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Teachers Teaching Teachers

With my improved Spanish abilities (albeit, only moderately improved!), this has opened up many new opportunities for me to help in the area of education here in Nicaragua.

This summer I have started to explore how I can help other teachers and schools, especially local ones. Education here, while improved from what it had been, is still terrible.

Out of all the 15 Latin American countries, Nicaraguan students gained the least growth in their skill levels between 2006 and 2013. In Grade 3, 15% reached satisfactory levels in reading and comprehension and 12% in math. Only 20% of those taking a basic math requirement exam for university entrance will pass. 7,000 Nicaraguan primary teachers do not have a degree. A person can have 3 years of high school, 6 months of training, and no follow up, and be considered a teacher. A teacher’s salary does not cover his or her basic needs, there are not classrooms stocked for subjects such as physics, chemistry, or computers, textbooks are not always linked to content, can be 25 or more years old, and often a class only has one copy – for the teacher, from which she reads and the students copy onto paper.

This is a documentary done by a Nicaraguan film crew last year. I would highly recommend watching it if you can spare an hour. In it, the director of Escuela Montessori Jan Amos Comenius, Elba Rivera, says, “The teacher is key. We should invest much more in teacher training.” And that is precisely where I have focused my energy.

While I was in Esteli for language school, I had the opportunity to attend a public school for the afternoon (students only attend class for half a day – morning, afternoon, or evening). I sat in on Grade 9. One teacher was great and did her best with the limited resources she had. She mostly had control with classroom management, and asked good questions to engage the students. She even had a hook at the beginning of her lesson! One teacher was planning (and learning) the class content as she was teaching it. It was about synonyms and antonyms. Questions were very basic and there was one textbook, which she held and dictated from. There was no classroom management. The next teacher came in, plugged her cellphone in, sat down at the desk, waited 3 minutes to begin, dictated a paragraph from the textbook, told the students to think about what they just wrote, and then reached for her phone. 12 minutes went by (yes, I was timing and writing it down) with no changes. Students were chatting about everything but class while she played on her phone. Then, she pulled out a chocolate bar and ate it. 3 more minutes. She said, “You should be working,” from her desk, with barely a glance up from her phone. Then, 16 minutes later the bell rang. I still do not what subject that class was. Once teachers are hired here, they cannot be fired unless they’ve committed a crime, so even more so, teacher training is essential.Grade 9

The classroom was very bare. There was nothing on the walls except a photocopied alphabet (with a few upside down letters tossed in for good measure), a couple of old alphabet colouring sheets, and a peeling bulletin board of upcoming holidays (from two months prior). Two out of six fluorescent lights worked, the desk chairs were by far the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever sat in, and the chalkboard was so scratched up and plastered with mystery something that only one of the teachers bothered to write something on it.

While my experiences in public Nicaraguan education are more limited, I know that the day I had in Grade 9 is not uncommon across the country. And this is in a city. Rural schools often mean less, too.

So, this journey of mine in teacher training started out with me heading off to Jinotega (a city in northern Nicaragua) to spend a weekend working with a newly hired teacher and school which will open in January. There currently is no Christian school in Jinotega and options are lacking for quality education. So, I spent all day Saturday helping Ruth plan her first week of school, a daily schedule, list of procedures to teach the wee ones, ideas of class rules, and centre ideas. Then, on Sunday, I met with a group of students studying at the university to become English as a Second Language teachers. We talked generally about best practices, pedagogy, etc.

