If you want to see a little slice of what heaven on earth is like, let me invite you to explore Santiago, Atitlan and especially, a little school called Puerta Abierta, or Open Door.
Puerta Abierta’s mission is to empower children to use creativity, critical thinking and literacy to become innovative problem solvers. Through developing their individual talents and confidence, they prepare students to become future agents of change and leaders in the community. The director of the school, former Peace Corps volunteer Amanda Flayer, has incorporated Waldorf and Montessori philosophies into the Guatemalan context and has created a preschool that is one-of-a-kind. Puerta Abierta has cultivated skilled teachers who love their job and children who love learning, employing 6 local teachers and serving over 500 children, through their various projects.
David and I joined the 4-5 year old students for their English class. I read the beloved children’s book “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” and the children enthusiastically shouted out each colored animal as I turned the pages. Then David led a few songs such as “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” and “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.” From there, the Guatemalan teachers led the students in a craft associated with the English lesson and we moved on to the 3-4 year old class where David and I sang “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and the children taught us “La Araña Pequeñita.”
Puerta Abierta is not only a preschool, but also a library. Due to the lack of books in most local schools, they decided to start a mobile library. The biblioteca movil (traveling library) is funded by PEG and currently works with eight schools in the outlying neighborhoods of Santiago. The traveling librarian, Isaias, makes weekly visits to the participating classes. While children receive exposure to reading and interactive activities, classroom teachers gain training in how to incorporate literacy and critical thought training into their curriculum.
In addition to engaging students with a story hour, the traveling librarian also brings bags of books to leave in the classroom for the week. Classes receive a new set of books on a weekly basis, allowing students access to books in their classrooms and time to read them.
During the vacation months (October-December), the Traveling Library travels to community institutions such as the local health center, hospital, and park to explore the joy of reading with the community.
This past year, Puerta Abierta created a Teen Reading Group, a safe place where teenagers could come together once a week to discuss a book they were reading, socialize, and make new friends. The teen reading circle was Puerta Abierta’s first initiative to connect with an older audience and embrace a new demographic population in the community. Teens in the group have developed skills to think critically about the literature they are discussing and simply to enjoy reading for pleasure, which is extremely rare in Guatemala.
Last year, the group requested funds to purchase 10 Kindles so that each teen would be able to take home and read downloaded books shared with the group. This use of technology seemed like a logical next step and PEG agreed to fund it. On this trip, David and I brought 5 more used Kindles that had been donated by friends at Mars Hill College and in Wisconsin.
Perhaps the most far-reaching work that Puerta Abierta is doing, though, is teacher training. This year, with the help of PEG and the Sparks Foundation, Puerta Abierta was able to hire a teacher part-time to create curriculum for professional development. Ellen is working to create curriculum and leading monthly training workshops to support teachers in the area. After the trainings, Amanda visits classrooms to observe the teachers and offer further support, ideas, and encouragement.
It is a privilege to work with such bright and dedicated people here, and to see the ripples that this work can throw. Thank you for being a part of it.