Ciudad Dario, Nicaragua, June 21st, 2010
The first day in Dario, Narly (the principal) took us on a wandering and often interrupted tour of the Dario Christian Academy, where we would work the rest of the week. There are several building on campus, though the campus itself is separated into two distinct pieces: the K-6 section and the 7-10 section. School in Nicaragua only goes until 11th grade. This school, however, will not have an 11th grade class until next year.
The grounds of the school are beautiful. Narly told us about how her husband worked to make the place lush, green and beautiful to contrast to the other schools in town which are buildings surrounded by cement. At this school, the spaces between the buildings are planted with banana and papaya trees, there are coconut trees lining the driveway in and the walk way between the elementary and secondary schools is flanked by wild flower gardens hung with butterflies. There’s even a nursery on campus and it’s clear that the students are also involved in the planting and maintenance.
During their first recess, Narly told us about one of the Nicaraguan school traditions – the buying of snacks. Several staff members rolled out a cart of dried fruit and rice and bean filled tortillas and the students flocked around to buy them. She said, when the school began, they did not offer snacks and the parents were outraged. They said, “It’s not school unless they can buy snacks at recess!”. Narly says that is also served as a way to get these kids some good food. School here starts at 7 AM and most kids don’t eat breakfast outside of white bread and coffee (yes, kids on coffee) so they’re ravenous by the time they hit recess.
After recess, the weather was beautiful so there was an assembly led by the music teacher and the primary classes in which various groups of primary students led the rest of the school in song. Narly mentioned that they are hoping to someday have an covered auditorium (she showed us a proposed design in the library) so that they do not have to schedule their whole school meeting time based on the weather. As it was, the leaders of this assembly stood on the porch of the primary building and the rest of the school gathered in lines extending out into the play yard. The little kids were adorable and the students watching were…kids. We got a kick out of watching the boys horse around at the end of their lines. Boys everywhere are continue to be boys. It’s refreshing.
During our tour we also looked in on classes as they were happening, viewed the computer lab, the library (oh, what a meager library!) and the art room. Though there is a music teacher, he appears to share the art room with the art teacher when he’ s not rehearsing small groups in the computer lab (the only place on campus with air conditioning), holding band practice in the library or marching band practice out on the field.
In all honesty, this place is overwhelming. The beauty of the location is particularly distracting to me because I am struck again and again by the pride evident in the care given to the grounds. This is an incredible gift to the students but also something I realize is lacking in my own school and I find myself wondering how I might take a piece of that idea and apply it to where I work. Would that make a difference for my students? Would it make a difference for me?
The beauty of the grounds – and lovely classrooms with colorful tile floors and more than triple the number of windows of my classroom made of 1980s dirt brown brick – is a distracting from what the school is lacking. Honestly, it was not what I expected a poor, rural, third world school to look like. The “what does poor look like” could be an interesting discussion to approach with my students, though I’d have to think carefully about how to structure it. The school has a bare bones library, the teachers have very few supplies beyond paper and discarded curriculum and even the desks and tables seem to be cobbled together from someone else’s cast off supplies.
So far, I have no idea what any of this means, in terms of what I have to offer or what I’ve come to learn. I find myself returning to the Julio’s butterfly garden, an oasis of buoyant ambition in the center of such a struggling place. It’s beautiful. Is it possible that something so vibrant and delicate and so needful of constant watering – this area of Nicaragua has a devastating dry season – might make a lasting difference?
Yes, I know there’s a metaphor in there somewhere.