Hello! My name is Rachel Downs and I’m excited to be a new member of the Las Manos team! I’m a New Hampshire USA native, though for the six years prior to coming to Antigua I lived, attended university, and worked in the greater Boston area of Massachusetts.
This past month I have been fortunate enough to begin my new role as an English teacher and the Volunteer Coordinator with Las Manos de Christine. I can hardly express my gratitude to the students, teachers, and families of El Hato School as well as the Las Manos staff for giving me the opportunity to learn, grow, and teach in this beautiful and dynamic community.
Before starting with Las Manos last November as a volunteer, I worked for six years at a non-profit early-childhood center in the Boston area. With most of my training and background being with children ages 1-6, I was excited (and a little nervous) at the prospect of working with not only pre-primaria and primaria students (Kinder, Parvulos, Preparatorias, Primeros, and Segundos) but also teenagers and adults in the Básico and IGER programs. Despite some pre-conceptions on my part, I have found that while I love all of my classes for different reasons I especially look forward to the time I get to spend with the Básicos in the afternoons.
There is something very special about the group of teens that make up the Básico 1, 2, and 3 classes. They are bright, they are creative, they are curious, they are goal-centered, they are funny, and they are caring and loyal friends and family members. While there admittedly is a pretty broad range of interest for English itself as a subject, each student is driven in his or her own way. We recently completed an “all about me” project in which the students wrote essays about themselves, their lives in El Hato, their interests, their families, and their future goals. Students worked over three weeks to become familiar with the applicable vocabulary, write sentences, and then first, second, and final essay drafts. While their aspirations are fairly diverse, including becoming professional dancers, football players, engineers, mechanics, carpenters, and lawyers, the two most popular career choices by far are teachers and doctors. I consider myself incredibly privileged to be able to work with these young leaders and look forward to getting to know them better in the coming months.
Meanwhile in the mornings, my students in the Prepas and Segundos classes have been working on pen pals projects with two preschool classrooms in the United States. Nearly every week for the past month in these two groups have, with teacher help, written class letters to their partner classrooms at Lemberg Children’s Center in Waltham MA. Segundos and Prepas have told their friends in the States about their school and their lives in El Hato, and asked questions. Thanks to the ease of e-mail, we have received several thoughtful responses back. One inquisitive Prepa student asked the Navigator children at Lemberg, “I know that there’s snow in the United States – are there also penguins?” The students responded, “We have seen penguins, but only at the zoo!”
The Prepas and Segundos have learned that they have very different diets from their friends in the States, the main difference being that children in El Hato love a wide range of fruits and vegetables, some of which the Navigators and Voyagers at Lemberg had never heard of before! In response to hearing that the Segundos love mango and papaya, the Voyager children decided to have a class tasting! The Voyagers reported back that all of them liked mango, but only one child liked papaya. The children in both schools have also been surprised to hear about some of the differences in family make-up. Many of the children in the Voyagers classroom reported that they are only children, or that they have one sibling, while many of the Segundos come from much larger families!
I chose these two classes in particular for the pen pals project because I have more class time with them than I do with most of my other students (40 minutes each day, rather than 30), so it is a project we can work on simultaneously with other English curriculum. When we draft letters to our friends in the States, the students tell me what they want to say or ask the other class in Spanish, and I repeat it back to the whole group English so that their vocabularies can continue to grow in meaningful ways.
Prepas and Segundos are two especially cohesive groups of children. There are 30-something children in each class, and each one is bubbling with personality. Within the classes there are some very strong friendships, blossoming friendships, and a whole range of strengths, abilities, and interests. Contributing to these positive learning environments are two incredibly dedicated and experienced local teachers, Seño Rosario and Seño Azucena, who I am happy to be able to work with on a daily basis.
I have learned so much as a teacher in the past five weeks, and I cannot wait to see what the next few months have in store.
Help Las Manos help the El Hato community. Volunteer with us when you’re in Antigua, or donate here.