Scarlett teaches elementary school in the Dominican Republic. This World Teachers' Day, see how we are working with teachers like Scarlett to help new first-grade students be successful at reading … by doing something that hadn’t been done before.
This past summer, World Vision’s USAID Read project staff asked Scarlett Gómez, a Dominican public school teacher, to do something really challenging. We asked her to give up part of her summer vacation to volunteer at a Summer Club that would help students transition smoothly into first grade and stay on track in literacy.
Why is that such a big request? Other than the fact that summer vacations are regarded as sacred by all teachers around the world, there are two key challenges in the Dominican educational context.
First of all, many students are not reading at grade level according to our project partner, the Ibero-American University (UNIBE). In fact, the project’s baseline report revealed low decoding skills with children reading an average of just 8.76 words per minute. Children’s level of reading comprehension was also very low at just 20%. UNIBE seeks to address this problem through a 5-year project that aims to improve the reading and writing skills of 200,000 elementary grade students in 600 schools located along the Dominican Republic’s Duarte Corridor.
But there’s a second challenge in Dominican education as well. The communities that host these schools do not have conducive learning environments and support for these children. Only 30% of parents and guardians could recall a specific community-based resource that could help struggling students. Even more sadly, only 2% of parents and guardians noted the existence of a library in their community. In partnership with UNIBE, World Vision is working to create supportive learning environments and support mechanisms in 200 of the project’s schools.
One of the main ways in which World Vision has been working toward such increased community support has been through Summer Clubs. Since there are little to no preschool options, the transition of students from home to a 1st grade classroom can be difficult. So World Vision worked with schools to identify incoming students, find conducive summer facilities, and recruit volunteers like Scarlett to facilitate the clubs.
Since I had the opportunity to visit the USAID Read project last month, and with World Teachers' Day in mind, I took the opportunity to personally interview Scarlett and her school principal to find out what motivated such commitment to the teaching profession and to the project’s Summer Clubs they selflessly volunteered to lead.
Scarlett looked young. I thought she might have come to the teaching profession somewhat recently. But as I asked how she got her start in teaching, her answer surprised me. She became interested in education at an early age, then worked in private schooling for some years, and later transitioned to the current public school where she has taught for a few years. When I asked her what excited her about teaching, she responded:
“At the start of each day, I always say ‘one more day’ and at the end of the school day I say ‘one less day.’ When I finish, I thank God because each day is different.”
Scarlett spoke about the necessity of teachers to give effort, be committed, and work overtime.
“But why would you do that?” I asked.
“Because I know those are my children [metaphorically speaking], my friends’ children, my neighbors’ children. I fight for them with love. If I want to build a strong country, then I need to do that through what I can control, which is this school in which I teach.”
She later added that as a teacher “you have to be totally committed. If you assume that commitment, you can do it. And you must have a lot of love to do it well.”
It was at that point in the conversation that some of us started to tear up. Clearly, the passion and commitment of this young teacher struck some chords with the longer serving educators and development professionals sitting together in that library.
We later turned to discuss the Summer Club that Scarlett and her principal had so selflessly volunteered for. Scarlett rejoiced when her principal offered her the opportunity to participate. She wanted to personally work with these kids because it would better prepare them to come to her school even though she wouldn’t personally work with them until they reached 2nd grade. She stated that participating in this camp motivated her to continue as an even more committed teacher.
While all this was encouraging to hear on a personal level, there was one last question that I needed to ask. “This Summer Club only lasted for two weeks. How can we expect to see long-term impact from such a short program?”
The response encouraged everyone present. Scarlett and her principal explained that this Summer Club had involved parents from start to finish in a way that hadn’t been done before. And this, according to these educators, will surely demonstrate improved reading ability in these children.
Mike Greer is a Program Management Officer for Child Development & Protection at World Vision USA.
The Read project is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of World Vision, Inc. and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the Unites States Government.