Well the kids and I (Jacquie) have started our days back at Pinguinos this week. I’m not sure if I have ever done a good job of explaining this place where the kids are learning/playing and I am volunteering. Pinguinos (aka Penguins) is an alternative/holistic school for children ages 18 mos. thru grade 5 which is a part of a Integral Community Development Center run by an organization called Yirtrak. (Read that again and hopefully it can make some sense.) The school is quite multicultural and strives to have kids from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds learn together in efforts to bring equality and peace in a unjust society. This is done in part through the financial support of madrinos/padrinos whose contributions allow for scholarships to be given to about 12-15 of the 55 (or so) students. The school is open 8 hours each weekday which is very rare in San Cristobal and allows single mothers/families to have a good and loving environment to bring their children and still work to support their families. The teachers and workers themselves are also quite diverse coming from Mexico, Spain, France, Italy etc. and bringing with them lots of good innovation and experience in education and in what Pinguinos calls “Playful Training Methodologies.” In the 7 years since the school started they have developed their own curriculum gleaning ideas from other alternative schools such as Waldorf, Montessori, etc. This developing curriculum guides their formats, teachings and evaluations as they seek to develop the whole child. Words which seem foundational to their philosophy include: Love and Respect (of Diversity), Freedom, Culture of Peace, and Gender Equality, Sustainability and as a whole the community practices and desires to teach the children principles of Permaculture (follow link to learn more). While Pinguinos is the key to the Community Center the organization does and continues to look for ways to provide holistic development for all the families and workers/volunteers and others who want to be involved through workshops and community events and also provides extra support and programs for the mothers/families in vulnerable situations whose children attend the school. The desires and dreams of the school/community are lofty and like any place ideas are not always lived out perfectly, but as I have said many a time … it is a very good place for us to be.
So that is my more formal introduction….but what is it like to be at Pinguinos on a daily basis? And what have I been doing at the school as a volunteer? Well words that first come to mind from a Canadian MCCer perceptive are: organic, alternative, loving, simple, fun, resourceful, creative, spiritual (perhaps more on this at another time) and challenging (after all this is a new community where for the most part Spanish is spoken).
We as a threesome are always warmly welcomed with many buenas dias, como estan? and kisses and hugs to go with these greeting words when we come each day at 9 am. The day starts off sometimes as an entire community in a circular assembly or other times just in the kids individual classes with a time of singing songs, talking about how the children are feeling and welcoming each child by name. Ezra and Hilary’s classes both also have a simple “breakfast” time and a fruit time throughout their day which goes until 2 pm. Other times in their days may include story telling, crafts, yoga, physical education, kitchen workshop, playing with games, dance, regletas (a way to play and introduce math concepts), cleaning their class, working in the garden, and yes free time to just run, play and swing!
One of the methodologies at the school is to revolve some of their daily activities around a certain project for several weeks at a time. For example last year Ezra’s class studied both Birds and then Animals of
the Sea which meant that many of the stories times and crafts included something related to this underlying topic. Ezra also has homework some weekends – this weekend we need to decorate his own hanger to hang up this belongings! While Hilary happens to be in Ezra’s preescholar class of 15 students (ages 3-6) for the next six weeks she typically is in her maternal class (ages 18 mos. to 3 years) with about 6-10 little ones which she attends the days I am volunteering. Her activities are somewhat similar but also simpler and include time for more basic life skills We have been blessed as their teachers Claris, Ester, Pilar, Marie and others demonstrate incredible love, patience, care and creativity in working with them individually and in their groups.
While both of the kids are understanding most of the Spanish in their classes speaking in Spanish whether that is in play or in response to a teachers questions still is not very easy.
You can maybe see from some of the pictures that the school really tries to make good use of the materials they have whether that’s shown through the building structures or just in the more simple supplies the teachers have in their classrooms.
When Rick’s brother Trace (a teacher in Canada) visited this past July he commented that its amazing how teachers can really do a good job of teaching even without so many more up to date supplies and technologies but perhaps needing at times a bit more creativity (at least that is how I recall his general statement). Then again I would also add that it definitely seems the children here in Mexico are much less accustomed to being stimulated at the pace and with the diversity that occurs back in Canada.
In regards to my involvement – as a part time volunteer I am going to the school roughly three mornings a week (9-2) and while my job description focuses on administrative help I have appreciated the openness by MCC and Pinguinos to adjust, learn, observe and grow into my roll. Last year I was helping to develop a new administrative plan and I also did a variety of tasks to help organize spaces in the school, prepare report cards, care for children and build relationships with other workers/parents. While last week we helped clean and paint the school these next weeks I am working on organizing the small schools library while also building relationships with other member of the team (a group of about 20) and helping the kids adjust to being back at school. I am thankful that slowly my conversations in Spanish come a bit more easily (ugh still so much more to learn) and I’m learning to be more bold in connecting with others and be proactive in finding my place within the team of workers. Again, the work I am doing is not lofty, but I am thankful for a good place to serve, learn together, build relationships, and care for children in a educational place which is striving to create a greater sense of peace and justice.
So there you go … perhaps a bit too wordy but I wanted to try to provide a good picture of our days at Pinguinos.