Saturday, April 25, 2009

LIFE School


As I prepare to load up my knapsack with what is left of my clothes and the small trinkets for family and friends, I am reflecting on what has been a wonderful last month at the Lake.

In addition to the mindboggling experiences of Semana Santa ( see below ) I have had the privilege of substitute teaching and supporting students at LIFE school located in Panajachel. Founded in 1989 on the vision and principles of Robert Mueller ( an undersecretary to three Secretaries General of the UN, the school is one of those oasis of educational excitement that puts a smile on your face and makes you very glad you are a teacher!

LIFE school ( is housed in a ramshackled set of buildings held together physically by chain link fence. But the real glue that makes this a place of learning is the values which are embedded in all they do. There are about 60 kids in grades pre kindergarten to 9th (most teachers are American hence the educational jargon that reflects their terminology) with class sizes of anywhere from 5 ( for the pre kinder) to 12 in the Grade 3/4 split. The curriculum is shared following the principles developed by Robert Mueller and adheres to the Guatemalan elementary and basico ( junior high) curricula.

During the three weeks I volunteered at the school I rekindled some of the excitement I first felt about teaching during my student teaching days at McCorkindale Elementary in Vancouver. Kids learning about learning in an atmosphere which requests and requires respect, curiousity and most of all a sense of community. When you check out the website look at the ethnic mix of the kids; the impact for these kids on how they will see the world in years to come will have impacts we cannot even imagine. The family involvement in the school is palpable as parents participate on hiring committees, volunteer in the classrooms and hang out with the kids at lunch time. And they do it all on a budget of $90,000 a year!

The teachers are paid enough money to live in Pana but I gather not enough to build up much of a nest egg; at least not in cash. The professional development opportunities to be gained from working in this environment are very real and well worth considering for anyone building a career, seeking an opportunity to put some new life into their career, or even as a capstone.

I initially volunteered to help with the Grades 5 - 9 classes who are participating in a Virtual Science Fair ( and very quickly that morphed into substitute teaching in every grade (except 1-2). I learned about using NVU to set up a website, saw kids play and learn together in an environment where skin colour was truly irrelevant, listend to three languages spoken by groups of kids working collaboratively on projects and enjoyed reading to a group of teenagers under a tree on the basketball court!

I left the school yesterday full of smiles at reconnecting with my life as a teacher and vowing to continue to find ways to be in the classroom. It warms my soul.

My heart is heavy as I prepare to say good bye to the Lake
Adios for today, Colina

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