrate that any educational intervention has a strong impact.  That is because so much of student performance is determined by things that happen outside the classroom. In studies like these, the calculation of effect size is used to measure how much an intervention contributed to the results. In most studies of educational interventions, effect sizes are rarely as large as .30. In our main study, the effect size was .37.

In a second study, we compared students in the third year of the Reading for Life program with students from non-Child Aid Schools. The students who had been in the program longer also did significantly better than those in the control schools and with a stronger effect size of .53.

These strength of these results were a big surprise and very encouraging for us. They show that not only is our program working but also suggest that the increases in student skills will continue to grow the longer students attend Child Aid schools. It means that the full impact and success of our program is yet to be seen.

This year we are continuing our evaluation and testing, watching schools as they go through the Child Aid program. We are also collecting teacher feedback through focus groups to evaluate the effectiveness of our teacher training workshops and one-on-one coaching. What we learn will not only confirm for us that we are making a difference, but also help us continue to make adjustments and improvements as the program grows.

Categories: News
05/22/2017 1:13 PM

First Training Workshop at Xeatan Alto School

When teachers walk into their first Child Aid workshop, they often don’t know what to expect and their expectations are usually low. That’s because training for Guatemalan teachers is generally of very poor quality. Trainings are conducted in a lecture format with up to 150 to 200 teachers in a session. Presenters talk from a podium while the teachers listen and take notes with little opportunity for dialogue.

Teachers quickly discover, however, that Child Aid workshops are different — small, interactive, and full of practical techniques for the classroom. Follow along as a new group of Reading For Life teachers attends their first workshop and see what makes a Child Aid teacher training unique.

View the slideshow ›

Categories: Slideshow
05/22/2017 12:38 PM
Stories From Guatemala

Meet Some of The Newest Reading for Life Teachers

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Teachers and Child Aid staff gather together for a group photo after their first workshop together. This group will meet seven more times during the four-year Reading for Life program, learning together and sharing experiences along the way.

Three of Child Aid’s newest Reading for Life schools are also some of the most remote. The tiny communities of Xeatan Alto, Chuinimachicaj, and Chichoy Bajo are located in the mountains high above Lake Atitlan in the state of Chimaltenango. Because of the altitude, it is cold and foggy much of the year, and the crops in this agricultural area are typically corn and beans as well as onions, carrots, and broccoli. This is one of Guatemala’s poorest regions and families must scrape by on a few dollars a day — barely enough for food and the basic necessities of life.

“Working in the smaller rural schools is a priority for us because those students and teachers face the biggest challenges. Not only are they in some of the poorest and most disadvantaged communities, they typically get the least amount of support,” says Child Aid Country Director Angus Fredenburg.

Life in these communities can often seem shut off from the outside world. The community of Xeatan Alto, for example, is a 45 minute bus trip down to the nearest town of Patzun. Most people speak only the local indigenous language of Kaqchikel and rarely travel outside their local area.

Play Slideshow

SLIDESHOW: Visit the Xeatan Alto school as teachers attend their very first Child Aid training workshop.

This sense of isolation is even more acute for the teachers working in these communities.
Not only do they have very little training and few resources to work with, they rarely have opportunities to meet and exchange ideas with other teachers outside of their own school.

“Because of their location, teachers in rural schools get very little supervision or support from school district officials,” says Fredenburg. “They are often forced to figure things out on their own, which can be really frustrating and dispiriting. So the opportunity to gather for a workshop and interact with teachers from other schools can be an exciting experience if it’s done right.”

A few weeks ago, nine teachers from the three schools gathered for their very first Child Aid workshop, which most of the teachers said was different than what they expected going in.

“The [Ministry of Education’s] teacher workshops are all the same,” says second grade teacher Linsa Yos Cocon. “We receive information in a lecture and we talk about the same things, but we don’t have any way to use them so nothing changes.”

Child Aid workshops give participants a very different training experience, getting them out of their chairs and actively involved in the learning process.

In this first Reading for Life workshop, Literacy Trainer Heidy Coyote focused on the theme of “Reading for Comprehension.” Teachers learned a variety of tools they can use to develop students’ basic literacy skills including read-alouds, interactive reading and how to discuss the characteristics of good readers with their students. The workshop also introduced teachers to Child Aid’s educational philosophy, which emphasizes collaborative learning and the importance of students becoming independent learners and critical thinkers.

