Welcome back to school everyone!
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I’m delighted to share with you all that our 2019 school year is off to a very good start. This year we have 68 students, and we are excited to introduce our new preschool teacher, Profesora Belkis. We sure do miss our old preschool teacher, Profesora Pastora, but we are glad to see her achieving bigger dreams now teaching primary students in la escuela Las Flores.

Our students are very excited to prepare our 3rd annual Concierto de Amor y Paz for the end of September. Some have even asked to do an preliminary presentation in June! Stay tuned for updates because we are very eager to share more and more each year. Our feature song this year is already a hit!

We are still going strong with our school meal program. We have decided to call it Panza Llena Mente Abierta. This means “full belly, open mind” in Spanish. This year our goal is to hire an additional hand to help tend to a garden we are developing in the back of the school. We also hope to improve our kitchen by closing in the walls and moving our appliances to their designated location. The vision is to turn it into a soda (mini cafeteria) where the children can eat outside in order. The donations that were leftover from last year are keeping us up and running but we will be organizing a fundraiser again soon. Please stay tuned if you would like to contribute and or assist. We now have a PayPal account set up to receive monetary donations internationally at amigosdelaescuelasantamarta@gmail.com
All donations here will be reserved specifically for the school meal program until we develop additional projects. If you would like to leave a donation for a specific project, please add a note in the email. Feel free to contact me directly via email or WhatsApp as well: ktwiebke@gmail.com
+505 5820-0551

Our new plantains are almost ready to be planted out back as soon as our fence is securely fastened to keep out the cows. We are very eager to start producing our own food, particularly as the prices of basic staples continues to rise and the value of the cordoba continues to fall. The economic situation of Nicaragua is not getting any better, and we foresee a severe crisis on the horizon. Nevertheless, we have faith in our strength, endurance, and resilience in times of trouble.

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I’m getting really excited to develop this project into a bigger and better school garden. With everything going on in the country, food security is an essential practice. I love the idea of being able to use it as an educational tool as well. The area we live in is very rural, and the older generations know how to survive off of the land. But the introduction and ensuing rise of tourism and it’s association with capitalism have brought a paradigmatic shift in the way of life here in our region. Now children are studying more (which is excellent) and homes are developing as families are able to purchase things like refridgerators, telephones, and other simple appliances that make life simpler. This is largely a result of an economic shift from a rural, bartering society to a slightly more urban, monetary, tourism-based society. With the semi-new introduction of money flowing now as local employment increased over the past decade, for example, now we can buy our beans shelled and cleaned straight from the market in Rivas, when 30 years ago most folks grew their own. I think I will have to write an entire blog post dedicated to this topic later, but to conclude, food security is essential for survival.

Last but not least, I wanted to share with you all that this year I have designed my curriculum to focus on monthly learning goals. Each month has a vocabulary theme that will develop over several weeks, incorporating songs, games, group dynamics, and more. Also, each month will build off of the last. The theme for March is colors and classroom etiquette. February was focused on greetings and manners.

Looking forward to sharing more with you all again soon!

In the mean time, please follow us and give us a like on our Facebook page @Escuela Santa Marta for more frequent updates and videos. (I still haven’t figured out how to upload videos to the blog here, but it might not be possible from a cell phone….)

Thank you for checking out our page and for learning about what we do at Escuela Santa Marta!!

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Still Cooking Strong!

Hello again friends and neighbors from near and far! It is my utmost pleasure to report back to you amazing news about our school meal program. We made it through the crisis and are finishing the year strong!!

If you have been following our blog over the years, you may remember reading some of the earlier posts as we initiated and made progress on this ongoing school meal project. Originally starting as an outdoor cooking stove, we then added a roof shelter area, high-quantity cooking pots, serving dishes, a cement floor, a nicer dishwashing area, and best of all a full-time cook!


I am particularly proud of being able to employ our cook, Doña Elida, during these hard times Nicaragua is facing. Thank you to all of our donors who contributed! Unemployment has skyrocketed as the current political crisis has unfolded since April 2018. However, it is an honor to let you all know that our cook has maintained employment regardless and has been keeping our students fed on the daily. This job is all the more important for her, now more than ever, as she is now the sole income provider for her family.

So many Nicaraguans have been thrown back into the pit of poverty this year as the economy crashed and hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost. The newspapers regularly publish articles these days revealing the growing economic pitfall. The disappearance of cordobas from the banking system continues to rise as account holders withdraw more and more money. Businesses continue to close as the market continues to fall. Tourism numbers are dropping and incomes are suffering. So many mothers and fathers have lost jobs this year as a direct result of the socio-political crisis.

Nonetheless, with all of the faith and hope of above, Doña Elida has been able to work for the entire year.

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This would not be possible if it weren’t for the generosity we have received from our supporters in the community, both local and abroad. I would like to express a sincere and thorough thank you to all of the folks who have contributed to our school meal program to have made this possible. With your gracious contributions we have been able to keep our cook employed and provide our full year’s supply of food. We even had enough left over to cook a big meal for the end of year celebration. (The government usually sends food supplies every three months, but this year’s deliveries didn’t make it due to the roadblocks and the resulting economic crisis.)

As we finish out the year, I am talking with Doña Elida about how we can improve our program for next year. We are discussing organization, service, funding, and expansion. One little step we hope to improve next year is to reiterate the importance of discipline and manners at school. We want to make sure our students understand and practice good etiquette and respect, skills that will develop their character and one day set the backdrop for becoming young professionals. Hence, next year, please and thank you along with order and discipline in the lunch line will be equally necessary as a bowl and spoon.