Upon returning to Managua before school started, I spent a week working with Tesoros de Dios (God’s Treasures). It is a centre for kids with disabilities with physical therapy, speech, horse therapy, and so much more. I observed each of the classroom teachers during their educational times, and especially focused in on the Grade 1 & 2 class. I was able to collect some observations and easy-to-implement strategies and activities to suggest to them. I also redesigned a poorly used spaced as a “secret” reading nook with a mosquito net tent, comfy pillows, books, and sparkly stars, with butcher paper on the three surrounding walls to allow for some child-inspired graffiti.  IMG_1326

When I presented my suggestions to one of the directors of Tesoros, she was so thrilled by the ideas, but said that the staff really needed a whole professional development session to be able to practice with some of these strategies. So, she asked myself and our Special Ed teacher at NCA to put together an afternoon PD session for them. We were able to host this at NCA, so the staff also got to see our classrooms and some of the tools and set-ups that we use.

Finally, this year I have been paired with a new teacher (who has my old job of teaching Grade 1) to be a mentor. I can’t say that I am doing a great job of this area, but enjoy being able to share some of the things that I have learned thus far.

I had some really great pictures to include for you, too, but my phone disappeared.

 

Prayer Requests:

  • Jinotega Christian Academy – that they would be granted their paperwork to be an official school (political reasons are saying that the current teachers are not acceptable)
  • NCA – that they would continue to be accessible to Nicaraguan families as a high-quality level of education, and raise up future leaders who can have an impact on this country’s education
  • Teachers – desire to strive for excellence in spite of challenges, wisdom
  • Students – desire to strive for excellence in spite of challenges
  • Government – wisdom to provide better for education (Nicaragua has one of the lowest percentages of their budget going towards education in Latin America)
  • Praise God for his work in these areas so far, with people and organizations who care deeply about education and are making a difference
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Posted by on September 9, 2017 in Nica Life

 

Language School: Take 1 (of 16?)

So, as many of you know, this summer I spent the time in Nicaragua doing 5 weeks of language school and one week volunteering with a ministry for children with disabilities in Managua. And the reason for the title is because I think it may take me another 16 years to actually say I know Spanish! I learned a lot, but still feel I have a long way to go.

How to choose highlights from the last month… There are really and truly too many to count. I’ll list just a few in very short form. There are beautiful stories behind nearly every one that would make you shiver. Next time I see you, ask me!

Conversations with grannies about underpants on a breezy porch in a rocking chair with coffee and mamones (yummy seasonal Nica fruit kind of akin to cherries..?). Attending my first Nica funeral. Understanding more places and stories of the contra war. Translating the public service announcements from Spanish into charades for a sweet man who was deaf in the bus terminal. Having parakeets wake me up from my nap by playing hide and seek with me in my room. Debates in Spanish about politics and social systems. Many glorious hours reading and praying. Teaching English. Teaching teachers. Participating in amazing Nicaraguan worship and service. Making paper out of bananas and onions. Having class beside a waterfall. Preparing and serving meals at the dump. And finally, realizing I understood the message at church. What a good feeling. Then, the next day, not understanding the question at breakfast. Well, can’t win them all!

Here’s one zoomed-in experience:

One of the most powerful moments this year came when I attended a Nica street worship concert. People came from all over Nicaragua and gathered at an intersection in the city. There was a song where all the chorus said was, “Somos juntos con Christo,” which means “We are together with Christ.” The worship leader invited us to embrace those around us, so we all gave one another hugs and hellos (sounds weird to Canadians, but it’s expected to hug and kiss people when you greet them here). Then a group around us formed a circle and started dancing and singing with absolute, genuine praise (also sounds a little hokey and teen-ish, but it was sweet and joyful). Within seconds, we were pulled into the circle, and it is the first time since being in this country that I felt the same in all the right ways. It is hard to go too many places without having people stare at you, try to get more money from you for an item, or any other number of things. But this. Here, now, we were focused on unity in Christ and not economics, nor skin colour, nor education, nor language, nor household, nor experiences separated us. Nothing could come between us. We were all joyful. We were all offering praise. Jesus filled every part of us so that there was room for nothing else. Because we were only together with Christ. It was so, so good and a beautiful reflection of what I imagine heaven will be.

