Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What are we doing here exactly? (Part 2)

Time to go a little deeper into what each of our roles are here at NCA Matagalpa. 

NCA Matagalpa began its first year in February, 2013, with just 43 students in grades 1-7.  Mike & I joined the staff in January of 2014 for NCA’s second year—then with an additional 100 students & grades K-8.  The current plan is to add one grade each year until it has pre-school through 11th grade (that is as high as schools go here).  There are also future plans to create a Special Education program, as well as a vocational skills training facility. 

NCA’s mission is for long-term change, not a short-term fix.  What is so exciting and inspiring is that my class of kindergartners will be the first class to graduate from NCA Matagalpa having completed all years there, &  the students in Mike’s 8th grade English & PE classes will be the very first students to graduate from NCA in just 3 more years.  The education our students are receiving this year is worlds away from what they would experience in a public school or even another private school here in town.

The concept of educating students here is still eons behind what we would consider modern day education.  Students here even in preschool are required to do copious amounts of copying into composition notebooks.  Unfortunately they measure how much a student is learning by how many notebooks they fill up.  Assessments are based on how well kids memorize often the exact test material given to them to ‘study.’   On a broader level this means students are not actually learning meaningful content—they’re not taught how to think for themselves, how to problem solve, how to demonstrate their understandings in ways other than regurgitation, and most importantly how to question.

Put this in context now with Nicaragua being the poorest Spanish speaking country in the world, and ask yourself what this means?  It means not enough people are thinking for themselves—thinking that there might be a better way to live.  Not enough people are asking questions like, “What are we going to do about the devastating number of poverty-stricken people in our country?” (even if it isn’t them).  Not enough people are using their own understandings, skills, and knowledge to come up with solutions to the everyday problems this country faces. 

This is why what Mike & I are doing is so much more than ‘just teaching’ (even though there never is such a thing!).  In essence we’re trying to do our part to change the continuing downward spiral the country has faced for decades by giving students an authentic education and at the same time demonstrating to our Nicaraguan colleagues how we teach.  Like our students who will be learning at NCA for years, the teachers here (a product of the same outdated education system) cannot automatically transform.  It takes TIME; first for them to even envision that teaching & learning can look different, then for them to be able to begin trying new teaching methods, and finally to figure out how to adequately combine quality learning with their given text books and the Nicaraguan education ‘standards’.  Our job, in addition to our full time work of teaching Kindergarten, English, & PE, is to help with this transition. 

For us, it can’t come soon enough, but it is a huge undertaking, a long process, & one we quickly realized couldn’t happen in one year.  When we arrived for the school’s second year, and to brand new programs (neither Kindergarten, PE, or 8th grade English existed before), we first had to develop new curriculums, & create standards, materials from scratch, year-long learning targets, etc.  We did this while at the same time learning how to adapt, live  & work in a new country, help our kids transition to school & life here, try to fit in homeschooling, communicate with our loved ones & donors back home & manage our finances from abroad.  As the year progressed we gradually began to feel more grounded, & were able to begin focusing more on the mentoring side of our job.  But realistically we envision that to be the focus of our second year teaching here.  This year has been about getting our bearings with teaching, developing relationships with our Nicaraguan colleagues, allowing them to see how we teach and how our students learn.  Now comes the fun part of them asking, “How do we do it?” and us getting to share ideas and teaching practices with them.

So, when people back home ask us, “What are you doing down there in Nicaragua?”  We say, “Annette is teaching Kindergarten, & Mike is teaching English & PE.”  But what we really want to say is, “We’re Teacher Missionaries in Nicaragua, giving our time and talents to help others create change for years to come.”

“Be Shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” 
1 Peter 5:2-3

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