International

Guatemala Project
By Kathy Davin

Kathy Davin, (GWRC),
with Felipa Lux Batten,

Are you looking for a way to combine adventure, travel, and community service next summer? Are you interested in learning about the culture of your Central American students, sharing your expertise, and exploring new and innovative teaching methods along with colleagues from across the U.S and Central America? Consider joining us for the annual Reading Week of teacher training in Guatemala, sponsored by Helps International and supported by the GWRC. The training will take place in July, 2020*. Cost to participants will be approximately $1200, inclusive of flights and in-country meals, transportation, and accommodations. Participation is open to all teachers and graduate level education students. Fluency in Spanish is not required. Please contact Kathy Davin if you would like more information. kdavin@earthlink.net. *Exact dates for the trip will be posted here in January 2020.

2019 Trip

Children listen to their teacher read a story aloud in the 3-year-old early childhood class.

There were seven participants this year, including from Northern Virginia:  Mary Wall (Fairfax County Public Schools), Lilly LePelch (Manassas City Public Schools), Lisa Weiss (Loudoun County Public Schools) and Kathy Davin (Arlington County Public Schools – retired).

Participants had a full day in Guatemala City before heading for the mountainous, rural area where the school is located.  The day was spent visiting sites that shed light on the pre-Columbian, colonial and post-colonial history and culture of Guatemala—the Ixchel Textile Museum, the Popul Vuh Pre-Columbian museum, the Relief Map of Guatemala, and Sophos Bookstore.  En route to the village the group spent some time in Chichicastenango, visiting the historic church and the famous Market Day.

The team spent four intense days in Sta. Avelina, working with children in the mornings, coaching teachers in the afternoons, eating traditional dishes prepared by local women at mid-day, and sleeping on cots in the classrooms at night.

The focus of the teacher workshops this year was systematic vocabulary instruction to improve reading comprehension in the second language—which, in this region, is Spanish.  A pair of visiting teachers worked with the early grade teachers, developing lesson plans for seven new titles written in Ixil, the Mayan language spoken in this region.  Another pair worked with upper grade teachers, exploring supplemental resources available at the ReadingA-Z.com/Raz-kids.com web site.  (The school’s license to use these materials is provided by the generosity of GWRC.)  A teacher worked with intermediate grade teachers on developing sentence frames to aid in second language reading comprehension.  And one teacher worked with the Early Childhood team at the school, exploring methods for teaching language to small children with learning disabilities.

We closed the visit to Sta. Avelina with the traditional stroll to the local waterfall.  Before returning to the U.S., the team spent two days in the colonial capital of Antigua, Guatemala, a UNESCO world heritage site

Beginning in 2011, the Greater Washington Reading Council has co-sponsored a literacy project in the rural highlands of Guatemala. GWRC provides partial funding for the purchase of materials for guided reading instruction. GWRC members are invited to join a group of educators every July for a week of on-site teacher training in best practices for literacy instruction. The focus is on first language literacy and vocabulary development in the second language. The US teachers spend the mornings observing and coaching in the classrooms and the afternoons conducting workshops and helping local teachers plan instruction. Fluency in Spanish is desirable but not required. The coordinator of the project is Kathy Davin. (kdavin@earthlink.net)

Before the 1996 Peace Accords, students who attended school in the Ixil region of Guatemala were immersed in Spanish from the minute they entered the building. There was no instruction in the home language. Few learned to read. Life in this region was impacted by the Civil War. Families exist on subsistence agriculture and earn a little cash by pooling together the coffee they grow and selling it through a cooperative. The outside world is making inroads in this region of Guatemala with the introduction of improved highway access, dam construction, radio, cell phones, etc. Literacy is essential to the survival and well being of these communities. Literacy is best introduced in the language of the home.

The Centro Educativo William Botnan is a Kindergarten - sixth grade primary school located in the village of Santa Avelina, municipality of San Juan Cotzal, department of Quiche, Guatemala. The language is Ixil, one of 23 Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala. The school was built by and is partially funded by the non-governmental organization HELPS International (www.helpsintl.org). The teachers at the school in Santa Avelina have worked with a team of multi-national educators to establish a program of bilingual literacy. The goal is to introduce literacy in the home language, Ixil, and transition to literacy in Spanish by the end of sixth grade using a 90/10 model (90% home language instruction/10% Spanish instruction in Pre-Primaria, or kindergarten, transitioning to the reverse by grade six).

HELPS envisons "Hub" schools that successfully implement a well-designed learning program to serve as teacher learning centers and technology resource centers for surrounding schools. The school in Santa Avelina serves as an educational headquarters for the Ixil Region and as a model for expansion of educational initiatives throughout Guatemala.

A mother and daughter browse a new Ixil book before a school assembly.
A mother and daughter browse a new Ixil book before a school assembly.
Students work on a writing assignment on the front steps of the school.
Students work on a writing assignment on the front steps of the school.
The team relaxes at a restaurant post-workshop week.
The team relaxes at a restaurant post-workshop week.
Fourth grade classroom served as a women's dormitory for the week!
Fourth grade classroom served as a women's dormitory for the week!
Antigua, Guatemala, where the team spent the last two nights of the trip.
Antigua, Guatemala, where the team spent the last two nights of the trip.