Sunday, May 6, 2012

Honduras Ho!

This August I will FINALLY be back in Honduras! Working with a small NGO called HondurasChildren in the town of El Porvenir along the northern coast, I will be working on workshops for teachers of kindergarten and first grade. Afterwards, I hope to be able to use the internet to network workshop participants not just with each other but also with US-based teachers.

This is all volunteer on my part. HondurasChildren is a purely volunteer organization itself, so they are offering what they can to help bring this to fruition. The Omprakash Foundation has generously offered to fund my travel. I'm still working on fundraising at least another $265 to fund workhop and classroom materials for the participating teachers. Anything beyond that amount will be used to buy additional classroom and workshop supplies and/or will be donated to HondurasChildren to further their education programs. If you would like to donate, click here. Make sure to mark that it is for special projects, then put "donation for PASA" in the notes section.

Why kindergarten and first grade? First grade is when most children enter the formal school system in Honduras. Some are lucky enough to get one of the limited spots in kindergarten. But first grade and kindergarten are not housed in the same schools. After the age of 7 or 8, children’s learning styles change as their brain enters a new phase of maturity. So, first grade teachers face a set of students who need to learn differently from most of the other primary school students. Bringing first grade and kindergarten teachers together can help them find ways to share experiences and knowledge about children who share many of the same challenges and characteristics.

Why this timing? To be honest, because this is when I can do it, as the school where I teach here in the US is not in session during the month of August. However, Honduran schools are actually in session at that time, because their large break is from the end of November to the beginning of February. As we get a new school year started here, they are wrapping things up, and vice versa. This opens up interesting opportunities to exchange ideas and inspirations at alternating times of the year.

These workshops will be no quick process! To make sure participating teachers are really getting the information and support they need and want, I’ll be making visits to classrooms to observe teachers and students and talking with teachers, administrators, students, and community members to identify those challenges teachers share in common.

The workshops will not be lecture-based oratories, either! I have no set agenda going in about what these teachers need to learn from me. What I do have is a collection of resources surrounding developing appropriate philosophies and practices that help children of these ages learn best. And I acknowledge that there is a lot I do not know because I am a US-based teacher. Basic fundamentals like phonics, syllables, and even the number of continents changes from culture to culture.

Participating teachers will receive some simple classroom kits to help them practice new strategies and engage their students in the classroom. All of the materials will be simple, because crime is a major problem and I do not want any participant to become a target of theft or violence because of something I have given them. Most items will be paper, photocopy-able examples printed on cardstock to withstand the tropical humidity. Other items include special pencils and pencil grips for children with fine motor challenges, colored wooden sticks and dice to use as math manipulatives, dry erase markers, and plastic storage bags. 

The end goal of these workshops is not really to distribute supplies or to make a name for the funding organizations or to make me feel like I am making a difference. This is meant to be an opportunity for teachers from different schools but working with similar age groups to come together and discuss challenges, practice alternative teaching strategies, and begin to share resources and recognize strengths. Using a blog platform, participating teachers will be able to continue networking and sharing information in the future. The “cherry on top” to this experience will hopefully be to recruit Spanish speaking teachers here in the US to regularly view and comment on blog postings by Honduran teachers, as well as posting their own classroom experiences, especially during October and March.

Check back here for more information about fundraising, planning, and workshop progress!

Wish me luck!

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