Carta de Nicaragua 19: School Report

Cheeky chappies with so much potential

One year. 30 children (and the rest). A daily walk to and from school – a mere two hours. My Nicaragua 2011-2012. My hope is that something good comes of each and every child, that every one of them fulfills their true potential. Let them be given a chance.

Two-sided pencil boxes with gifts either side

I once asked Maribel why she hadn’t been at school, “My mum didn’t send me,” she replied. She attended just three of my last 15 classes – or make that four, when she heard from her younger brother that I was giving out small gifts. The deal with my class of second grade students was that if they attended classes not only would they learn but I would reward them with a prize at the end of term. That prize was a storage box filled with goodies: a pencil box, two pencils, a pen, a retractable pencil, an eraser, a pencil sharpener, a ruler, another pencil box with 12 coloured pencils, two exercise books and a special edition copy of my activity book. Perhaps a little over-indulgent but they deserved it and in UK terms there was virtually no expense ie  about £3 per child. I don’t know if they’ll continue to go to school but Maribel did say when I was leaving that she promised not to miss any more classes. Maribel did not hold up her end of the bargain so she didn’t receive quite so many gifts. Instead, like around 20 second grade students she did get: an exercise book, a pencil, an eraser, a pencil sharpener and a copy of my activity book. She’s a bright girl who’ll repeat second grade for a third time because she hasn’t attended enough classes to learn. It’s very sad as she has the potential to be in third or fourth grade. I hope she keeps her promise. By the way, the children loved the activity book. I saw a number of them working on the dot-to-dot puzzles and word searches when they should have been paying attention to the teacher!

Tamara and Dimitry’s language class at the summer school 2012

There were 15 children in the third grade summer school class. The only day they all turned up was the first day. Some vanished for weeks and then reappeared – other’s turned up towards the end of the summer school waiting for the farewell gifts that they knew were coming. The other day I looked at a photograph of the summer school children and noted that I no longer saw the majority of these children in school or if I did it was very rarely.

Maria Fernanda absent  – a very bright girl but hopefully attending another school;
Maria Epifania – absent another really bright girl with lots of potential;
Javiera – absent a smile to light up your life – I saw her in the supermarket the other day, I haven’t seen her in school since about April;
Monica absent a lovely girl who could barely read or write and I was puzzled as to why she’d been passed to third grade when other children were kept back. She struggled during the summer school and it seems cruel that she has not been encouraged to come to school to learn;
Yessicaabsent, no typo,  – selling goods on the market, or in the street, or looking after her six or seven younger siblings;
Mayerling  absent only came to summer school a handful of times and I only saw her after that in school once or twice;
Yorbinpresent occasional appearance;
Bladimirpresent, no typo, that’s how he spells his name – better attendance than most but does miss days;
Dayran present Lots of potential and good attendance but sometimes misses school to help sell the family’s produce – tortilla and nacatamal. I had the pleasure of visiting her home once and I spoke to her parents about the importance of sending the children to school;
Dayana – present a really bright girl who’s generally always in school;
Irenepresent another really young student who probably started school early. At the start of term I spoke to her mum about making sure Irene doesn’t miss school and I’m pleased to say she’s always present;
Kendal – present good attendance and a good student, loves football;
Eddypresent barely misses a day, wonderful imagination and loves playing football, recently lost the school’s favourite yellow football;
Marcosstatus unknown studies at another school – hopefully, he still attends;
Emilianopresent repeated third grade (he’s quite young and probably started school early)

A chaotic attempt at getting so many children to pose for the camera!

Third grade
At the start of term in March there were 58 children crammed into a class made for about 25-30 students at a push. The results of the government’s campaign to make education a priority. However, making education a priority didn’t filter down to many children in Pantanal, a poor area on the outskirts of Granada. In fact, on my last day there were just 36 children in the class – 22 children no longer attend. Of many of the others, their attendance is pretty ropey. There’s a core group of about 15 students who have good attendance and are learning very well but overall it’s not a very good statistic. La Esperanza Granada  helped to build La Nueva Esperanza and continues to repairs the chairs, the toilets, the doors, resurfaced the playground and provide the school supplies – notebooks, pens, pencils, markers etc. La Nueva Esperanza is helped (kept together) by the support of charitable donations. So, the little contribution of my friends: Amber, Helen and Magda was very much-needed. Thank you, girls – a little went a long way. (Yes, that blog is in the writing, too).

Group 1 of the Escuelita Lyndaloo – these readers and writers were soon to be assigned to work with a proper teacher!

The Lyndaloo Escuelita Class of 2012 – take one:
I started with a group of students who could read and write. We were just getting into the swing of things – or perhaps having too much fun –  when the teacher then gave me 15 children who didn’t know how to read. It was a big group with too much variation in ability and perhaps one or two students with more serious learning difficulties such as dyslexia. Some definitely needed one-to-one tuition so when more volunteers came I put those children with the new volunteers. My crew eventually became a core team of 8 – until Jose Luis decided he wanted to work with me and the teacher put him in the group, and, Ashly who hadn’t made an appearance last term suddenly started turning up and only missed three classes. Then we were theoretically ten.

Escuelita Lyndaloo Group 2 towards the end of the first term

Lyndaloo’s Escuelita – take two
A lot of missionaries come to Nicaragua. They teach religion. I’ve seen fabulous churches constructed in areas where people live in houses with plastic bin bags for walls but I haven’t seen much evidence of how they physically help these people. I said I didn’t come to Nicaragua to preach. I lied. I preached education. It’s been said before: education, education, education. It’s opened doors for me and I don’t see why it shouldn’t be the same for the children here.

1st, 2nd & 3rd place

So my mantras were: “Come to school and you will learn”, “Study, study, study,” and most importantly “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, that’s how we learn.” And so of the 10 students, the top three were Alejandro with 100% attendance, Jeiner with 93% attendance and Jose Miguel with 80% attendance. If I’d had more time I’d have worked on the girls’ generally poor attendance and school drop-out rate. Hopefully, next time. The good attendees got why it was important to want to learn and they were all certainly making progress. But, may all the children go onwards and upwards.

To be continued…

About Lynda

"Who am I? Why am I here? You're asking, I'm asking. Tired of all the moaning around me, tired of waiting for something to happen, I decided that I couldn't just let life pass me by. It occurred to me that if I could help a single person, that act could change the outcome of an entire community for the better. I want to matter. I want to make a difference. I've chosen Nicaragua." That was 2011 - this is 2021. I'm researching for a Doctorate of Education Creative and Media aka an Ed D. Those early questions are still as important in 2021 as they were in 2011. The Chicassos of 2017 now come with the BlackademicUK tag.
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