Wednesday, September 12, 2007

School Days in Honduras

Sister Sprout started school on August 15th. What a big change not only for her, but for me too. I didn't want to post about the new school in a new country until I felt like I had a handle on things.

Sister's old school in America was very nice, clean with high tech AV systems and phones in every room, etc. It also was an accredited International Baccalaureate school and drew students from all over the metro area of Minneapolis. They had Spanish taught once a week. This has proved to be helpful for Sister giving her a jump on the language because she already has a basic foundation of how to read and write Spanish. Her teachers here tell us that based on her current level along with her tutoring 1 hour 6 days/week that she could be speaking Spanish by the end of the year. Let's hope! But I digress a little.

We chose Sister's school by a recommendation from a family member who sends their kids to the same school. It is a private bi-lingual school. They have a current and informational website, and all the staff I've had to talk with has had awesome English. There were a few schools we visited where the staff we were talking to didn't seem to have a strong command of the language. I got the feeling that they didn't understand me when I asked questions, or maybe didn't know how to answer properly in English.

Back in June, Sister was tested and enrolled. She had to take a test on the basics. Reading, writing and math. She didn't do so good. Maybe she was feeling insecure? I don't know, but Papa and I had to write a letter saying we would work with her as needed if she was falling behind. The good thing was that the school also said they would work with her as needed as long as we re-enforced things at home with extra help or tutoring. Okay, fine. I wasn't jumping up and down, but a parent has to do what they have to do for their kids- right? Of course.

It took a while for us to find a Spanish tutor as that seemed to be the first order of things. It took us almost the whole summer. We found a tutor the last 3 weeks of the summer before school started. She gets 1 hour of tutoring 6 days a week. It costs us L100 per hour. That is about US $5/hour. This is a very reasonable price for a professional to teach Spanish privately. We talked to a few who wanted L200/hour.

By the end of the first week I was a bit overwhelmed by how much work it was going to be to keep Sister on task. I don't like to compare things too much between the states and Honduras. But if I do, it would probably be something about how the states have this or that and how Honduras is lacking. Not here on this subject. All I was thinking about was how miserably easy Sister had it in the states. Maybe it was just her school? Maybe it's the American school system with the "no child left behind" agenda pushing all the flunking and behind students along forcing the curriculum and the teaching methods to have to accommodate? There were a lot of immigrant students in Sister's old school and often these kids are behind in reading and writing especially because English was not their home language and their parents didn't/couldn't work with them. The school was 33% white, 39% black and the rest made up of Asians, Hispanics, and "other". We lived in a lower middle class neighborhood close to two main highways and with open enrollment with the IB program there seemed to be a lot of inner city kids at the school. I'll leave it there, but I think you get what I'm saying. Honestly, the amount of work and organization that the kids are required at Sister's school here in Honduras blows her old school in the states out of the water in comparison.

**And the kids are good! I sat in Sister's class in the states a few times and there were always a few that were so disruptive to the class. Not sitting still, talking out of turn, not paying attention. I was exhausted sitting in the class, watching for an hour, I didn't know how the teacher could possibly handle it all day long. Here, if the kids are bad, they are kept after school to sit in their seats with their heads down. They also have "warnings" where I guess if you get a certain amount (3?) you can be suspended for a day. It seems they expect a high level of responsibility from the kids too. They have a "no excuses" for missed homework.

The kids earn points and can lose them by not completing their homework, being late for school, missing school with no excuse, or even if a parent misses a scheduled meeting at the school! Both Papa and I couldn't make it to a meeting they set up at the school for parents to listen to hired speakers about how to help your kids succeed. Papa couldn't get out of work and we were down to one vehicle due to a stupid HUGE pothole that blew the tire and rim of Papa's motorcycle. So neither of us could make it to the meeting and Sister lost school points and this was on a Saturday!

And if the student is not doing well they will hold them back or if it's really apparent that the child is flunking by their own accord with no support from the family, well...they get to leave. Maybe seeing on a daily basis what real poverty is for those with no education is motivation to actually want to succeed? Here, if the child doesn't succeed, well, they will be "left behind".

The kids are required to carry all their own text books, notebooks and various supplies to and from school every day. I was shocked at first. We went out and bought a normal backpack thinking they would at least get a locker for their books. Nope. Luckily Sister has her own travel carry-on suitcase that she brought with from the states. This is now her school bag. There are school buses (vans) to take kids to and from school for a price. They put all the bags on the top and it looks like they are off to the airport. She still uses the backpack you can see in the photo, but only for various extra items and things she needs for tutoring.

