by KIM HILSENBECK
When Kerri Jones thought about summer vacation plans last school year, she may not have foreseen spending time in Central America.
But that’s exactly where she, and her 21-year-old daughter Kayla, spent a month over the summer. And while it was on the beach, it was not a laid-back margarita-sipping kind of vacation.
Jones, a third-grade teacher at Kyle Elementary, was tapped by The Cloudbase Foundation, a nonprofit that helps children in the United States and abroad. They asked her to train teachers at a private school with about 90 students, called Escuela los Algarrobos, in Canoa, Ecuador, a small coastal fishing community.
In some ways, Jones said she felt as though she stepped back in time, especially in terms of technology; or rather, the lack of it. The town had a few hostels and hotels, limited Internet access and no credit card machines.
“It was not modern,” Jones said. “It was like 1950.”
Jones’ main job was to train the teachers and incorporate modern teaching techniques. The school has several educators who teach in English for half the day and in Spanish for the other half.
Escuela los Algarrobos received funding from The Cloudbase Foundation, Jones said the classrooms were very structured with desks all in neat rows when she arrived.
But here in the States, Jones said the current education philosophy is to have tables with four to six children at each, in small group settings. This method allows teachers to move around the room and interact with students directly, she said, particularly those who have questions or need additional assistance. It also helps students to learn from each other, she said.
“I trained them in classroom management, small-group learning techniques, playing games to help students learn and using interactive materials. Before I got there, the teacher would stand at the front of the class and students would write in their notebooks,” Jones said.
She said there were computers, but only the teachers were using them; she helped integrate computers into the lessons for the students.
Another part of Jones’ trip was to bring much-needed school supplies to the students, including markers, construction paper, globes and folders.
“We took four 15-pound bags of school supplies with us,” Jones said.
Her daughter Kayla, a nursing student at Texas State University, conducted emergency response training, nutrition classes and swim lessons.
“Even though the town is on the beach, most of the kids didn’t know how to really swim,” Jones said.
As a teacher, she said the most rewarding part of the trip was seeing how all the techniques and ideas came together at the school.
“It was really wonderful to take this education style to them,” Jones said. “The teachers and even parents were very receptive to the changes.”
She hopes to go back again next year and, this time, take a bilingual teacher along.
“I’m brushing up on my Spanish this year,” Jones said.
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