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 | 0 Comments

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 Guatemala
03/7/2014 8:00 AM | 0 Comments
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
Stories From Guatemala

New Books Help School Launch a Weekend Lending Program

La Vega Students exchange badges for books in the school's weekend lending program.

La Vega Students exchange badges for books in the school’s weekend lending program.

Earlier this year, the tiny school of La Vega near Patzun, Guatemala started something new for their 40 students. Every Friday, a group of student leaders, called the Gobierno Escolar, selects books from the school’s small library and visits classrooms to distribute the books to their fellow students. The students hand in their ID badges as collateral and are free to take the books home for the weekend to read and share with their parents and siblings.

The weekend lending program seems like a simple idea, but it is revolutionary for the students of La Vega and their families, who rarely have books in their homes. Now students have more time to practice their reading skills and develop a love of reading.

Students at the La Vega school read the new books during their recess.

Students at the La Vega school read the new books during their recess.

“The students are motivated now and don’t have to be pressured to read on their own,” says La Vega teacher Maily Perez Canu. “Every day they want to exchange books and find something new that interests them.”

It’s also a program that wasn’t possible a until a few months ago.

One of the advantages for schools in participating in Child Aid’s Reading For Life program is they receive high-quality children’s books. The principal at La Vega, Juana Mactzul Mucia, says she has always wanted to do a lending program for her students, but never had enough books in the school to make it possible.

La Vega joined Reading for Life last school year and recieved their first new books in January. Once she had a reliable supply of books through Child Aid, Mactzul Mucia says she finally had the confidence to start loaning them out to students.

“We distribute books to schools and provide training, but we don’t necessarily know how they are going to choose use them,” says Child Aid Country Director John van Keppel. “The key for us is that they are finding ways to get the books closer to the kids so they can use and interact with them. La Vega is a small school, so this weekend lending program is a great solution for them. I especially like that it is helping get the books into the student’s homes where parents can see them.”

“We have had chats with the mothers of every child that they will be bringing books home on the weekends,” says teacher Perez Canu. “Then the mothers are involved in the program. They know to expect that the children will be bringing books home and can make the time to read the books with their children.”

Osbin reads to his mother and brothers outside their home.

Osbin reads to his mother and brothers outside their home.

Erita Loyda Parlopez’s son Osbin is a member of the Gobierno Escolar at La Vega and is an enthusiastic reader. She says her two sons bring home books every weekend and Osbin enjoys reading to his baby brother. “He likes all the books,” she says. “I can tell he is thriving because I see the change in his reading ability.”

Weekend lending is an example of ways schools are encouraging students to develop a habit of reading, one of the key objectives of the Reading for Life program.

“The skills of reading have to be practiced,” says van Keppel. “We try to encourage any opportunity for kids to read on their own time and develop a love for reading. Independent reading helps the reader improve their vocabulary, increase comprehension and build the confidence they need to read at higher levels and expand their interests.”

La Vega received it’s second delivery of new books early last month, which included over 800 storybooks and non-fiction books and two bookshelves on wheels to make it easier to move them between classrooms and make them available to students during recess.

Teacher Perez Canu says the recent arrivals have helped the school expand the lending program and have stimulated even more interest in reading in her students.

“During recess, after they have finished their homework, the students often come to get books,” she says. Not all the kids like to play all the time, some like to read. Now it is expected that a child that wants to read can find a book. And they are reading them in the schoolyard and on the swings. It has been really good.”

Categories: Stories From Guatemala
09/16/2013 7:09 AM | 0 Comments