Rotary Club project pairs Guatemalan teachers with local educators

Miles Hoffman
Special To The Black Mountain News

Good teachers change lives, and good teachers need the support of good schools. 

The Black Mountain Rotary Club has initiated a project that brings teachers from one of the poorest areas of Guatemala together with teachers from Owen Middle School and Evergreen Community Charter School to broaden the horizons of all.

The first team from Safe Passages, a preschool through seventh grade school serving children who live around the Guatemala City garbage dump, arrived in Asheville on Nov. 29 for 10 days of observing and learning.

The six teachers are staying with the families of teachers from Evergreen Charter while observing the teaching in these two schools. This is the first visit to the U.S. for most of them.

Teachers from Guatemala who are participating in the exchange program with Owen Middle School and Evergreen Charter School pose with Black Mountain Rotary Club member John DeWitt (second from the right).

One of the many things they are learning, said Safe Passages principal Patricia Barneond during an interview at Owen Middle School, is how the teachers here maintain an orderly and disciplined classroom while teaching. At her school, children arrive early and have breakfast, morning snack, lunch, and afternoon snack—for some, the last meal of their day.

The educational model employed at Safe Passages is “expeditionary learning,” which combines on- and off-site activities. Teams investigate issues in the local community weaving together science, social studies, reading and writing, math, technology and the arts. They then present their work to others.

In addition to promoting active, hands-on engagement around guiding questions, expeditionary Learning reinforces a school culture of kindness, respect, responsibility, a sense of adventure, and a desire for excellence. An essential component is the "crew” – advisory meetings involving 10-15 students who help support and hold each other accountable and stay together over a period of years.

Barneond and Educational Programs Director Marta Eugenia Rabbe described expeditions where students learn the economics and science of recycling from the Guatemala City dump. A second team expedition recently focused on the city marketplaces as locations for commerce and communications among families from different cultures. Each grade experiences these expeditions at the appropriate level.

The Owen Middle School hosts for the teachers from Safe Passages are Elisa Sanchez-Tarman, School Social Worker, and John DeWitt, Rotary member and project director.

On Dec. 6, the teachers were led on an exploration of the nature education areas behind Owen Middle by science teacher Jim Cooper and councilor Carl Firley. The visitors were fascinated by the beaver dam habitat, the Monarch way station, the garden plots, and other science resources at Owen Middle.

These two teachers will be among the six from Owen who will travel to Safe Passages in Guatemala this summer to continue the sharing and learning. Teachers from Evergreen Community Charter will travel there this winter.

The project includes establishing an internet connection between the schools to both enable students to work together in real time on projects and teachers to participate in ongoing training activities. This is an important component of the project funded by the International Rotary Foundation, the Black Mountain Rotary Club, and the Western Carolina Rotary District, DeWitt explained. He will accompany the two teams of teachers to Guatemala to facilitate communication and ongoing contact between the schools.