as part of the 13th-anniversary celebrations, we held three memorable dialogues, having, as guests, some of the beautiful people that had crucial roles in building this wonderful project.
Last Saturday, February the 22nd, took place the Harvest Festival, a cultural activity where a good bit of the San Marcos La Laguna’s community and the tourist’s population gather to enjoy a journey packed with music, culture, and fun times. Our staff had the chore of welcoming all the attendants and receiving the donations at […]
The Mayan Solar New Year, Waqxaquí Toj, was celebrated with a Mayan Ceremony, where every student delivered an offering according to their very own Nahual. All the teachers and students were part of this celebration in which the teachers guided a small but very significative ceremony. When the ceremony ended, everyone enjoyed the local tradition […]
Escuela Caracol keeps a symbiotic relationship with its community, this supportive network has made many of the current achievements possible.
In August of 2018, Hellen Dorff came along with her husband and daughters to visit our school. They brought a huge box of delicious fruit for our students and spent a few minutes walking the gardens and chatting with some of the school’s staff and teachers.
A connection was naturally built; Hellen, a Waldorf teacher back in Germany, felt identified with Escuela Caracol’s mission. Soon after the visit, Hellen sent the link to an article she published at a local newspaper where she mentioned her experience in Escuela Caracol. A few weeks later, she organized a fundraiser with her community on behalf of Escuela Caracol, they gathered enough funds to donate a whole set of classroom chairs and desks to be used in our new building.
During November’s last week, a representative of Hellen came to San Marcos la Laguna. He was Max Hesse, Hellen’s cousin and owner of the workshop where the donated desks and chairs were constructed. On that beautiful morning, Max came along with his family to deliver a wonderful and priceless donation, desks and chairs to be used in our new classroom.
Families, like the Dorff’s, are one of the main pillars of our community, and thanks to kind donations like this, Escuela Caracol can continue nurturing heads, hearts, and hands of Mayan children from the western region of Lake Atitlan within an environment of dignity, love, and respect.
If you, like Hellen and her family, are interested in becoming part of our community and support Escuela Caracol, follow the link below and donate now.
At 7:30 a.m. we start arriving: the teachers, that is. Maribel, Angelina, and Sandra, my colleagues in Escuela Caracol’s preprimary school, walk down from Barrio #1 and I arrive on bicycle from the neighboring town of Tzununa. Sandra and I begin the day in our open-air classroom sweeping out whatever leaves and dust have blown in during the night. The sounds of birdcalls and carpentry are our background noise. At 8:15 the school’s front door opens and the children start to trickle in. The kindergarteners have the longest walk, to the back corner of our school where our two kindergarten classrooms are nestled under matasano and jacaranda trees.
The first ones to arrive help us to set up the benches, wipe the tables down, and prepare fruit for our snack. Once all the children have arrived and class has begun at 8:30, we set out for a short walk around the school grounds. The first stop is our chicken house, where we leave our hens with fresh water, corn, and perhaps some fruit that we did not finish the day before. From there, we explore the gardens, say hello to the administrative staff in the office, or take in the primary school’s vegetable beds. On our way back to the classroom we stop at the stone spiral to sing our morning ronda, or circle. Our class is taught in Spanish, but during the ronda we are able to introduce the children to the sounds of English and Kaq’chikel (the local Maya language of our area) through songs and verses. Back in class it is storytime, drawing time, or watercolor time, depending on the day.
The stories we tell are simple nature tales or Grimm’s Brother’s fairy tales, depending on the group we have. For many of the children, it is the first time they hear a story told in such a manner. Stories like La Zanahoria ( The Carrot) or La Boda del Tio Perico, (Uncle Perico’s Wedding) which are short, repetitive, and silly are always favorites among all ages. When the puppets come out to accompany the stories, the children are thrilled! Once or twice a year, Sandra translates one of the simpler stories into Kaq’chikel and takes over the storytelling.
After storytime is free play. The children scatter into groups, some playing house with our dolls and cooking tortillas and eggs on the comal to sell or give to their classmates; others arranging the benches side-by-side to take trips across the lake in their lanchas. Castles and kingdoms are built on the floor from the large wooden blocks, entire worlds are created out of playsheets, flowers, and puppets. A few of the children get to be Sandra’s helpers, and go to the kitchen with her to prepare our daily snack. The children trickle into the kitchen during the first few minutes to snack on a piece of fruit, and then return to their play. Some help me indoors to wash the tables and benches of our class, to clean and sort the cotton that we harvested during our morning walks, or wash our class towels and sheets. When play time ends, we all clean up together, and then go to the pila to wash our hands and sit down for snack time.
