Video: On Wednesday, Nov. 8, Escuela Integrada celebrated graduations for first and sixth grade. After diplomas were awarded, first grade students released balloons into the sky, each one carrying a small piece of paper with their dreams and wishes for the future.
On Tuesday, Nov. 7, Bradler Santos, principal, and Hernan Garcia, project director, presented a “Status of the School” update and identified areas of need at the annual Supporters Gathering in Antigua. Among the statistics presented, the student pass rates for 2016 soared above previous years: Eighty-five percent of all students passed their grade, five percentage points higher than 2016, and 100 percent of ninth grade students passed their grade, which opens doors to further study and vocational programs.
“Our focus this year was academic excellence,” said Santos in Spanish. “I do believe that both this year and last year, we’ve met that goal.”
At the end of each academic year, Escuela Integrada is required to submit statistics to the Guatemalan Ministry of Education as part of the education licensing process. Garcia and Santos submitted the necessary information on Monday, Nov. 6.
“It’s been a very smooth process with the Ministry of Education,” said Garcia in Spanish. “There have been times when it has not been as smooth. We are passing with flying colors.”
According to Santos, one way the school achieved academic excellence was by providing each student with his or her own textbook. He also stressed the increase in home visits and the addition of a full breakfast as critical components of student success.
The purpose of the home visits is to evaluate how committed families are to the school and to their children’s’ education, Garcia said. Multiple times per year, staff from Escuela Integrada visit the students’ homes to discuss academic progress and identify areas of improvement, while evaluating the condition of the home and the stability of the family unit. Garcia and Santos also sit down with the families one-on-one to discuss student achievement at the end of each of the four blocks, similar to the quarter system in the U.S.
Furthermore, the new full breakfast provided this year helped the students stay awake and focused on their studies during the school day. When students only received the atol, a breakfast drink, they would fall asleep during class and their energy throughout the day was low.
“Over the last three years, we’ve experienced a lot of growth and improvement,” said Garcia. “They have a good breakfast and a good lunch. I am very appreciative for all the work that has been done to make the funds available for breakfast.”
Another component of academic excellence was stronger and more consistent management of the teachers. Santos refined teacher policies and procedures, and provided each teacher a copy of the expectations in writing over the 2016 November-December break. They reviewed the expectations before the year began in January 2017. The new policies required that the teachers had their curriculum done well in advance of instruction, with copies provided to Santos for review.
The teachers also have a new sign-in, sign-out book, which helped curb tardiness and missed days, and Santos initiated a process of written communication for important information and upcoming dates.
“Everyone is clear and sure of what they need to do every day, every week and every month,” he said.
Santos facilitated a workshop on education methods to help teachers with more technical and effective instruction. He will also hold workshops in January before the students return to help the teachers get ready for the upcoming year.
During the meeting with board members and supporters, Santos and Garcia outlined the top priorities for Escuela Integrada from the school perspective. These items included, but are not limited to, putting more resources into the English instruction program at the school, hiring a full-time social worker to help with family needs and legal processes, adding security cameras to the outside of the school, and increasing the benefits provided for the teachers.
Ideas to supplement teacher benefits include providing gift certificates for groceries on a more regular basis, giving scholarships for continuing education, implementing a book-study program to aide in the personal development of the teachers, and adding to the level of health benefits currently available.
Over the last four days, board members and supporters analyzed the budget and began discussing options to meet the needs of the school. They will continue to define projects and action items in the coming weeks, at which point further information will be available.
They also expressed their sincere gratitude to Garcia and Santos for their leadership and courage to continue improving Escuela Integrada.
“You can look at a resume, but you never really know what is in someone’s heart,” said Evelyn Medina, board member. “We are thankful for their vision and the way they look at their jobs. They never forget our mission. For them to have that spirit and that vision is invaluable.”