I wish I could share all the stories with you, but I think many of them (maybe even the one above?) are a “you’d have to be there” kind of thing. But being in this country when I am not an exhausted, hot, cranky teacher did wonders to my soul. And I thought I was only there for the Spanish!

 

If you are of the praying sort J and want to offer some specific prayers, the following could be considered:

Praises: new opportunities (moving to Grade 5 for this upcoming school year!), Spanish, new friendships, time to rest, positive changes in NCA like new programs for struggling students through resources and teachers, great ministries created by Nicaraguans for Nicaraguans (like the dump meals and education, and the new school), hope for the upcoming year

Requests: 2 main ones: those same new opportunities mean a lot of changes for me. Also, please pray that I could accept and show grace, above all else – for myself and for others and in all areas of my life.

Education in this country – I’ve been able to have a much better look at and understanding of education here this summer because everyone I have met (whether teacher, director, student, or university student studying to become a teacher) has been hugely impacted by the education system here. I have seen and discussed teachers’ lives and work, textbooks and other resources, professional development, government policies, and physical structures. And it’s not pretty. Many students outside of Managua (the capital) do not live with their parents because their parents have had to seek work elsewhere, student motivation is very low, teachers are unequipped in their level of training, and actual retained knowledge is limited. This summer I have seen many, many high school students who don’t know their multiplication facts, how to tell time, or how to read fluently. They attend school for about 4 hours a day. My host mom has 550 students in a week. The English teacher at the school doesn’t actually speak English. I could go on. I won’t. There are people trying to make changes in all these areas. Pray for the teachers, the government, the finances and resources, and schools like NCA who are providing quality Christian education.

 

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2017 in Nica Life

 

I Never Thought I’d Ever: Year 2 Edition

I Never Thought I’d Ever:

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The ladies of Grade 1. I do not exaggerate when I say I wouldn’t have survived this year without each one of these precious, loving, Jesus-filled women.

  1. Have enough new experiences in this same country in this same job to fill another entire year with crazy experiences!
  2. Love as deeply as I have this year- both my students and the colleagues surrounding me.
  3. Want to, or actually complete, a half marathon.
  4. Hurt so terribly.
  5. Heal so carefully.
  6. Fear so greatly.
  7. Trust so wholly.
  8. Sled down a volcano.
  9. See hummingbirds, toucans, and parakeets mere feet from my face.
  10. Have my house flood so completely and so frequently with each days’ rain. Ya, I didn’t think that after last year’s flood water could keep coming!
  11. Have to deal with storms, lice, centipedes, beetles, and mice all in a single day. Not to mention the additional tarantulas, cockroaches, and other critters.
  12. Own a cat. Even if only temporarily.
  13. Eat octopus.
  14. Eat fresh mangos, avocados, and coconut from my own yard all in one weekend.
  15. Freeze my patootie off in this country.
  16. Have a parasite.

And a couple highlight stories from May:

When we learned about David and Goliath I told the kids that whoever beat Goliath didn’t have to pay taxes (among other rewards). Well, the kids had to re-enact the story and the boy who was playing Saul said, “If you kill Goliath you don’t have to pay for taxis.” HAHAHAHAHA!

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This has been SUCH an adventurous, interesting class that has taught me oodles about life, love, and learning. And they’ve certainly thrown pretty much everything I know about teaching out the window!

 

Also, one dear student strokes my back and says, “Don’t stress, Miss Van Kannel, don’t stress,” whenever I’m upset with the boys. How can you stress with her around?!

Part of their Bible homework one week was to write a question they had about faith and ask it to their parents. One student shared with the class that she asked her mom if she had a connection with God. She told her mom, “I know I have a connection with Him because when I sing worship, I feel God calling my name, like Samuel felt. My Mom said she felt a connection too. She feels a connection to God when she reads the Bible.” WOW. What a powerful question and testimony from such a young child. I asked the kids how they feel connected to God.

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Camping isn’t a thing here, so we made our own camp with a real campfire, some good old camp songs, and s’mores OF COURSE!