Snack time in our class is, of course, based around wholesome, nutritious foods, but it is also based on the traditional foods of our Guatemalan highlands region. We eat tortillas, tamalitos, beans, queso fresco. We drink lemongrass tea from our garden or pinol, a warm cornmeal based drink. When snack is done, we say thank-you in three languages: Spanish, Kaq’chikel, and English. Then it is washing up time: most of the children help Sandra to wash, dry, and put our dishes away, while a few stay inside to help me clear the table, sweep the floor, and fill cups up with drinking water to use when brushing our teeth.
Once both the dishes and our teeth are clean, it is time to go play in our garden! The kids climb as high as they dare in the jocote trees, or use long caña sticks to knock ripe jocote fruits or achiote seed pods down from the trees. Others run around, walk across the balance beam, or search for ripe berries in the berry bramble. At the end of outdoor play, we all gather together again to sit in the shade of the jocote tree and sing our good-bye song, while the parents slowly arrive into our garden to take their children home. The morning is over, and the children leave with hugs and cries of “Adios seño!”
- Colleen Donovan, Lead Teacher, Kindergarten
A Day in the Life of the Waldorf Kindergarten was written by one of Escuela Caracol’s kindergarten teachers: Colleen Donovan. Colleen is from the United States, and has been living in Guatemala since 2008 and working in Escuela Caracol since 2012. She is enrolled in the Early Childhood Education program at Sunbridge Institute in New York. The other kindergarten teachers at Escuela Caracol are: Maribel Mendoza, Sandra Perez, and Angelina Quiacain and they are all from San Marcos la Laguna, a highlands town on Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. Maribel Mendoza graduated from the Waldorf Early Childhood Education program in Cuernavaca, Mexico in 2014 and is the first indigenous Maya to earn Waldorf teaching certification. Sandra Perez is also working towards completing her certification through the Cuernavaca program.
(in photo from left to right: Colleen Donovan, Maribel Mendoza, Angelina Quiacaín and Sandra Pérez)
About Escuela Caracol:
In a country still recovering from a 36 yearlong civil war that ended less than two decades ago, there is a great need for our healing and comprehensive educational community. Our commitment to building intercultural solidarity is serving an increasing number of families in the Lake Atitlan region of Guatemala and is becoming a solid model of empowerment for the marginalized people in Central America.
Escuela Caracol was founded in 2007 by two Americans, Joshua and Courtney Wilson, in an area that has been inhabited by indigenous Maya for thousands of years. It is one of the poorest regions in Guatemala, with 80% living in poverty, 25% in extreme poverty and only 62% of the children making it to grade 6. Only 8.5% of Guatemalan youth pursue university education, and for women it is LESS than 1%.
Waldorf education is a natural fit for this Guatemalan community where we teach children from Kindergarten through Grade 6 with a pedagogy that sprang from the intention of renewal in Europe following World War I. Based on the fundamental principles: freedom, equality and solidarity, creative expression, practical work, the natural environment and social harmony are part of each day at Caracol. Also local indigenous customs are celebrated and honored as a consistent inspiration for the emergence of a new culture. The children are motivated, confident and self-directed in their studies and in their relationships with their peers.
In a recent reflection about the founding impulse of Escuela Caracol Joshua Wilson offered that he and Courtney “were sociologists who studied the ills of modernization and global capitalism, and they longed for social justice and a thoroughgoing hope for a better world. We believed in the underlying goodness of the world, and we also saw a suffering world in need of healing. We desired to pass this on and plant a small seed of peace.” Joshua and Courtney are currently in the middle of a sabbatical year in California with two girls and new baby boy.
This year at Escuela Caracol, the combined 4th/5th grade class was made up of eight children, all from San Marcos and the neighboring villages of Lake Atitlán. Having the students come back each year bigger, healthier, and more curious than ever is testimony to their progress at Escuela Caracol.
In our first Math block we focused on fractions. First, we had a lot of hands-on activities to reinforce the concept of fractions. We moved on to manipulating fractions, expanding, reducing, and recognizing equivalent fractions.
Our second block focused on studying the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Mayan people. We took a field trip across the lake and up the mountain to visit the Grupo Cultural Sotz’il, a group of Kaq’chikel Mayan artists who interpret stories from their ancestors and perform them on stage to keep them alive. The children, inspired and in awe of what they saw, were eager to make masks and dance like the Sotz’il group. We wrote together and drew the stories of the Popol Vuh. Then we prepared our Class Play and presented it to the community.
