This story was in a recent edition of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Insider
It was a kind of classroom that Heidi Phillips hadn’t seen before. There were no walls or ceilings. School ended at noon. Dogs roamed the classroom. If it rained, the room got wet. And teachers’ lessons were done by instinct.
Phillips, a second-grade teacher, was one of four Lake Wylie Elementary staff members who traveled to Bijagues, Guatemala, in July with Good Shepherd Church as part of an outreach trip. She traveled with Principal Brooke Hough, literacy facilitator Jennifer Mulherin and school counselor Andrea Heartman.
“We have a really strong partnership with Good Shepherd,” said Hough. “They do so many things for our students and families and we were looking for a way to give back.”
Hough and the rest of the Lake Wylie team went to Guatemala for a week to share some of their strategies for teaching literacy and math. Each CMS teacher was paired with a Bijagues teacher. Before they left for the trip, each teacher recorded a video for their partner and told their partners what they’d like to learn.
“We had lots of questions about how they learn in such a different environment,” said Hough. “They had very specific questions. One teacher wanted to learn about solids, liquids and gases. One wanted to learn about reading and identifying different genres. They don’t have a standard course of study, so they teach based on what they feel the students need to know.”
When they arrived in Bijagues, they spent several days learning about the village and helped a local woman who cooks for the school build a chicken coop. “Now she has a sustainable business and can sell her eggs,” said Hough. The group also helped build a home for a local family.
Later in the week, they visited the school and taught their lessons. “It was a pretty humbling experience,” said Phillips. “We take so much for granted, like running water. The teachers are able to teach with minimal resources and supplies, but the students are happy and eager to learn.”
Ron Dozier, Good Shepherd Church pastor of mission and community impact, said the visit had advantages for both sets of teachers. “They did an amazing job enhancing what we were able to provide through their expertise in education,” he said.
Hough, who has been out of the classroom for several years, said being a teacher again in such a different environment was a challenge. “I had not taught a full lesson that I planned in years,” she said. “And to teach in another language, translated, was so nerve-wracking. I think it was good for my staff to see me struggle. They encouraged me and gave me pointers along the way.”
Hough is already thinking about how to share the lessons she’s learned with her students and staff at Devonshire Elementary, where she is now principal. “We expect so much out of English language learners. Are we providing the support we need to be successful? It really has me thinking about should I do an immersion class? What creative and unique strategies can I use to meet their needs?”