First Week at Simon Bolivar Primary

We just completed the first week of the regular school year at the Simon Bolivar school in the El Milagro district.  We go there every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning to teach English to all kids in grades one through six. Next week, we will add a second school to our schedule: on Tuesdays and Thursday we will give the English lessons at the USDA primary school. So, this was an “easy” week – a little scary since I found it pretty tiring!

At Simon Bolivar, we start at 8:15am and finish at 12:30pm. The primary school kids have one class session before we arrive but leave at the same time we do, because the school building is shared with the secondary school students who use it in the afternoon. We get to Simon Bolivar by catching a combi that stops near our house and drops us near the school. Combis are a very interesting form of local transportation. They are basically vans fitted with (too many) bench seats running prescribed routes throughout the city. They are very cheap: for the 30/40 minute ride to our school, we each pay 1 sole (about 40 cents, US) but not what I could call comfortable. For anyone old enough to remember the old Disneyland tickets scheme, a combi ride is definitely an “E” ticket!

Simon Bolivar school is located about 20 minutes north of central Trujillo, only a few steps from where the combi drops us on the highway known as Panamericana Norte. As part of the famous Pan American Highway, this road is billed as “the longest motor-able route in the world.” Except for a 50-mile gap caused by the Panamanian rainforest, you can drive from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to the southern parts of South America. While I have little interest in driving even a modest portion of this route, it is interesting to think of where you might go were you so inclined.

With three days of teaching under our belts, I feel better about knowing what to expect and how to approach the assignment. At present we have 5 volunteer teachers: myself, Holly, Alix, Marcus and Tolu, a new volunteer from London, whose family emigrated to UK from Nigeria before she was born. We are fortunate to have the able leadership of Espaanglisch coordinator Tommie (who is also a volunteer) and former Espaanglisch coordinator Elizabeth. Both are helping us plan and deliver lessons in the classroom. Elizabeth, especially, is such an asset because she taught at the school all last year, providing the anchor for a team comprised of volunteers who often stayed as little as a month. Indeed, at times there were no volunteers and she handled it all alone! Her Spanish is amazing and she is loved dearly by all the students.

The video below will give you a much better idea of what our week was like. One thing you’ll notice is the level of English in the kids is much lower than in China. Hence, we all need to speak a little Spanish to communicate with them. Usually, the regular classroom teacher is not in the room with us so we are also responsible for classroom management. Like at home, there are few “difficult” kids (it’s always the boys, isn’t it!) The teaching method we use is to team-teach every lesson with someone being responsible for developing and overseeing lessons for specific classes. (Next week, I will be responsible for lessons for grades 3 and 4.) Holly and Alix will leave after next week and we will really miss them because, not only are they such nice people, they’re both professional teachers!

Another thing to notice is how affectionate the kids are with the teachers. This is wonderful and it is the local Peruvian custom: whenever you meet someone, whether the first time or thousandth time, in both formal and informal settings, a quick cheek-to-cheek embrace is the norm between a man and woman and handshakes are the standard between men. With the kids, hugs are welcomed/initiated by the girls and many of the boys. I love this part of the culture but it may also be why I’m getting a cold.

You’ll probably notice a couple of glitches in the video – against my perfectionist nature to leave them, but it takes so long to upload the video, I decided to live with it 🙁

Video: First Week of Simon Bolivar (click on photo)

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