In the second half of the year, the 4th and 5th graders at Escuela Caracol delved into Ancient History. They learned about the ancient civilizations of India, Persia, Mesopotamia and Egypt. As much as possible, they experienced these cultures through their senses and through rich images and stories. Drinking chai tea, drawing maps, building a Babylonian temple (Ziggurat) with clay bricks, and even getting wrapped with bed sheets as part of an imaginary mummification ceremony were some of the highlights. They started using fountain pens this year after making their own more “traditional” ones using bamboo. To conclude the year, the students experienced the study of Botany. They spent a lot of time outdoors observing the lush plant-life around them and the beautiful flowers which are in bloom at this time of the year (November-December).
This group of students relies on the support from our generous donors in the United States and Europe. Our costs are increasing and we’d like to make this opportunity available to more indigenous Mayan students. In order to do that we need your support! Sponsors are the heart of our school. Please consider sponsoring a child for $20/month for 2015 and ensure the continued opportunity for these beautiful children! In minutes you can make this gift a reality through by clicking here if you are living in the U.S., or clicking here if you are in Europe. Or you can make a one time gift of any amount. We are still in need of $13,000 to get through 2014. Thank you for your generous support!
The realization of this documentary comes at a defining moment in the history of Escuela Caracol. Joshua and Courtney Wilson, after founding and directing this project for seven years, left on sabbatical back to the United States. A new organizational structure with solid leadership in pedagogy, administration and development was implemented in 2014 and Escuela Caracol began the next phase of functional autonomy. Like an adolescent child stepping out on their own. To reflect on the past seven years and identify the extent of impact that has been made Neah Bay Douglas, Director of Development approached one of our teachers, Karla Olmedo, about beginning a project of social and educational research at Escuela Caracol. A systematization of experiences, with the opportunity to open the conversation to all members of the educational community to reflect on their own practices, achievements and the challenges they face. Ms. Olmedo accepted and has led a very in-depth research project that enumerates the high impact of the intercultural educational experiences happening among the Escuela Caracol community.
The systematization of experiences
The systematization of experiences is a process of self-knowledge, reflection and critical interpretation from and about the practice, which is based on the reconstruction and management of objective and subjective factors involved in that experience.
The utilities that are found in systematization research are varied and include:
- educators critically observe their own practice;
- formulating lessons that are focused on improving practices;
- contributions of critical dialogue between all participants of the educational process;
- conceptualizing and theorizing;
- a collaborative effort to define educational policies, etc.
An educational institution can build a collective thought that is highly enriched by the contributions of the systematization that are made about their experiences, thereby strengthening the institutional work and boosting the personal work among the team of educators.
In a systematization of experiences, we systematize our own practice
From this perspective, it is considered that social phenomena are historical, changing and contradictory and are a synthesis of multiple structural and cyclical factors and determinations; It is a concept that links theory and practice and does not separate object from subject knowledge.
The teachers are objects and subjects of knowledge and transformation. Our daily practice is replete with rich lessons to be learned and a continual evolution of self if the conditions are right to do so. Of course that runs the risk of making reflections uncritical and even justifying our work, but that is why we need a methodology that allows us to “objectify” and take a critical distance from our own experiences, without trying to override the richness of them.
The systematization of Escuela Caracol
The first systematization exercise consisted in gathering the stories of teachers, staff, and families representing each group. At this early stage a diagram showed us a very enlightening picture about the experience of Escuela Caracol for those who participate in it. Here we find that the central category of this diagram is “Intercultural Waldorf School”, anchored to the community of San Marcos La Laguna, and also the following subcategories emerged: Achievements, Challenges and Future Vision.
This initial exercise also made us aware of the need that the school has to give more weight to the voices of families in order to further understand the meaning of their participation in our educational community. Since one aspect to consider is the strengthening of community networks we had the idea of hosting the ‘Café Caracol’ based on the ‘World Café’ methodology. This community event significantly expanded the participation of the community of mothers and fathers in our process of systematization of experiences, and their voices were felt more deeply in our process of self-knowledge.
Although the systematization of experiences is a process that is continuing to run its course (which will culminate in additional materials that report the research findings), our team identified that at this intermediate point there was a need to create something to illustrate the path we walk collectively. Therefore we decided to create a short documentary, a perfect end to this first stage of research, an authentic presentation of our deepening reflection and impactful practice as an educational community.
For months we worked on developing a screenplay based on the categories and dimensions identified from the stories and interviews and from Café Caracol. During this time we found that we needed to appropriate the concept of interculturalism, one of the key concepts resulting from this methodological observation. Our project focuses on the concept “Intercultural Waldorf School”, and it is these same concepts that give us authenticity and relevance in this community. At Escuela Caracol the implementation of Waldorf pedagogy has a strong foundation with our teachers working towards certification and receiving continuous support from our Waldorf pedagogical director, Gloria Elena Londoño, but we wanted interculturality to be understood more deeply by all. To build a stronger understanding of interculturality in education, Genaro Vásquez came from Mexico to give a workshop aimed at members of our educational community, and open to other professionals in San Marcos La Laguna, Lake Atitlan and Guatemala. In this activity we identified how we approach and integrate this concept into our practice and how we will continue to address this part of our identity with conviction.
