When elementary school teacher Marco decided to take part in Mil Milagros’ intensive teacher certification course for literacy techniques, he knew something had to change in his classroom: “After working and teaching for so long, you forget important techniques,” he said. “Here, we’re getting together to broaden our own understanding–and that will benefit our students, too.”
Before the pandemic, making sure that children graduated literate was one of Mil Milagros’ highest priorities in our education program because of low literacy rates nationally in Guatemala: the World Bank estimates that 2 out of 3 Guatemalan children cannot read and comprehend a simple, age-appropriate text by the time they graduate from elementary school. For Indigenous populations like our communities in Santa Lucía, this number is often higher, and literacy rates locally are complicated by low levels of government funding in education and teacher training.
During the pandemic, schools and communities closed to outsiders in Santa Lucía, and children did not return to classrooms in person until April of 2022. Instead of getting time with teachers to practice every day, many children were isolated at home, with practice worksheets but practically zero instructional time. Though Mil Milagros staff and teachers rose to the challenge to create virtual classes that would help bridge the gap, many students are still struggling. “The pandemic closures meant that my students still haven’t learned to read,” one teacher said. “My goal is that by September, they’ll be able to recognize vowels and read individual words.”
To help make up for two years of lost time, Mil Milagros staff teamed up with literacy expert and board member, Juan Gil, to design a teacher training program that would give teachers in our schools evidence-based strategies to improve reading and comprehension. The first iteration of the intensive certification course wrapped this July, lasting 10 weeks and graduating 35 teachers in our partner schools. Those who chose to participate received more than 10 hours of workshops and training time as well as in-person classroom observations and personalized, targeted feedback from our Program Directors. “It’s been really beneficial for me to use these tools in my classroom,” said Virgilda, a teacher at Nikajkim community school.
What’s more, teachers are seeing results: “Since I began the training course, I’ve started to apply the techniques I’ve been learning with my students,” said Joel, a teacher in Chuijomil. “I’ve started to see changes in my classroom–my students participate more, show interest, and they’re a lot more comfortable and self-assured in their reading skills.” Other teachers mentioned that their students had become more enthusiastic about reading: “they’re much happier with reading activities, and they want to hear more stories.”
Thanks to guaranteed funding sources like the ‘amigos,’ our monthly donors, Mil Milagros staff knew it was possible for them to create this new program and implement it quickly to prevent greater learning loss. It’s just one of many initiatives that monthly donors make possible because they give our staff the ability to plan ahead, set ambitious goals, and make more of an impact over time.
The next step? To offer the teacher training course to teachers of all 31 schools in Santa Lucía in 2023. More ‘amigos’ means more teachers trained, more students learning, and more children reading in Santa Lucía and beyond!
Join us in improving education and literacy in rural Guatemala by becoming an ‘amigo,’ a member of our community of monthly donors. Don’t delay - if you sign up to become an ‘amigo’ before September 2, you will not only receive a handmade keychain from Guatemala but a generous donor will donate an additional $100 to Mil Milagros. $5 a month makes all the difference to leaders in Guatemala!
Joel is the principal, the fifth and sixth grade teacher, the head of the hygiene committee, and the student council advisor at his school of 89 children.
Guatemala ranks in the bottom quartile in the world for youth literacy and primary school completion. And that was before the pandemic. Now, children are falling even further behind due to ongoing school closures.