Gerson Barreno is an elementary school teacher in the remote village of Xecotoj, Guatemala. His classroom has flimsy, corrugated metal walls, dirt floors and no windows. It is dimly lit by a tiny light bulb in the center of the ceiling. In summer it’s like an oven inside. When it rains, he says, it’s so loud no one can think.
Mr. Barreno used to struggle to teach reading to his first- and second-grade students. He had almost no training in how to teach reading and was never given classroom management skills at the vocational high school he attended. On top of these challenges, his classroom lacked books
Things began changing for Mr. Barreno in 2011, when we began our Reading for Life program in Xecotoj. We delivered hundreds of children’s books to the sch
ool and began our teacher training program for the village’s four teachers. Through classroom-based instruction, group workshops, one-on-one coaching and ongoing mentorship, we provided Mr. Barreno and his fellow teachers the training they never received in vocational school. To our knowledge, no other organization, and certainly no government program, in Guatemala offers this level of training to rural teachers.
Following just a year’s worth of training, Mr. Barreno tells us he has a far better handle on ways he can engage his students in books and inspire them to read.
He has watched his students, formerly disengaged and uninterested in reading, become lovers of storybooks and active participants in classroom reading activities. In Guatemala, where most indigenous children read, on average, fewer than 15 minutes a day, this is a tremendous achievement.
Mr. Barreno’s achievements are equally impressive. He has become a better teacher and is continuing to improve his skills. “The techniques I’ve learned through Child Aid have been a great help to me in my teaching in general,” Mr. Barreno says. “I’ve integrated them into other subjects besides reading.” Mr. Barreno’s improvements as a teacher will help children in Xecotoj for years to come. In our opinion, this is true sustainability.