First Week of Volunteering at Isla Solarte

It’s Friday afternoon so I’ve finished my first week of volunteering at the primary school at Isla Solarte (even though I started on Wednesday so it’s actually only been 3 days). I wrote quite a lot about it in the other Isla Solarte post, but there are a few more things to say…

I was speaking to Candy, the principal, today and she said that in schools on the mainland, the children have exams at the end of primary school so when they’re like 11, but at island schools like the one on Solarte, there are no exams. I thought this was a bit weird because surely one curriculum should apply across the whole country, but she explained that the children on these islands are from indigenous parents which means their parents don’t speak correct Spanish (they have native languages) and they can’t read or write, so the kids can’t really get any help with that stuff from home, meaning they struggle with basic stuff at school.

She told me the class I was working with is called pre-K and they’re aged 4 and 5, then 1st grade is age 6, 2nd grade age 7 etc etc. There are only 3 classrooms and the school is from ages 4 – 11 so this means grades are combined. Today I also helped with grades 1, 2 and 3 who all shared one classroom and learnt the same things. I guess this makes it harder for the teachers because there are such different abilities in the class. The different grades were sat at different long tables and I was told to look after the 1st grade table.

The teacher of that class doesn’t speak English but teaches them all the other subjects. I saw their timetable on the wall and it had religion, English, Spanish, physical education, artistic expression and natural sciences. Because she doesn’t speak English, it’s Candy who does that. I found out today that Candy studied English and Primary Teaching at university.

Today she was teaching them feelings, so she drew happy and sad faces etc on the board and wrote the English and Spanish underneath them and made the class repeat the words. She’s really loud and strict so the kids were silent but she told me that when she’s not there, there’s no discipline and the other teacher can’t control them at all.

After this they had to draw the faces and write the words into their books and then there was a sheet with faces and English words (worried, happy etc) and they had to cut and stick the correct words next to the correct faces. My job was just to check the spellings were correct and help them a bit if they were stuck (but not tell them the answers like they wanted me to). They were quite cute and one girl came up to me every time she’d drawn a face (there were 11 to copy) to proudly show me her drawing so I could tell her it was “muy bonito” (“very good looking” which I know sounds weird but you use that adjective for drawings etc as well as people/places).

After about an hour their food was ready so they packed away their things and Candy told me I could go and play with pre-K (that’s literally how she phrased it – “play”, so it’s not just me who thinks they do no work!). They were outside doing la ronda and dancing etc so I went to join them and one of the smaller girls, Xiomara, came running across the grass when she saw me coming towards them.

I spent the rest of the day with pre-K helping them colour in pictures of lions because they’re still on the wild animals topic. I realised yesterday that actually it must be weird for them hearing about all these animals because they probably didn’t even know they existed before the teacher told them. I knew about all these things from really young because I went to the zoo, had lots of books, saw cartoons, films and real-life programmes on tv, and obviously my parents told me. If I’d been given a picture of a lion at 5 years old I’m pretty sure I would have known what colour to colour it in with, but they had absolutely no idea, so if you look through their colouring books, there are green elephants etc.

I brought a water bottle with me that I still have from the flight (I bought it in Boots at Heathrow). It’s one of those ones that has a photo of a national park where they got the water from on the label (so basically just loads of grass and some water), and the girls in pre-K were all looking at it asking me if that’s where I live. I didn’t realise they would be so interested by a little picture on a water bottle!

I want to take a picture with them to put on Facebook and this blog but I know my camera will cause a bit too much interest and they’ll want to play with it for the rest of the day, so I need to find a tactical way of doing it.

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