When Peace Corps Volunteers arrive at site, the first thing they do is panic.
After that step is complete, many of us find ourselves working in local escuelas y colegios (elementary schools and high schools) as a way to integrate into our communities and do something besides taking long walks, eating, emotional eating, reading, and misinterpreting everything our host families say.
As a Community Economic Development (CED) Volunteer, those first few months can be especially tough because we’re constantly battling the assumption that we are here to teach English.
I repeat, we are not here to teach English. Unless it’s to, for example, adults, and seen as an employability and community development building skill.
Even that’s a stretch for me… (psssst I don’t like teaching English).
And FYI, Peace Corps Costa Rica has an entire Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) program dedicated to spreading and sprouting the English language seed all over this glorious country. I promise, they got it covered.
Nonetheless, a lot of CED volunteers end up finding rewarding work with youth because they are 1) still amenable and malleable and 2) intrigued and amazed by us.
Unlike, well, a lot of adults.
During our pre-service training, we are provided lesson plans and resources to teach things like…
- Climate Change (it’s real guys)
- Job and Professional Skill Development
- Female and Youth Empowerment
We get to teach the cool stuff right?!
In all realness, before I got to my site I was gung-ho about teaching this material, especially in a rural community where a lot of this information isn’t part of the basic academic curriculum.
But when I got to my site, trying to decide which program I was going to do first was no longer my biggest challenge.
You see, Fila Naranjo is very small and very rural.
Not only was the nearest high school an hour and a half walk away (STRAIGHT up a rocky mountain in the blazing sun NAH), the local escuela only had one classroom.
One classroom with 20 students ages 6-12. Yes. All in the same classroom.
Some can read, some can write. Some know how to color and draw and others had never picked up a pencil before starting school. Some know their numbers, others don’t know how to count…you get the point.
Basically, I had a serious challenge on my hands.
How would I go about teaching an effective and interactive lesson to a group of 20 children who were all at completely different learning levels?
It’s not easy and I’ll be honest, I still haven’t totally figured it out, but I’m pretty sure the key lies somewhere between lots of physical movement, activities, flashcards (with images, obvi), coloring, and vocal repetition.
If I can make it out of there alive after an hour, we’ve had a successful class.
From day one, I have continued to teach class twice a week at the local escuela. I teach a miss-mosh entrepreneurship/job skills/climate change class and while it’s not the in-depth, organized curriculum I was hoping to teach, the kids enjoy the classes and I get to have fun planning and implementing my wacky lessons.
And like I’ve said before, even though I don’t always love working in the classroom, I strongly believe that empowering youth is one of the most important ways to developing and improving the future economic state of communities here in Costa Rica.