Teachers practiced doing read alouds in front of the group, trying out new techniques for engaging students while developing their comprehension skills. They participated in discussions about reading strategies and worked together in small groups to develop their first read aloud lesson plans.

“When teachers come to their first workshop, we see that at the beginning many are reluctant to participate because they are not sure what to expect,” says Lead Child Aid Trainer Graciela Pichiya. “In the formal [Ministry of Education] trainings, they give teachers the theory but don’t teach them how to teach. When we show them strategies and techniques like “read aloud” or “guided reading” to support the children and help them learn, it changes their attitude toward the training. So by the second or third workshop they are very enthusiastic and participating a lot.”

“[The workshop] had more activity and more fun than I expected,” says teacher Carlos Xinico Tum. “I was surprised by that. We broke into groups and did different activities to use the techniques ourselves. This is not like any workshop we normally attend.”

Kindergarten teacher Marta Patal Batz was particularly interested in the read aloud techniques and strategies presented in workshop, and said she was already thinking about how she could use them with her students.

“I do read alouds in my classroom, but I never used them for anything more than reading,” she says. “With the techniques that this workshop taught us, I can start using read alouds as a way to teach content and reading comprehension. That will be very helpful to me.”

The next step for these teachers is a one-on-one coaching session with a literacy trainer. The trainer will visit their classroom and demonstrate the activities they’ve learned with their own students. “Teachers say that the follow-ups are what make the program special,” says Literacy Trainer Marilena Ixen. “They often don’t fully understand what they’ve learned in a workshop until they see it modeled in their classrooms.”

For this group of new Reading for Life teachers, the combination of workshops and coaching will continue throughout their Child Aid training, helping them become more skilled and confident teachers.

Categories: Stories From Guatemala
05/22/2017 12:37 PM
Stories From Guatemala

Creating a Library for the Love of Books


On the first Monday of August last year, the school in the small rural community of Xejolon opened the doors of their school library to students for the first time. The library is set up in a small classroom with a few shelves of books, displays organized into themes and a reading corner. It is a modest space but a big accomplishment for the school of 200 students and six teachers.

Libraries are rare in Guatemalan schools like Xejolon. Most school have far too few books and the teachers often have little training or experience with basics of running a library, such as categorizing books or book lending. But a library is a valuable resource for students who are learning to read. It provides a space where they can explore and discover new books and spend time outside of class reading for pleasure.

The new library in Xejolon is the result of the hard work and enthusiasm of Blanca Tzirin Chicol who, in addition to teaching first grade, is also in charge of the school’s reading committee.

Blanca says that she and the principal had wanted to set up a library for students for some time but never had enough books or space available in the school to open a library before.

“The books we had were very old,” she says. “And we didn’t have any ideas about how to start a library because we had never received any training.”

In addition to running workshops and and coaching sessions with teachers, Child Aid’s team of trainers work closely with schools to help them set up important literacy programs like libraries, classroom reading corners and book clubs. The goal is to build a culture of reading and literacy within the school so that students have many opportunities to read throughout the day.

Thanks to the hundreds of new books provided by Child Aid and the support and encouragement of literacy trainer Marilena Ixen, Blanca and her principal decided earlier this year that they had what they needed to get to work.

Blanca spent several weeks planning and preparing to open the library. She organized and labeled the books, classifying them by theme and reading levels. Using cardboard boxes donated by the teachers, she created shelves and displays so the books for each topic could seen by students and be easily accessible.

Blanca says she wants the library to be a pleasant and comfortable place for reading for students. She added a reading corner and a games corner to the library and invites students to come during recess to read and play.

She also hopes that the library will become a resource for other teachers, encouraging them to come to the library to find new titles to integrate into their lessons.

“I’ve done all of this because I know that children love books,” says Blanca. “I can see it in the huge smiles on the face of every child that reads a book. I am convinced that only through reading will children develop different skills, since books are like a magical world that invites them to imagine and dream new things.”

