After two full days of listening to lectures and taking notes, I was ready to get out and experience Peru. We woke up early to take a large charter bus to northern Lima. Our destination was Institucion Educativa N 3061 Jorge Chavez Dartnel. Or simply, “Jorge Chavez.” Nine hundred students attend this school. As is true with many Peruvian schools, grades span from kindergarten through secondary. On our way, we were told that this school was in a very impoverished part of Lima. One functional computer for the entire school. One resource teacher for the school who split her time between six other similarly sized schools. As we were pulling away from our five star, high rise hotel, Violleta (our Fulbright host teacher) explained that Jorge Chavez teachers, along with most Peruvian teachers, were very concerned about learning loss due to the pandemic. Many of their students were behind academically. Some of them were a full two years behind. More echos of the reality of education in the US.
As we lumbered up the coast, it became painfully obvious that much of Lima was nothing like Miraflores the section of town where our swanky high rise Radisson hotel was located. Thirteen percent of Lima’s population lives below the poverty line. This coupled with the huge economic divide between the rich and the poor has led to 35% of it’s population living in “barriadas” or shantytowns.
The large tour bus that we were traveling on was likely unaccustomed to rolling through this part of town. If you come to Lima for a vacation, you aren’t heading to Jorge Chavez school. Through the bus window, I witnessed poverty on a scale that I had never before seen. These were the communities and neighborhoods that the educational officials we visited with the day before were struggling to help. While the percentage of federal money earmarked for education was slowly increasing (3% to 6% over the course of a decade), currently it is only $374 per student. I wondered how that would translate into actual classroom teaching in such an impoverished part of Lima.
Our bus pulled in front of Jorge Chavez school in northern Lima, I noticed a 10 foot poster tacked to an exterior wall. We came to a stop and I realized that my mug (along with the 16 other Fulbright fellows ) was plastered on it. Lining the walkway into the school common area was a receiving line that was better then any wedding that I have ever been to. It included some of the most enthusiastic people that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Screaming, cheering, applauding. Laughter. I was given bracelets, hugs, and smiles. Lots of smiles.
The entire community was present. Parents, students, teachers. Everyone ecstatic to see us; the American teachers. As the Fulbrighters gathered in the courtyard to hear speeches, students swarmed us. Most had pen and paper in hand. Looking for autographs from the “famous” teachers.
Sam made the rounds. Students took selfies with him, looked at the selfies, and then retook them in order to get the photo just right. (Echos of American kids!)
As the energy of the moment died down to a dull roar and student began presenting their work, I was able to see just how much scholarship and attention students put into their work. Having an “authentic audience” is a successful teaching strategy that language arts teachers frequently use. It gives purpose and direction to a student’s writing. Chavez teachers had clearly instructed their students to make us, the Fulbright teachers, their authentic audience.
The posters were inviting, wonderfully written in both Spanish and English, formatted well and were very colorful. Students proudly read the posters to us and invited us to sign them. Students were clearly coached on presentation skills as well.
The day was eye opening and inspiring.
I imagine walking onto the Jorge Chavez campus when school wasn’t in session might be a sad experience. The building is entirely functional as a school but there are parts of it that are in disrepair. Peeling paint, rusty holes in the roof, ancient classroom furniture. All symptoms of an anemic amount of money being spent for education. The rundown building only tells a small part of the story.
It’s about doing the best with what you have.
Teachers and students at Jorge Chavez made the building and campus vibrant and alive. Not only with their scholarship, but more importantly with their attitude and approach to live. It was only a small window into their life, but there was deep, authentic learning happening. More importantly, students and teachers enthusiastically and proudly shared their lives with us. They helped us feel welcome and appreciated.
Andy the end of the morning, I realized that I would have no problem realizing my guiding question: ” How can I connect students in Humboldt county to students in Peru?” After spending the morning with Jorge Chavez students and teachers, I understood that if students and teachers in the rest of Lima were as eager to connect as the teachers at this wonderful school, I would have no problem making connections. Many teachers at the school (and as it turns out, teachers in other parts of Lima, as well) were so open to the idea of connecting their students with Americans. I have a list of Peruvian teachers’ email addresses as long as my arm!
On my way off campus that morning, I wanted to communicate how honored I felt because of all their planning and work. I am not very good at Spanish, certainly not when I’m trying to express something meaningful. I got out my phone and typed in an English phrase into google translate:
As I made my way back to the bus, I looked as many of the students and teachers in the eye as I could and said, “¡Mi corazón está feliz por todos ustedes!”