It’s Summer in Panecillo, and the dust blooms up in great clouds with every step down the narrow road that leads to the Quichinche school.
That has been my second home for the past five weeks, as we ran a summer school for high school students from communities all around Panecillo: La Banda, Agualongo, San Juan, Andaviejo and of course Quichinche. During the school year the big concrete building- with a large black gate that opens to an spacious courtyard where the kids play- holds classes for ages five to about twelve, but during these hot dry summer months, they let the Tandana Foundation take over.
We have held summer classes here for the past few years, always with English and Math classes as our primary focus. It’s free for the students, a little extra support for their studies. Many of our students have scholarships through the foundation. Summer school is just another way for us to support our communities.
Usually we allow kids of all ages to come take classes, but that has proven a bit tough to control and difficult for our teachers. How do you plan a curriculum when your students are six to sixteen years old? So this year we had new goals. We had three volunteers who were coming down specifically to help me create a more rigorous and in depth program, focusing on high school students and preparing them better for the school year to come.
Emily, Courtney and Na were my volunteers. They arrived and we got to work, going over how to create lesson plans, deciding how we would structure the half day we would have with the kids every day. Many of the kids the year before had asked for more math, so we gave it to them. In a two hour block every morning. We split our group of high school kids by age, so the younger kids would attend one math class, and the older kids would have another, focusing on more difficult math they would encounter on the national exams they are required to take to graduate from high school. After math, the kids had a fifteen minute break, and then went to English class. My volunteers each took a level of English, while I opted to keep my coordinator role and help when they needed me and deal with any challenges that may arise. After English, we would have a third class, which we reasoned would be a different subject every week.
It was an interesting few weeks, all of us sitting in our office brainstorming our school, how we could make it a memorable experience for our students,
The first day of summer school came, and we had seventy-seven students show up. We introduced ourselves, introduced the math professors we had hired, played orientation games, and gave them an English placement test. None of us could believe how many students we had, and we struggled to contain seventy plus kids when there were only four of us.
But the next day things became easier. We broke the kids up into their English classes, and started into a normal schedule. We stressed the importance of being on time, of not missing any classes. More kids came, some left, and finally we had a solid sixty students who were showing up every day.
As part of our summer school tradition with the Tandana Foundation, every Friday we take the kids on paseo, or a field trip. Only the kids who went to all of their classes were allowed to go. It’s a pretty special thing to be able to take our students on these little trips. Many of our kids don’t get to leave their communities often, so everyone was always excited about where we were going. I always kept it a secret until Thursday, to keep the kids guessing, and because plans change her eso quickly I didn’t want to promise something I couldn’t deliver. When all was said and done, we took them to a tree nursery in Achupallas, Peguche Waterfall, swimming pools in Quichinche, San Sebastian Park, and a circus.
There were hard moments though. We were American teachers, with Ecuadorian students. Often our expectations of classroom behavior differientiated from what our students thought was okay. Safety on the paseos was an issue we had to discuss as a group over and over again. No it’s not okay for you to leave the group without telling me, no you can’t stay at the waterfall because your sixteen and your father approved it, no you can’t spray the bleach water you’re supposed to be using to clean the whiteboard into your friend’s face, please, just when I say something: do it.
The final week of classes we had extra help from the Peterson Family, from Stoughton, Wisconsin. The parents, Katherine and Gary and their kids Katie and Chris, were an amazing support staff to have. Katherine and Gary pulled kids out individually during English class to work one-on-one with pronunciation and vocabulary. Katie and Chris helped Na in her beginning English class, a rowdy group of twelve-year-olds with loved class but also loved to talk.
The final day of class was Friday. Instead of a paseo, we had a party at the school. We had a “who can clean your classroom fastest” competition (thinly veiled janitorial help), tug-of-war, an art project, handed out certificates and ate pizza. A few of our kids had never eaten pizza before, rolling it up and eating it like a sandwich. Everyone was so happy, our kids chased each other and giggled, exclaiming that they didn’t want summer school to end, they didn’t want us to leave.
In total, we gave sixty students each over forty hours of math and twenty hours of English. For our third class, we ended up doing art classes, and in the final week, a unit on health. We made piñatas, designed rooms signs, dyed hankerchiefs, wrote “About Me” books, made play-dough, made no-bake cookies, had water color lessons, designed puzzles, made friendship bracelets, and a giant “Thank You Tandana Foundation!” sign.
As I shut the big black gate and waved to the last of my kids, I looked at my teachers. “We did it.” I said, and kept repeating, “We did it, we actually did it.”
I am very proud of all of the work I’ve done for The Tandana Foundation, but I am the most proud of our Summer School. Seeing it go from ideas on the whiteboard in the office to a full blown program was unbelievable. And now, it’s over. But I know that tomorrow I will wake up and think it’s time to walk down the thin dusty path and start a new day with the students.