Dr. Jennifer Goldberg is no stranger to the city of León, Nicaragua. She’s been there four times for her work with the New Haven/León Sister City Project; she now chairs the group’s Advisory Council on Education and spearheads the collaborative work of Fairfield’s Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions (GSEAP) in Nicaragua.
“The New Haven/León Sister City Project (NHLSCP) is a progressive, bi-national, grassroots organization that fosters partnerships between Greater New Haven and León, Nicaragua,” she explains. “Our mission is to promote social justice in a region where barely half of all children make it to the sixth grade.”
Dr. Goldberg, GSEAP’s director of childhood education, returned from León in February and gave an overview of the educational landscape there to GSEAP Board members gathered for their regular meeting.
“The aim of the exchange is to support schools in a rural area near León, where teachers are very young, have limited training, and receive a salary of just $50 a month. What we take away is an ability to think outside the box. Going to Nicaragua helps us move away from our assumptions of how school should be,” says Dr. Goldberg, who works mainly with the community’s K-2 and after-school programs.
As an example, she cites the fact that Nicaraguan classrooms have a minimum number of students (45), not a maximum as we do in the U.S. “If there are not 45 students to make up a class, the students are put into another and the teacher is moved elsewhere,” Dr. Goldberg explained.
Standards are considered in a wholly different way as well. There, children are taught to a specified curriculum; teachers are not supposed to go beyond. “Preschoolers are taught to count to 10 and that’s it. You don’t learn 11 until first grade.” The idea, she said, is to hold to set standards across the country so children learn the same material, not more.
Dr. Goldberg also reported on the improvements to the local school since the exchange program began. “To cut down on noise and distractions, we’d suggested a solid wall between preschool classrooms, which they now have. We’ve also been able to support them with manipulatives and other materials we’ve brought down. And they now have locks on the classroom cabinets and also on the schoolhouse doors, because theft was a problem.” Perhaps most importantly, the NHLSCP has been able to provide salaries and/or stipends for eight teachers and assistants in both the school and after-school programs.
“These teachers make such great sacrifices to be teaching despite immense challenges they face,” says Dr. Goldberg. “Their passion for what they do is very evident.”
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