Categories: Stories From Guatemala
04/24/2017 1:44 PM

Book Delivery Day 2017

This February, we loaded pickup trucks at our office in Panajachel with boxes of books and bookshelves and headed out to deliver them to each of the 68 schools participating in our Reading for Life program this year. Follow the journey of the books from semi truck to the hands of eager readers.

Read the Full Article: New Books and New Beginnings: Kicking off the School Year with Child Aid.

View the slideshow ›

Categories: Slideshow
03/8/2017 3:10 PM

New Books and New Beginnings: Kicking off the School Year with Book Delivery Day

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A group of eager boys lines up to carry boxes at the Chuimanzana school. Children’s books are extremely rare in rural Guatemalan schools so when the Child Aid book delivery truck arrives, everyone gets excited!

At the public school in the rural community of Chuimanzana, a line of eager students reaches up to a truck laden with boxes and large, wooden bookshelves. Students share laughter and shouts as they stagger under the heavy burden of boxes full of books. Their excitement reflects that of the entire Child Aid team. Book delivery day is one of the highlights of the year and marks the beginning of a new school year for Child Aid’s Reading for Life program. For the teachers and students in these communities, it will be a year filled with books, learning and new experiences.


SLIDESHOW: Follow the journey of the new books from our office in Panajachel to the hands of eager young readers.

Distributing colorful, engaging storybooks to schools is a key part of Child Aid’s goal to make reading accessible for all students. Schools in Guatemala face a chronic shortage of age-appropriate books for their students. This is especially true in rural, indigenous areas where illiteracy and school dropout rates are highest. This year, Child Aid will donate over 20,000 books to the 68 schools participating in our Reading for Life program. This annual book distribution provides teachers and schools with the critical resources they need to teach, motivate, and inspire their students’ learning and reading.

“Before, the only books we had were a few textbooks,” says Hector Cuc Cumes, a 4th grade teacher at the San Isidro school. “These books were obligatory and students were bored by them. Now [because of the library] of books, learning is fun for them. Students are more interested in their classes now and pay more attention.”

This year also marks the first time that Child Aid has purchased the majority of the books we are providing to schools.

“In the past, Child Aid has been able to distribute books to schools thanks to large book donations we’ve received from U.S. publishers,” says Child Aid Country Director Angus Fredenburg. “But because of changes in printing technology, book donations have dropped significantly in recent years at the same time that our program is growing. So, to meet the need, we’ve had to switch to purchasing most of the books ourselves. This has been a challenge but also an opportunity to improve the quality of the books we’re providing.”

“We love book donations, but they often leave gaps in the types of books schools need since we have no control over what is donated,” adds Annie Blakeslee, Director of Pedagogy at Child Aid. “Teachers were requesting more easy books, especially since many students are not yet reading at grade level. So this year, we decided to make a change and be more strategic about the books we are providing to schools.”

To plan for this year’s book purchases, Blakeslee outlined a “target” collection of books that cover a range of subjects, genres, and reading levels and that are aligned with Child Aid’s teacher training curriculum. She says she looked for books that students would be excited to read and teachers would be excited to use in their classrooms.

“This year, no matter what grade a child is in, and whether they’re interested in dinosaurs, princesses, legos, space, or puppies, they are sure to find a book that interests them and is just at their level.  Teachers will benefit too, with a wider range of interesting stories to read to their students and non-fiction books specifically selected because of their connection to topics teachers teach,” says Blakeslee.

Now that the books are in the schools, Child Aid trainers will get to work the rest of the year to ensure that those books are be used by students and teachers every day, both in and outside of the classroom. They will lead training workshops to teach teachers new techniques for literacy instruction. Through one-on-one coaching sessions, they will be helping teachers use the new books and techniques in their classrooms successfully. And they will be working with teachers to set up school libraries, reading corners and lending programs so that students have plenty of opportunities to practice and become confident and independent readers.

Judging by the enthusiasm of teachers, students and staff, it promises to be another exciting year of literacy and learning at Child Aid. We can’t wait to see what the new year will bring!

Categories: News
03/6/2017 11:06 AM
Stories From Guatemala

Book Delivery Day

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.

Categories: Stories From Guatemala
01/20/2017 11:35 AM