Oodles of hands went up and they came up with more ideas than I ever would’ve (worship, reading, talking about God, telling others about Him, praying, being with their families, learning about Him). So cool. I also had them pray for each other this week in groups of two and two boys went on their knees with their heads bowed, eyes closed, grasping one another’s folded hands, and with their foreheads touching. It was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. I wished so desperately someone else had been in the room to see or that I’d had my phone on me to take a picture. But I suppose the moment wouldn’t have been the same then. I learn so much from them every day.

The year is coming to a close and I will be off to Canada for a short break and then back to Nica for language school and some work with some Spanish missions. Woo! Keep me in your prayers!

 

Easter Joy, Peace, and Community

Last year I got to share my thoughts of peace and beauty during Semana Santa (Holy Week) as I spent it in the Corn Islands. This year the focus was also the pursuit of peace and beauty, but in a much different climate! We headed up to the Nicaraguan mountains and rainforest. It was windy, cloudy, and rainy every night. I had on all of the layers I could possibly find and could usually be found curled under a blanket or two. We stayed at an ecolodge coffee farm. Only our group and 3 other people were there. The only electricity came by way of solar panels and was strictly used for lighting. It was inaccessible except by 4×4. There were a few hammocks, lots of comfy chairs, and miles of trees. The peace that I was seeking (and that I found) this year was very different than it was last year.

This year, I sought to find peace in the midst of mess. Peace with who I am. Peace with what I am doing and with how I am doing. Peace with others. Peace in chaos. Restoring peace. Grasping onto God’s promise of peace. Allowing peace to reign.IMG_3628

Imagine perching on the lodge’s porch, watching toucans, butterflies, hummingbirds, and parakeets, then the sunset, then the fireflies, then the stars. Or nestling into a perch on a high hill amongst the wildflowers, gazing upon the coffee and banana fields with the wind blowing through your hair and the warm sun on your face. How can one not feel peaceful in those? But I didn’t. So, I set out to discover why not.

What I found was: it’s not about the place. So, I thought about the moments from the week where I did feel most peaceful. One of those moments was sharing a hammock with one of the loveliest people I know who I also have the privilege of calling “friend.” I could rest in the fact that I am well-loved, known, prayed for, and invited into friendship exactly as I am. This is community.

Here are some words that help highlight how vital this community is (from “Community: God’s Design for Growth“)

“The practice of Christian community, quite simply, makes the gospel a lived reality. It embodies a specific, personal way of life together in Christ. It strengthens us to live the life to which we are called; it conveys God’s life and power to the world at large. And it is necessary.”

“One of the most important ways the community helps us is by embodying Christ’s continuing presence on earth.

SO good, right?!

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Two of the amazing members of Jesus’ community who evidently show his joy and peace really well.

However, this general lack of peace led me to feeling guilty. Easter is the biggest holiday of the year for Christians. We are meant to sing for joy that our God reigns, that our King lives. And I didn’t feel very peaceful, let alone celebratory, even though I believe these things with all my heart. However, someone shared a profound insight with me about this today. When Jesus rose, there was no huge church service or jubilant party. There was doubt. There was uncertainty. There was confusion. There was desperation. Here are some examples:

“They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.” (Luke 24:37)

“They still [after seeing the empty tomb] did not understand…” (John 20:9)

Yes, there was hope when they heard the news. But I imagine there was also exhaustion. Frustration. Probably some fear.

And yes, there was also joy and amazement (Luke 24:41 & 52), but there was a whole lot more than that, too. And Jesus was absolutely okay with that. Jesus met all of these emotions with immense love. He treated the doubter the same way as the joyous worshipper. With love. And peace. “Peace be with you” he says over and over again. And don’t even get me started on the evidence of community throughout these days following the resurrection. I’ll save that for another day.

