So……. what is this program all about, anyway? When the project began, I think the original thought was to provide the girls with a safe place to stay during the week, so that they could attend school. Easy, right? Well – ummmmm, not exactly. As the program progressed, everyone realized that it was a little more complicated than that. The reason? Well, all of the girls came from different communities and had different educational backgrounds. Most had been taught in one-room mud ‘school’ buildings – one teacher for all grade levels. So, needless to say, they all have different ‘holes’ in their learning.
One focus that we’ve had this year is on Math. We’ve been extremely fortunate in that we have a bonafide math teacher from the U.S. volunteering with us this semester. His name is John Mauro. John’s been doing an outstanding job with the girls, not only tutoring them in their homework, but in trying to catch them up with all of the elementary stuff that they’re missing. The huge problem, though, is that it’s hard to teach algebra when the foundations of working with fractions or multiplication tables are missing. The homework that the girls get is well, just plain ridiculous. It can cover 10 different advanced topics, none of which they seem to have learned in the classroom. And, although John does an excellent job trying to teach each new topic on the homework, their basic skills are just really lacking. That’s where we come in.
About 10 years ago, my son Jacob started a non-profit organization, Computer for Communities, which provides technology and training to people that typically can’t afford it. Over the years, we’ve done all sorts of programs – from in-home computer donation and training, to prison programs and city-wide Internet access and after-school inner-city technology programs. Needles to say, we have quite a bit of experience in using technology to help people in all sorts of situations. What a perfect fit! Through CFC, we raised some cash to bring brand new laptops down, and set up an awesome computer lab for the girls.
Although we are in a non-permanent space, the laptops really are the ticket in this developing country. We can charge them when we have power, and they can run on battery. We don’t have to worry about drawing too much current at one time, with monitors and desktops and whatnot. And…. if there’s no power – which happens all too often – no worries! We can still use the lab.
As part of my job of working on after-school curriculum, I have found an awesome, awesome online program that works perfectly for our situation. It is called ALEKS. With ALEKS, we have given each girl an initial assessment test (I chose 3rd grade level.) The program then identifies any areas (128 topics at that level) that are not mastered, and creates individual tutoring and testing for each girl. The girls can actually see and track their own progress on a pie chart – talk about motivation! They absolutely love doing the program – and beg to spend more time on it! In addition, we can access lots of cool reports that show us their progress, areas of mastery and deficiency – great for John to set up group classroom teaching topics! Anyway, it may seem like I am gushing about this program – but, well, I guess I am! We have seen such strides and improvement in the girls in the 2 months that they have been trying it out…. not only in their math skills, but in their responsibility level for their own learning, that it really makes me feel like we are accomplishing a huge amount.
Another educational program I’ve introduced is a much broader, cross-cultural curriculum. The idea is to have our girls work together with “sister schools” in the U.S., or anywhere else that is not Peru. So far, we have two groups of students, one from Conserve School, and the other that my good friend Annie has set up, with students that are mostly from Brown University. Sister schools exchange letters with our girls (in Spanish). Since our cultures are centuries apart, students on both ends discuss things about their daily lives, living conditions, music, family life, etc. We follow up with discussion on our end, so our girls learn more about the world. Students on the first world side learn more about what it’s like to live in a developing country, as well as about local traditions and culture. And, ALL students get to practice their Spanish! As the program develops, we will add in Skyping from our new computer lab. So far, it’s been a win-win for everyone. As the program develops, we may even be able to get some financial support from our sister schools – if kids decide to do fundraisers, like sales of alpaca wool hats. Anyway, it is turning into an awesome program – with a lot of excitement on both sides.
One last note on education – the supplementary work that we are doing with the girls in the after-school program is way too important. The support that they need to succeed in school is huge, as the schools that they attend typically have over 40 students in a classroom – with one teacher and no aids. ‘Nuf said. I’m not going to get all philosophical on you – as I think you can see the enormous strides we are making. We had girls from mountain communities, where their education stopped in 6th grade. We now have girls that are communicating – not in Quechua, but in Spanish – with students from around the globe. We now have girls that are learning to use modern technology to learn. They are REALLY learning skills that my kids had access to when they were in elementary school. They are continuing their education – supported – through high school. The opportunities that will be available to them have multiplied exponentially. What’s next? It’s their choice. But at least they now have options.
Our Fall Fundraising Campaign is drawing to a close on IndieGoGo – only 3 days left! Click here to find out more about what we’re doing (there’s a cool little movie we did about the program), and feel free to donate a few dollars…. You can even get a neat alpaca reward, to keep or give as a gift!