Escuela Lázaro Cárdenas in Bahía Kino, Sonora
NOGALES, Ariz. — Resources are not the most important factor in student achievement.
“Ellos tienen casi nada y hacen mucho, mis alumos tienen casi todo y hacen poco.”
“A beginning teacher makes about $6,000 pesos a month.”
“Maestra Echeveria’s 3-A class will not meet today.”
I visited Escuela Lázaro Cárdenas in Bahía Kino, Sonora on October 15, 2010 and saw the beautiful faces of kids ready to learn.
The 36 kids in grade 2-A at Escuela Lázaro Cárdenas swept and mopped their classroom before recess. The three by four meter library had two tables and less than 100 books. I saw limited resources in the shorter school day, the lack of supplies and books; but I saw teaching and learning. The achievement I heard and saw taking place in 8:30 to 12:30 school day amazed me that with so little so much could be accomplished.
Escuela Lázaro Cárdenas is a Sonoran state school and the near-by kinder is a federal school. The public schools in Mexico are funded by the state or federal governments and there are numerous high-quality private schools throughout Mexico. The funding sources and the resources, particularly a difference in teacher pay, reflect the funding source difference. “A beginning teacher makes about $6,000 pesos a month.” (Less than $600.00 dollars) stated one teacher, the federal school teachers are at $6500 pesos a month. An experienced Mexican teacher commented, “Everyone knows to take the federal job.”
The students in grade 2-A obviously loved the remarkable second grade Teacher Yadira, and listened to her as she instructed them to get to work and back in their seats as I photographed and spoke with them. As she monitored the class, she quietly spoke with me about the school and the students.
I walked into the small, old but well-kept school unannounced; there I was astounded by visit to the director’s office. Consistent with friendly and accepting attitude of the Sonoran people, I was welcomed, without a background check, threat of CPS investigation or a visitor pass. The sign for the school was old and rusted, like the building and classrooms, yet the condition of the sign did not indicate the quality of the education taking place under the school’s banner.
Near the center of the school I noticed a tiendita vending area where the students could buy sandwiches and fruit, no candy or sodas. I bought a 10-pesos ham sandwich and watched one of the moms slice a fresh pineapple, preparing for the after school rush at 12:30. The food served was healthy and hand made, unlike the mass produced food of the U.S. school cafeteria vendors.
I walked into an open classroom to see the kids sweeping and mopping the classroom. I introduced myself as a fellow teacher and spoke with Teacher Yadira. She told me about the diverse population of Mexican students. Because of Kino Bay’s economy as a fishing, agricultural and tourist location on the Sea of Cortez, a diversity of families migrate there from all over Mexico. Teacher Yadira told me, “We have Oaxacans, students from Chiapas, all over the republic; many students are from other parts of Mexico than only Sonora.” Many citizens of the United States do not appreciate the diversity of the Mexican people.
On the day I visited the second grade performed a skit about Columbus’ discovery of North America. Wearing conquistador and native class made costumes, the in the skit the students reflected the bravery of the native people’s conquered.
Teacher Yadira spoke of the lack of basic supplies, stating that she needs pencils, crayons, paper. “We give them one notebook and one pencil at the beginning of the year, but they don’t last, mostly the parents use them.” Every person I asked for contact information ripped the paper with the information indicating to me the value of paper. She stated, “We need rulers and notebooks too.”
One beautiful little girl recited a lengthy poem about Columbus’ incursion into America from memory indicating the effectiveness and value of the traditional approach to education often prevalent in Mexican schools.
Teacher Yadira then asked me to walk to the cafeteria, a small room with two tables. She showed me the 20 plastic cups, 10 plates and 10 bowls, many cracked. She said, “We have to wash them as fast as they are used to get the kids fed in the morning.”
At that point I realized that the wealth and complacency of U.S. students required a give-back to this school. I committed my students and friends to giving some of our left over, books, plates and athletic balls to this school’s 100 book library, one ball PE class and paper shortage.
I walked to the net-less basketball court to see 30 fifth graders in PE playing with one volley ball. The young PE teacher coach said, “We have one ball.” I added athletic balls to the list of items I was determined me and my students would donate to this school.
Coach escorted me the computer lab; a former classroom now air conditioned with 20 computers. There I saw how the Internet had made it to this poor school and indication that the technology resource had made it ahead of the books in the library.
Seeing the approach of the Mexican schools system to use technology to teach reading made me wonder if a child ever learn to LOVE to read without holding a book in her or his hands. I added books to the list.
At the computer lab a parent sat talking with the computer teacher. He showed me the school’s Facebook page and we became FB friends. The page’s photos did not match the almost impoverished crowded classroom impression that I saw that day. The mom in the lab spoke about the differences in the U.S. and Mexican schools, “In Mexico the students say ‘Teacher and first name’ and are always hanging on the teacher. Our students are more personable with their teacher”, she said.
The lab was empty of students. I asked if the teachers and students were comfortable with use of the Internet, he replied, “Some teachers are, mostly for exposure to the world the Internet brings and not as much for lessons. It gets difficult to word process or conduct an Internet lesson with three kids per computer.” The lag in technology application between the computer lab teacher, the students and the other teachers was noticeable he said, “They’ll catch up; right now technology is not part of the everyday life in this pueblito.”
As teacher Yadira and I walked the school courtyard she said, “I’ve been here 11 years, only three of us have been here longer that five years. Teachers and principals come and go, the pay is too low. Only a few of us live here in Bahía Kino most commute from Hermosillo stay a year or two and quit.” Her statement reflects a condition at many schools, teacher turn-over is high yet the students adjust.
Seeing the conditions in a low-resource school that don’t provide everything for the students, as is the case in the U.S. and a school setting without litigious attitude of many American parents made me realize that my students are over-protected. Our U.S. students are insulated from the outside and that tends to lower expectations on the part of the student. U.S. students have in good in comparison, even with Arizona being the 49th of 50 states in school spending. I decided I would ask my students to help gather basic supplies needed from their left over and unused books, athletic balls and paper.
My eyes were opened by my short visit, the beautiful children leaning, the basic challenge being met by the wonderful teacher, the emerging application of technology and the need for basic supplies made me realize that schools, regardless of resources, can teach and students can learn. Resources are not the most important factor in student achievement. Mexican public schools, for the most part, meet the children’s right to an education and prove that the teacher is the key to student achievement.
To see more pictures visit my photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/georiorico/sets/72157625183413582/show/