One thing that is different here than in the states is the grade levels. I still don't think I understand this exactly, but at this school, it only goes through grade 11. The kids start some type of formal education around age 3 if it can be afforded. I think they call this "kinder" even at the younger ages and that goes until you start 1st grade at age 6. Since formal schooling only goes to 11th grade and in the states schooling goes until 12th grade, there is a little bit of an overlap. They have to learn things faster here. In the states, Sister was in the highest math section, but here she is in the lower. The teachers asked if we could hire a tutor for her math so that she gets caught up. Ugh! We just started that tutoring and I'm not sure if it's completely necessary. I'm going to have a chat with the tutor next week. Sister is a bright girl and when I sit down and work with her on her math, she seems to be getting it and asks questions that show me she can learn quickly. Maybe she isn't as behind as they think?

We also had a meeting with some teachers and the principle of the school about two of the classes that are taught in Spanish. Espanol (think English class just in Spanish) and Social Studies. They seemed to be quite concerned about he ability to succeed in 4th grade with all of the extra tutoring she was requiring. My heart sank when they suggested possibly putting her back into 3rd grade. But after further discussion, it was decided that she just be monitored and start out by visiting the 1st grade Spanish classes and as she progresses with the language then she will move up quickly and be able to effectively participate in her grade level Spanish classes.

One cool thing is that Sister gets swimming classes two times a week. She also has a regular PE class once a week. They have a different uniform the kids wear on PE days, which is just a knit top tucked into some navy blue sweats and all white tennis shoes. Fridays are regular clothes day. So Sister wears her button down shirt/skirt uniform twice a week and her PE uniform twice a week and her regular clothes on Fridays. They can wear pretty much anything they want on those days except mini skirts and spaghetti strap tank tops. Sister doesn't seem to mind the uniforms at all.

The school day starts at 7:15am and ends at 1:30pm. We are up usually by 5:45am and in the car driving to school by 6:40 at the latest. Yes, the kids finally go to bed around 8pm and me and Papa aren't too long after that. 10pm feels really late now. At school they get a snack time and lunch. The lunches they serve are typical Honduran foods for L30 ($1.60). They also have ala cart items like pizza, spaghetti and sandwich's. Sister brings her own lunch a lot, but also likes to have her pizza days. They don't have the best food choices, but what can you do? Sister learned her lesson by buying a soda one day and the bees go nuts for sugar drinks. She now prefers to drink water so the bees leave her alone.

So far everything about school seems to be going over pretty good, except homework. But who likes homework? Honestly I dread the homework too because that means I have to be the homework police and keep her on task or help her along if needed. I'm learning too how to be that stay at home mom who is there for the kids. It's a hard job but is also very gratifying. I'm happy that she is making friends and seems to enjoy school.

I purposely left out the name of the schools mentioned here. If anyone reads this and wants to know about the schools, you can contact me via the email listed on my profile.

Sister tells me last night that the kids are acting bad these days now that everyone is used to school. Interesting that she says they only act bad in the English speaking classes, but act perfect in the Spanish speaking classes.


Tom said...

I'm impressed by this school. It seems that they really care about the kids getting a solid education.

Before long Sister will be teaching you Spainish!

411 from Down Under said...

Good on sister sprout! She is so brave and it's nice to know she's settling in to her new school!

famcerrato said...

Our oldest just started preschool this year and I'm already starting to see that it's going to be ...difficult. There are so many comments of yours about Sister's school that make me say, RIGHT ON!! The discipline, the high expectations, the parent involvement. You could say that for an "ideal" child, or nearly "ideal" child - one that doesn't have learning disabilities, concentration problems, one that has a stable home life with parents who care - this Honduran school's model is perfect. It's true that in the US, we certainly have many more programs to help the disadvantaged and disabled. The US wants to make schools available to all children. That is super great. But they are so concerned about being fair, giving equal access, not being too hard on students...etc that they're marginalizing other students at the same time. I'm sure that Sister has a ton of new and different challenges she's facing, but I think you will see that she will achieve much more academically then she may have spending a lifetime of education in the states. I guess I can't say that for sure...but we shall see....
I called you yesterday - I'll try again tonight.

Megan said...

Glad to see Sister Sprout is enjoying her school! :) This school sounds like the best of the best!

Ranty said...

Good for her! It sounds like a big transition, and I bet it's been kind of scary. It sounds like Sister Sprout is finding her way though, and I know she'll do great!

The school sounds amazing too, btw. Nothing like stories I hear about Ceiba schools.........

Honduras Sprout said...

Sister is really brave. Always has been. Strong willed too. If she doesn't want to do something it's hard to get her to do it.

She likes to hear from people and what they say about her on the blog. So thanks for the comments!!

Anonymous said...

Hi ! Im from San Pedro too, I live now in Bulgaria, I read your blog and found that it is written in Bulgarian. amazing! do u like my country? i love Bulgaria

Honduras Sprout said...

Anon (Fernan?) ~
I do like your country. It is very beautiful. I did not know my blog was translated into Bulgarian. That is interesting to know. Bulgaria is an interesting place to move, I bet. Thanks for finding me and leaving a comment!

Anonymous said...

hi!! im from america and im doing research on ur island its very pretty. and amazing i love it