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Back in the 90’s, Irma García’s father served as a mason during the construction of Common Hope’s Antigua site. Little did he know that more than ten years later, his daughter would be a high school graduate, a winner of a competitive university scholarship, and a teacher at a local NGO.
Irma García, 21, graduated from high school in 2008 with a degree in teaching. Now, she is studying pedagogy with a competitive university scholarship from Common Hope. In her second year, Irma is very motivated by the scholarship program. “We have to report our grades and keep our average up,” she says. “They are expecting more from us as students, and that helps show us that we can do it.”
In addition to attending university, Irma works as a preschool teacher for an organization called Let’s Be Ready. Founded by Fred Zambroski, a former Common Hope volunteer, Let’s Be Ready promotes interactive preschool curriculum that prepares children for first grade. Before the organization opened its school in Hermano Pedro, the village had no pre-school, and children still must walk down to the neighboring village of Santa Ana to attend elementary school.
Irma learned about Let’s Be Ready through the university scholarship program. Students must complete a certain number of volunteer hours, and because of Irma’s training as a teacher, Let’s Be Ready seemed like the best fit. After volunteering for a time, she was offered a permanent position as a teacher.
At the end of a recent school day, Irma sat down with Guatemala Communications Coordinator Caroline McGee to talk about school, her work, and the importance of early childhood education.
Why is early stimulation important for children before they enter 1st grade?
Just like you have to take care of and water a growing plant, it’s the same with young kids. [Kids] are like sponges — you have to start exercising their motor skills and socialize them from an early age. We try to awaken their imagination so that once they are in primary school they talk more and have their own opinions about things.
What made you want to be a teacher?
My mom always motivated me — I think she always wanted to see one of her children become a teacher. When I was younger I would play with my cousins and I would always play the part of the teacher. I also like the idea of being able to help the community.
What plans do you have for the future (after graduating from college)?
I have always dreamt of being able to direct a school or an organization that works [to promote] education.
Tell me about the work you do in the community to get support for the pre-school.
The community gives a lot of support to the program. I try to involve the parents and community leaders. The community leaders helped build cubbies for storage space, and they helped us fix the roof and the floor. The parents help collect donations. They found us some first aid kits for the classroom. They all collaborate a lot with the activities.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a teacher?
The biggest challenges come from the parents. Many parents think that just because the school is small and new that it’s not as good as other schools. That’s why I try to include them [in activities], to show them how we work. Another problem is that the parents are sometimes very closed — they are used to kids waiting to enter school until they are seven years old. We have to show them that it’s better to get them in school at an earlier age.