I recently started volunteering with one of the Manna Project’s partners, Chaupitena. Chaupitena is a local public school in the Chillos Valley for K-12 children. At Chaupitena, I serve as a teaching assistant for two English classes. Working in an underserved school has helped me realize the desperate need for stronger English skills in Ecuador and how valued I am as a native speaker.
My first class is grade 4B, which is mainly eight and nine-year-olds. Since the school has limited capacity for students and teachers, the children attend classes during the morning and the high-schoolers go to school in the afternoon. The kids have a lot of energy, but they’re eager to learn English. They love deducing English words that are similar in Spanish and shouting out the pronunciations of new vocabulary. The class gets sad when I tell them that I can’t be with them every day.
During the afternoon, I assist with 2B. The 2B class is in the second year of bachillerato, or high school. They are between sixteen – eighteen-years-old. Working with the 2B class has been one of my greatest challenges in Ecuador, but I also expect it to be my most enriching experience. As a white gringa in a low-income public school, I face pointing, stares, and laughs. I’m the minority for the first time in my life. The students in the class aren’t opposed to my presence, but they also haven’t been disciplined or learned the respect expected of students in the United States. Sometimes their teachers set the example of arriving late and leaving or canceling class without an explanation, so it’s understandable why they sometimes don’t seem to take learning seriously. However, even when they are occasionally rude to me, I see them looking at me with curiosity. I’m determined to earn their respect.
The last two classes I have assisted with involved speaking expositions. The students had to give an oral presentation summarizing an article they had read in English. It was immediately clear that the students had never been taught presentation skills in their lives. As they stumbled upon English words, they took long pauses staring at the ceiling, nervously shifted their feet back and forth, and attempted to cheat looking at their notes behind their backs. It was extremely difficult to make out what they were saying in English, and the majority of the words I did understand were pronounced as if being said in Spanish. I took notes of the poorly pronounced words and made the class repeat them.
Volunteering at Chaupitena is tough, but it’s a window into the reality of the struggling public school system in Ecuador. I feel empathy for the teens in my 2B class knowing that they will be graduating soon and going out into the world with such a lacking education in English. I can’t resolve their English level to where it needed to be years ago, but I can possibly inspire their curiosity and awareness of how studying English could help them have better opportunities. I’m up for the challenge.