Updated: Jul 25
Many of the children who attend the Cadaniño afterschool programs in Guatemala come from impoverished families. Their home life is challenging. Lack of resources, limited nutrition, safety concerns, and instability within their families can create an environment where learning is hard.
Compounding the challenges students face at home are the limited educational resources within the public school system of a developing country like Guatemala.
Many students attend overcrowded, poorly equipped classrooms staffed by overwhelmed teachers. When you have 50-plus students in a hot, crowded space, much of your effort often goes into maintaining order.
Typically, the education methodology is very rote. Teachers will copy from a textbook to the whiteboard, and students will copy content into their notebooks, memorize it, and have a test.
More often than not, students learn information but don’t know what to do with it.
Compounding the problem is the reality that few of our student’s parents completed school themselves, creating a situation where they lack help at home when they are struggling.
At Cadaniño, our job is not to replicate or replace what the schools are doing or to take away the job of the parents. It’s to come alongside and assist them with the areas in which they are struggling.
Our afterschool can only focus on a limited number of things. Students receive a nutritious meal to help their physical development, they partake in a Bible class to empower their spiritual growth, and they receive computer/IT classes to give them technical skills. They receive educational assistance through tutoring in the core areas of reading, writing, and arithmetic.
But with only an hour for each class, we have to be judicious in how we use our time. It’s simply not feasible for our limited team of teachers to cover every aspect of everything the students are failing in at school.
As such, we have developed an approach that fosters critical thinking skills. It’s not enough to give the kids we work with the information they need to succeed; we have to teach them how to use it.
We teach students robotics, electronics, and engineering. We use construction kits with detailed plans that need to be followed perfectly, or they won’t work. The student’s attention to detail, problem-solving, and team working abilities have improved dramatically, and it has sparked their interest in technical fields.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, when we launched our reading program. Our students have read thousands of books. For various reasons, Guatemala is not a culture where people read many books, and poverty among the population we serve likely compounds this dynamic. Teachers in public schools don’t give books as reading assignments, books are expensive, and there are no public libraries. Initially, getting students to read was a challenge. But, thanks to the effectiveness of our reading program, students have made great progress. Our teachers start students with short stories and reading comprehension tests, then progress to reading whole books and writing reports. Not only have many students developed a love for reading, but it has improved their language arts skills leading to greater success in school.
Hiring additional staff has allowed us to start using board games with the students. Board games are another thing rarely found in the culture. Yet they provide so many benefits and have incredible educational value. Starting with Rummy-o, a simple number game that is fast-paced, easy to learn, and lots of fun, students have progressed to playing chess. Through this they are learning; concentration, critical and logical thinking, judgment, creativity, and problem-solving. Children learn social skills, emotional intelligence, and cooperation as they play with others. They are unconsciously taught the “rules” of life. Order and discipline, waiting for your turn, how to be a gracious winner, and understanding that you sometimes lose, and that’s ok.
Our teachers work to engage our student’s creative ability when working with them. Having students participate in creating crafts that teach them multiplication tables has made the process fun. Working with the students to put on plays has improved their reading, vocabulary, memorization, and public speaking skills. Art helps children develop creativity. It encourages neural connections, develops problem-solving abilities, fosters the ability to process their world, and impacts social and emotional development. Ultimately, it makes learning fun.
Children who live in poverty often struggle with low self-esteem, which is a risk factor for mental illness, suicide, or poor academic achievement. By honing in the areas where a student needs to improve and helping them succeed in something they were struggling with, we give students a “win.” They start to see value in themselves, believe they are capable and are more willing to engage in other new things. The beauty of confidence is that it’s transferable. Finding just one thing the student thought they couldn’t do and helping them succeed often has a ripple effect on their learning ability in other areas.
When it comes to raising children, making them feel safe and secure makes it easier for them to learn throughout their childhood. Research studies show that children who had secure relationships in early childhood performed better through age seventeen on tests using evaluating critical thinking skills.
Since we only have one hour a day to focus on academics, we work to engage students in ways that make learning fun. We don’t just give them information. We teach them that there are many ways to learn, discover and develop their interests. As a result, last year 21% of our students placed on the honor roll at schools proving that though we have limited time with them, the impact is limitless.
We give vulnerable children a place where they feel safe, secure, and loved. We create an environment that empowers students to discover their God-given gifts and abilities and use them to their greatest potential in a way that glorifies God.