And so, this Easter season, I do joyfully acknowledge that my God is a living and God who has overcome death itself, but also this joyful worshipper is learning how to let Jesus love the doubtful, fearful, frustrated spots as well. And a big part of that is gathering up the peace that He shows in the community that He has given me. So, thank you, Jesus, for your death and resurrection and for the fact that this means you are incredibly tangible in the community of people who surround me.

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2017 in Nica Life

 

March

This past month there have been several surprises (is there ever a month without them though?) Two main ones really impacted me though.IMG_2629 (2)At school there is a man named Jorge (we all call him Don Jorge – like Mr. Horhay). He is a general services staff member. He is incredibly well-known around the school because he takes the kids to the nurse when they need to go for medicine, he refills our water jugs when we run out of water in the classroom, he brings the students and the teachers messages from the office, and he does countless other things. He finds missing lunch cards. He accepts student-made cookies even when he doesn’t want them. He smiles the sweetest of smiles. He corrects my Spanish in the kindest manner (or knows that I didn’t really understand what he just said, so he just lets it slide and then he goes to find my assistant and tells her instead). He has an amazing heart and is very loved by everyone at the school. This month he was hit by a drunk motorcyclist going 70 km/hr when he was crossing the street to enter the school at 5:50 in the morning. It was really, really, really bad. The doctors said he would never make it, but they did brain surgery anyway. He was resuscitated three times after surgery. The hospitals here are not anything like the 17190748_10154224128711712_9113907768247292720_nhospitals at home. It is a third world country. For some of them it’s joked that you can go in just to visit and you’ll never come out because you’ll get an infection and die in there. Don Jorge was taken to a relatively decent one. The mood at school all week was very somber and all of the students and staff were praying nonstop. The most heartfelt prayers I’ve ever heard come from my students came that week. Don Jorge miraculously survived surgery, woke up, remembered most things, and was sent home a week later. I went to visit him at his house a few days later to take a meal and a book that my students had made for him called “Los Animales de Don Jorge” (Mr. Jorge’s Animals). He and his family live in a tiny tin house with no windows, a dirt floor, no fridge, a tarp to separate the bedroom from the entry, and we needed to hike up to it because the car couldn’t go up the path. He talked for half an hour about his testimony in this season and at the end of every sentence he would conclude with, “Thanks to God,” or “Praise God.” He said that before this accident he felt unknown to God and insignificant. And yet, when no one thought there was any possibility for survival, the doctors stood amazed that he survived and called it nothing short of a miracle. God deemed him significant and worthy enough for this miracle. He deemed him worthy of all of this love, support, and prayers that his school and church are pouring into him. He feels so grateful, blessed, and alive. We prayed with him and his family before we left, and I shared his story IMG_1022with my students the following day and they, too, were touched by his miracle. It has shaped all of us, formed us into a closer community, and reminded us of God’s goodness and power.

The other thing that influenced me was a wee little orphaned kitten. She was found in the music closet at school sick and beyond the point of hungry. Alex gave me permission to bring her home until she was healthy and a permanent home could be found for her. I named her Ely (I hoped Alex would just grow attached, too…!). Little Ely and the care that she required were so good for me. To see her growing stronger and more adventurous each day was wonderful. I had to give her up only a few days later, but wee Ely gave me purpose and joy in her sweet snuggles and cute mannerisms. It was such a simple thing, but really was a big part of my month.

Other adventures that happened this month:

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How you flush the toilet, wash dishes, cook, rinse veggies, and “shower”: fill up all the containers you can, when you can, from wherever you can.

I ran my first half marathon. We haven’t had city water for 6 days and counting. Uncle Richard came to visit me! I got to go up north to the mountains for the first time. I requested to move from Grade 1 to Grade 5 next year (and was accepted, so I’ve agreed to at least two more years!)

 

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2017 in Nica Life

 

A Day in the Life of Miss Van Kannel

I didn’t quite know where to start for a blog post for this month. Then, Auntie Debbie asked for a “Day in the Life of Miss Van Kannel.” Perfect! So, here you are:

4:50 – Alarm goes off.

