On Thursday, July 14, 2022, our group was able to visit the Escuela Oficial Urbana Mixta 15 de Septiembre de 1821 JV Barrio Chocruz, San Antonio Palopo. That’s a mouthful! In other words, we toured the elementary school in San Antonio. The principal, Erwin Ixmucane Coxolca Tohom, gave us an incredible tour and answered all of our questions.
This is a public elementary school that serves 330 students from grades Pre-K-6th grade. There is no private school in San Antonio, so this school serves all the children in the area. The school day starts at 7:30 AM for the Pre-K through 6th grade students. They are finally back to school in person, but they are still required to wear masks while at school. Many schools in the Lake Atitlan region require their students to wear uniforms. In San Antonio, the children do not have to wear uniforms; they are expensive and school officials decided that they didn’t want to cause families any undue financial hardship by requiring them.
There are 19 teachers in the building that serve the 330 students. One classroom was created by eliminating the computer lab. A large Kindergarten classroom had a wall built down the middle to create 2 smaller rooms. A large 6th grade classroom held 2 classes and 2 teachers, each teacher instructing from opposite sides of the room. The auditorium was also being used as a classroom space. The school was rebuilt in 2019 after being destroyed in a devastating mudslide in 2009. Even though the building is new, it is already struggling to accommodate all of the students. Erwin has been reaching out to the city officials in San Antonio to see if another level can be added to the top of the building. Unfortunately, the structural engineers believe that the building cannot support an additional level.
Land is sold in small parcels in Guatemala, and the land for the school was no different. The building itself takes up the entire lot. In order to have gym class, the students walk to a nearby soccer field. The government pays the rental fees for the soccer field 5 days a week, but it is shared between the elementary and middle school. They gym teacher is also shared between the two schools. The children do not have a recess space available. Erwin has proposed adding a railing and a roof to the top level of the building. He believes that if he can’t add extra classrooms to the upper floor, then he can at least turn it into a recreational space for the students.
Handwashing & Water
When the school was built there was one bathroom installed on the second floor. This is also the only place where students can wash their hands. Erwin would like to install handwashing stations on each floor of the building for easier access to students. Can you imagine doing an art project in your classroom on the 3rd floor and having to walk downstairs to wash your hands? It would be inconvenient and messy. It would also be easier to supervise the younger students if they have a handwashing station down the hall on the first floor instead of upstairs. There is also no drinkable water at the school. Students have to bring their own water from home. They used to have water filters in each classroom, but the filters are too old and need to be replaced.
The school recently received a large donation of iPads. Erwin, the teachers, and the students were incredibly excited about having more technology available. They quickly found that the internet bandwidth could not support all of the devices. Right now, each classroom has a TV and each teacher has a computer. The TV screens can be used to play instructional videos or to show electronic presentations. Running one TV and one computer per classroom reaches the maximum available bandwidth. This is an issue with city infrastructure. The topography of the region makes it difficult to put up towers or run cables to receive better internet access. Even the phones in our group only got 3G signal, if we were able to get a signal at all. This is another issue that Erwin is working with city officials to solve. Erwin would also like to add better locks to the doors and bars over the windows of the rooms that are storing technology.
The school received 50 q (Quetzales) per student per year from the government to purchase supplies for students. This is around $7 USD. Any additional supplies much be funded by the parents. The government also provides 20 q ($3 USD) per student per year for things pertaining to health. This would include soap, hand sanitizer, and other similar items.
Parents are asked to pay 40 q ($6 USD) per student per year for building maintenance. This pays for electricity, paint touch-ups, cleaning, and other building maintenance. Parents may also be asked to contribute 1-2 q per student for special activities during the year, usually adding up to around 20 q ($3 USD) per family.
Do you remember those TVs in each classroom? Well, the teachers pay for the internet when those TVs are in use.
Schools do not provide meals in Guatemala. Parents must provide all of the food for their children. We found it interesting in San Antonio that all the snacks brought to school must be home made. They do not allow store-bought snacks. Snacks from the store, much like in the US, are full of sugar. They are unhealthy even though they are cheap. For example, a bag of Lay’s chips cost 2 q (a little over 25 cents). School lets out for the day at 12:30 PM, so most students arrive home to a prepared lunch.
While we were able to tour the elementary school, we learned a little bit about the middle school in San Antonio. Middle school is the highest level of education served in the area. If students want to attend high school, they must travel to San Lucas Toliman or Panajachel (about a 1 hour drive). Middle school is in session from 1:30 PM-6PM at a separate building.
The elementary school just launched a fundraising campaign on July 11, 2022 to fund the necessary improvements to the elementary school. The initial quote includes adding rails and roofing to the top floor for the recreational area, locks for doors and bars for windows to secure technology, paint for the whole building, and handwashing stations. The initial quote is 36,000 q (around $5,200 USD). They have been able to raise enough funds from the families to paint the building, and they will be painting in August.
We are launching a campaign to help raise the funds needed to complete the improvement projects. In addition, we would like to provide funds to purchase water filters and new books, which are not included in the quote. Our goal is to raise $6,000 by the end of October to assist the San Antonio elementary school. The school year ends in October and work could be completed during the 2-month break. Please consider helping these students as they work towards attaining their educational goals and raising themselves out of poverty. Donate here.