Escuela de Los Destiladeros

For several months I have been volunteering to teach English to 19 children, ages 6 through 12 at a one-room school in Los Destaladeros. Among beautiful million dollar villas and estates lies a small community of about 16 simple Panamanian houses on mainly one road which ends at the school. Twice a week I have come for 2 hours, first teaching 1st through 3rd graders; the next hour, I teach 4th through 6th grade. While teaching one group, their regular teacher takes the other group out to the patio to teach another subject.The Minister of Educación in Panama has mandated that English be taught in the schools, but the teacher at this school knows very little English. Since I retired from teaching in the U.S. and have a TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) certificate, this has been a rewarding opportunity to help fulfil a need in my community. There is only one set of English curriculum books available from the Ministry of Education at the school. So I use those for ideas along with some curriculum programs online for my lesson plans and materials. All this has been very challenging trying to work with different ages.
The children, for the most part, are so happy and seem to enjoy the class, always greeting me with hugs and saying “Good morning teacher. How are you today?” They love word searches, singing songs in English, and playing games such as BINGO. For some, I am not sure how much English they are retaining, but there are a few students that are very enthusiastic in sharing what they know. And they have taught me Spanish in turn.
In addition to teaching English, a friend has been instrumental in acquiring all that is needed for a computer lab for the children’s and teacher’s use. So far 3 desktop and 3 laptop computers, 2 printers, and internet service all have been donated. Mikkel & I have had the opportunity to share in the joy of giving by donating one of the printers (we bought it when we first moved here to use until our crate arrived), and, also, an Apple Express router, we had brought from the U.S., but didn’t need after moving to Pedasí. The router is also used as an extender, allowing most of the village to tap into the internet from the school. Students who have graduated to 7th grade, continue their education at the school in Pedasí and elsewhere. They are issued laptops for their homework by the Ministerio de Educación; so now they can work at home instead of staying in Pedasí and paying for internet connection at the local library or internet cafe.
When I informed the children at the school that it was my last day to teach English until next March because I was taking a month-long vacation to the U.S. and their own school vacation is from December to the end of February, I received hugs and kisses from all the children; one girl even started crying. Even though at times I thought some of the children really didn’t care about learning English, I knew now they were grateful for my efforts to teach them and we would mutually miss each other. Two of the children would move up to 7th grade and would not return to this school when I returned, making it more difficult to say goodbye. But the teacher expressed his request for me to come back for the next school year which I plan to do.
So I am writing this blog while I am in the U.S. visiting my family. I may not have much time to write much more during my visit, but I really felt it necessary to share my experiences back in Panamá about volunteering to help the children. I consider it an honor and blessing to be part of this community.

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