5:00 – 5-ish km run (This doesn’t sound all that exciting, but trust me, it can be. Dogs of all sizes and demeanors run out after us at any given time. You run in groups for safety (not just from the dogs), yell “HEY!” and slow to a walk until you pass the dogs. Also, the roads along our route are a mix of pavement, brick cobblestone-type things, and dirt with MANY potholes and deep ruts (think: completely impassible by most vehicles). There are also countless strange smells. Most not good. Then the mystery liquid puddles (sanitation isn’t the same here by any stretch of the imagination). And sometimes people who like to call encouragement at us (admittedly, we stand out – 7 white girls running in Nica draws some attention).

6:20 – Leave for school. Prepare for the day in the quiet classroom.

6:50 – Prayer/fellowship/testimony time that I take with an amazing Nicaraguan woman in our school’s prayer garden

7:00 – Whole staff devotions (I have to lead one week each year.)

7:20 – Kids start entering the classroom. We do morning calendar, jobs, and prayer.

7:45 – Some of my students leave for English Language classes. While only 7 out of 27 of my students are native English speakers, some of the Spanish kids no longer require intensive, small group language practice, so I keep 16 kids.

8:30 – Reading! My favourite time of the day. The students work at various centres and I get to meet with students in groups of 2-4 to focus their reading instruction.

9:15 – Writing, Snack. Woo. Normal stuff.15086200_10211452959829872_971651933_n

9:45 – Spanish. My students have 50 minutes of Spanish each day. They split into classes depending on their level of Spanish (native speakers, intermediate, and Spanish as a Second Language). This is when I do the vast majority of my prep (responding to emails, planning, cutting, photocopying, researching, and any other number of duties).

10:30 – Snack and Recess

10:45 – Math – I have a Grade 12 student assistant in my classroom during this time. She wants to be a teacher when she’s done school, so I am trying to mentor her and give her some small teaching opportunities. She is amazing.

11:45 – Bible – One of the kids’ favourite times of the day. We do worship, prayer, stories, service projects, reflections, and much more.

12:15 – Story! Another good time of day!

12:30 – Lunch & recess

1:00 – Science or Social (I teach each for half a year). Also pretty normal.

1:50 – “Specials” – it rotates as to what the kids have during this time (Computers, Art, PE, or Music). I usually have one meeting or another (with parents, the Special Ed team, or admin) during this time.

2:30 – Prayer & dismissal

2:45 – Depends on the day. I tutor a Grade 4 student on Mondays and Thursdays, attend a Spanish class on Tuesdays, and am starting an after-school dance class on Wednesdays. Fridays I usually hightail it out of there!

13958142_10154469457802276_7538222767385952983_o4:00 – Head for home

4:30 – Repack my lunch and get supper on

6:00 – Do schoolwork to get ready for the next day.

8:00 – Get ready to wind down and relax.

9:00 – Sleep.

And get ready to repeat!

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2017 in Blogging Adventures

 

A Year in Review

It’s been too long. I know. And many of you usually receive a Christmas letter from me, too, and you may have noticed that your card got “lost” in the mail this year… So, two birds with one stone, I hope you can take a moment and enjoy reading my year-at-a-glance. Just click on the link below and it will open a PDF file with the letter:

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Since I last posted, I have also tobogganed down an active volcano, my kids have done amazing presentations for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and they led chapel, we built models in Social Studies, went caroling around the school, got a new student, and so much more. Here are a few pictures:

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Being silly and showing how ridiculously excited we are that “God gives me grace!”

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Some of my more advanced English language students learned about plays and wrote and performed their very own jungle play.

 

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“Miss Van Kannel-in-Training”                   This was “Dress Like a Teacher Day.” I dressed in a student uniform and they dressed like me. Note the buns and ponytails, dresses, and OF COURSE the glasses!

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2017 in Nica Life