Sara Van Note, MEd '04

Elementary Teacher Certification

Nicaraguan Village Captures Teacher's Heart

When I finished Antioch in the winter of '03-'04 I returned to an old dream: to study Spanish in Central America (also conveniently avoiding a mid-year teaching position.) So I bought a ticket to Nicaragua, planning to stay for ten weeks. I didn't have a firm plan, but eventually found a village, La Pita, with a three-room elementary school in the lush northern mountains. For six weeks I helped out (and even subbed) in the morning and taught English in the afternoon. I stayed with a family and learned about life in the campo without running water, electricity, telephones, or reliable transportation. Warmly embraced by the family and the community, I left hoping I would return.

Two years later I went back, rejoining the family and school as if no time had passed. I just returned from my fourth trip in four years, and can look back on all the changes in their community as well as my own life. My "Nicaraguan family" is now able to send their oldest children to high school because of extra income earned via an eco-tourism project. They have electricity from solar panels and even cell phones (though they have to walk up the hill behind the house to use them!) While the economic situation in Nicaragua is certainly not stable (especially for farmers), there have been some improvements in the village, including the construction of a permanent structure for the fifth/sixth grade classroom and a new community center.

Bringing Spanish Home

I continued studying Spanish when I returned to the U.S. and moved to New Mexico. I recently finished my bilingual certification and am teaching in a "heritage language" model, where I instruct for 45 minutes a day in Spanish. My students come from diverse ethnic and linguistic backgrounds: Native American, native New Mexican/Hispanic, Anglo, and recent Latino immigrants. During Morning Meeting and other parts of my literacy block we sing songs, play games, read stories, and develop oral language in Spanish.

My experiences in Nicaragua have enriched my classroom far beyond my own learning. Each year I do a presentation about Nicaragua, sharing my stories and photos of the school and community. My students in the US are fascinated by the lives of children in Nicaragua, and when they learn about the lack of resources there they start to realize all we can be grateful for in our well-supplied schools. Last year they made colorful cards for me to take to the children of La Pita and some donated school supplies.

Each summer I try to do an enrichment project with the fifth and sixth graders in La Pita. This year they wrote and illustrated original stories, the first time they had ever carried out a creative writing project. I had them bound into a class book, a copy of which I will take to my own classroom in Albuquerque.