May 22, 2017: An Unplanned Visit

Upon leaving our hotel in Santa Catarina, we had the good fortune to be invited to view a ceremony at an elementary/middle school. La Escuela Urbana Mixta is a bilingual school for ages four through 15 of which the population is almost 100% indigenous. Students are taught in Spanish and Kaqchiquel, the predominant indigenous language of the community.

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Classroom at La Escuela Urbana Mixta in Santa Catarina

Class size ranges from 20-30 students with the lowest enrollment in the higher grades. The primary reason for this is that education is often not valued by many parents in Guatemala. Also, children favor finding a mate and having children, which often happens in their early teenage years, over getting an education. Lack of money is not one of the reasons since education is free in Guatemala. Students pay for their uniforms and shoes for school. The government pays for the tuition and books. Transportation is not an issue either since almost 100% of the student body walks to school, the young ones accompanied by a parent.

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Dia del Arbol opening ceremony

Every Monday morning, the entire school congregates for a ceremony during which one class presents the national anthem, the pledge, and a few students from the class read their written works on an assigned topic. Parents are encouraged to attend. During our visit, we viewed the entire student body in long lines watching the presentation that included a tribute to the day of the tree, el Día del arbol. The fifth and sixth grade classes were reminded to dress appropriately to plant saplings and seeds the following day. Also, the guest speaker and principal reminded students not to throw garbage along the roads or in the rivers. They explained to them how this hurts the environment and contaminates the water. In Guatemala, there is a huge issue with waste disposal. Only two cities, according to our guide, Gary, have garbage dump sites. Since there is no garbage pick up anywhere else in the country, people feel there is no choice other than to dump their home garbage along the highways and in the forested land. It appeared that everywhere we drove there were piles and piles of garbage set against an otherwise lovely backdrop. The school administrators and teachers are hoping to train the children while they are young not to litter.

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Pre-primaria class with their aide on the left and teacher on the right

Speaking with a mother of one of the children and two teachers, we learned about the training needed to become a teacher, el sexto diversificado, salaries, hours, other expectations, assessment and the content of each year when known. Here is the layout of the school system in Santa Catarina:

Level Ages Content
Pre-kinder 4 – 5 singing, identification of nouns
Pre-primaria 6 8 letters
Primero 7 28 letters
Segundo 8 forming sentences
Tercer 9 writing passages about the history of the country
Cuarto 10 reading books, forming a written tale
Quinto 11 more advanced reading and writing
Sexto 12
Primer básico 13 determined by junior high school teacher
Segundo básico 14 determined by junior high school teacher
Tercer básico 15 determined by junior high school teacher
Cuarto diversificado part of the “Secretaria”)
Quinto diversificado part of the “Secretaria”)
Sexto diversicado part of the “Secretaria”)
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Young students in traditional clothes

In the photos, most of these students are not in uniforms. In mainly rural areas with a predominantly indigenous community, students are not required to wear the standard uniform, but rather are encouraged to wear their daily typical indigenous wear: a huipil (hand-woven blouse) on top, with a faja (hand-woven scarf), and a corte (long piece of colorful cloth wrapped around the waist for the girls.

 

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