Jose Arteaga, a professional documentarian from Mexico, and Karla Olmedo filmed the documentary in November with active participation from school staff and families. It was an immense joy to see the cohesion of all the efforts of many months. During recording, besides being able to speak a common language, we were also able to express it effectively to the international community.
The process of systematization of experiences will continue because we truly believe this project is a seed for the education of children around the world. We believe in our work and the benefits we will provide by modeling the intercultural educational experience. Our dream is that something similar can be replicated in many communities around the world. A better world is possible, and we are the living example of this possibility.
We are so grateful for the support of our teachers, the students and families, our administration, Genero Vásquez, Jose Arteaga, and all of our fiscal sponsors. We are especially thankful for Joshua and Courtney Wilson for having the vision for Escuela Caracol and dedicating themselves so passionately for so many years.
To continue this opportunity in one of the poorest regions of Guatemala where 80% live in poverty we rely on support from sponsors throughout the world. Our fiscal stability depends on the continued support of these generous sponsors. Please consider becoming a sponsor of the Maya Student Fund to ensure that this dream is accessible. Donations can be made easily through our U.S. nonprofit sponsor at this link.
Please consider sharing this documentary with friends and family through email and facebook.
Here is a glimpse into Andrea Arrivillaga Hurtado’s Grades 2, 3 classroom, where most of the students rely on help from sponsors:
The 2014 school year was wonderful! We started the year with 19 children, a group that was very happy to see each other again, eager to learn, work, sing and play. Our first block of study was a language arts block using classic fables and form drawing. At the end of the first block we performed a class play “The Wake of Uncle Tiger”, from the oral tradition of South America. While the children memorized the play we also worked with the written language. The children enjoyed a lot throughout the creation of this play, it was very fun and rewarding!
Over the summer we had another exciting block we worked hard on: money. We took a field trip to the Nature Reserve across the lake in Panajachel (for some students it was their first time ever leaving their home village) where we brought math problems to life in our experiences and worked with real money. The last week of classes before the “mid-year break” we had a very enriching visit with volunteers from the Emerson Waldorf School in North Carolina, U.S.. These high school students led our children in numerous fun and artistic workshops and they also spent time painting and building new infrastructure at the school. It was a very big year with much learned in language arts, math, music and art.
Another school year has passed, and as is tradition, our whole educational community came to Escuela Caracol to celebrate the closing ceremony. This year we had some surprises that resulted in the best closure of these past 7 years.
The event began with an exhibition of the work of students that served as a reception for the families. After this time of delight and socializing we joined together at our beautiful palapa.
Children from every grade level, from the youngest in kindergarten through our seniors in sixth, showed some of the skills they have learned during the school year. As you would expect in a Waldorf school, the event was clearly marked by the presence of art, rhythm and creativity.
Following the presentation of each grade we premiered a recently shot documentary of Escuela Caracol, directed by Jose Arteaga, colleague of teacher Karla Olmedo. A much-anticipated work of art illustrating the findings of an intercultural research project that Ms. Olmedo has been leading over the last half of this year in the Escuela Caracol community. This systematization of experiences among our community, in addition to identifying our collective voice (through events like Cafe Caracol), has resulted in this documentary that is of impeccable quality and faithfully reflects our social impact in this kaqchikel community of Lake Atitlan. Soon we will share the final edition on our YouTube channel.
In closing to our end of the year ceremony, the magician D’Mond offered a fun show of magic and humor that delighted our children. Our ceremony, full of life, magic, art and fun, was the reflection of a memorable year for us all. Now comes the deserved vacation time, which will provide a time for renewal and preparation for a collective success in the next seven-year cycle beginning in January 2015. Thanks for supporting us throughout 2014!
On Sunday the 16th of November the Theatre Group of Escuela Caracol, composed of mothers, fathers and members of the school team, and directed by teacher Andrea Arrivillaga, represented Escuela Caracol in the comedy Ropa de Teatro (Theater Clothing), written by Laureate Guatemalan playwright Manuel Galich.
After two months of rehearsals and preparations of scenery and clothing, the actors and actresses treated us to a fun Sunday afternoon. The event, in addition to promoting art and culture in our community, served to raise funds for our school.
Given the success of community participation and the quality of the play, we are confident that we will soon be announcing a new production by our theater group. 2015 will certainly be a school year full of cultural events in Escuela Caracol!