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Another aspect we are hoping to improve for next year is funding. This year was tricky as we were faced with unforeseen costs due to the loss of our government-provided food supplies. The goal for next year is to fundraise an entire year’s budget and be prepared for the situation before we reinitiate classes again in February of 2019. If you are interested in collaborating or would like to contribute, please email me at ktwiebke@gmail.com. Stay tuned for more information as I work on an upcoming fundraising project.

And last but not least, we are also discussing some food security and sustainability projects. The dream goal is to start off garden behind the school that will supply additional food, especially natural and healthy vegetables! This is tricky, though, because of our severely dry season. We would need to hire and pay someone to irrigate. This would be creating another job for somebody in the community who is unemployed as a result of the crisis and would produce an extra food supply for student consumption. We are talking about planting what we call “chaguite”, or plantain, a daily staple of the Nicaraguan diet.

Despite the hardships we are already facing, in addition to the ominous issues to come with the looming socio-political crisis, we are very motivated and inspired to continue this project next year. Now more than ever, Nicaragua needs an extra hand. I cannot stress how important and appreciated it is to keep our kids fed. For some this is their only meal.

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Thank you so much to everyone who makes this possible. Extra special thanks to our donors who have provided the financial support for Doña Elida and our food. Thad, Michelle, Hayden, Rutciel, Gavin, Carl, Kimmy, Parker, Yasmil, Marie, Amanda, and everyone else who has helped – thank you!!

Día de la indígena

Día de la indígena is always a fun celebration at Escuela Santa Marta. Most North Americans know this “holiday” as Columbus Day, commemorating when Christopher Columbus “discovered” the Americas. However, in Nicaragua, where there was already a fully developed, pre-Colombian society, the idea that the Americas were “discovered” is not accepted. Instead, the arrival of Columbus to the Americas is associated with disease, destruction, and a full on clash of civilizations. It is interesting to read the social studies textbooks here because they portray a very different story of what happened 500 years ago. As a North American I find this fascinating, because it is very true that history books are written by the winners.

And so, since Nicaragua has had a large indigenous population which still maintains a (relatively) strong presence in society today, Columbus Day is actually commemorated as Native American Day, and seeks to celebrate the people and culture that has been struggling to survive over the years ever since the introduction of the Spanish colonists.

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In honor of our indigenous roots, students at Escuela Santa Marta dress up for the day in homemade costumes depicting the traditional dress of our ancestors. I decided to write about this because I am always so impressed with how creative they get with their costume designs, especially considering how little resources are available to use here. (We definitely don’t have any clothing or fabric shops anywhere close by….) I also find it very interesting that the indigenous culture is portrayed with so much pride here. I am from North Carolina in the United States, where there once upon a time was a large indigenous population prior to the near extinction of the people and their roots and traditions. We learn briefly in U.S. History courses about the Trail of Tears, when former President Andrew Jackson displaced thousand’s of Cherokee people leading to many deaths and a near cultural extinction. But, unfortunately, so much of our truly American roots have been lost in the obliteration of the indigenous culture. We don’t get to learn much anymore about the people who originally inhabited our lands. That’s why find it so important and impressive that the Nicaraguan curriculum makes such an effort to teach the roots and history of the Nicaraguan ancestors.

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In addition to the costume attire, our kids prepare traditional dishes at home to share together. Things we eat every day, like the tortilla, have been on the Nicaraguan menu for over a thousand years! Originally prepared by the people of Nicaragua during pre-Colombian times, tortillas are still shaped and grilled almost every morning in the typical Nicaraguan household. They even have a special word for the pan they are grilled on, a comal. This is a Nahuatl word, further demonstrating the indigenous roots. The only difference, though, is that now we can buy maseca (corn meal) in the stores, whereas the corn was traditionally ground on a stone piece with a stone roller.

One of my goals for next year is to take our students on a field trip to the museum in Rivas. It’s small and quaint, but it has some interesting displays with artifacts and ceramics demonstrating the traditions and lifestyle of how the indigenous Nicaraguans used to live. I think it is so important for our children to learn about their roots, and I am so inspired by the pride and value given to the history of Nicaragua.

Just one more thing to love about the people of Nicaragua…

If you are visiting the area, be sure to stop by the Museo de Rivas in between adventures for some interesting learning opportunities!

The Power of Music: Amor y Paz

Hola amigos! It is my most profound pleasure to report to you all that our second annual Concierto de Amor y Paz was a total success!! Thank you everyone for coming out to watch our kiddos show off their singing and dancing talents. I cannot tell you how proud I am of the dedication and focus they have shown with this project. I am biased of course, but all bias aside, they killed it!! These kids just melt my heart more and more each year.

Check out this amazing edit made by one of our proud and supportive parents, Tony Roberts:

The tradition started last year when we decided to perform a few of our favorite songs for the community. Pili’s Kitchen and the Beach Club graciously hosted us on the bar-side patio at what might just be the most stunning stage. This was an extra special treat for many of our students who, despite living so close, don’t get to visit the beach very often (if ever)… that’s incentive enough to put in the extra time and effort to prepare our first ever performance !!

Last year’s performance was such a success, leaving such a positive effect on the kiddos; it was a no-brainer that we had to continue the project. Aside from being a fun and whimsical, extra-curricular, beachside mini-excursion, this project enabled the kids to show an entire different side of themselves that I had never seen. They took such pride in themselves and their work, their confidence was beaming! The good vibes resonated in class for an entire month afterwards. I’m telling you, I had an entire new group of students.

This year was no different. In fact, the repeated positive effects on the students in and out of the classroom solidify my suspicions that this performance is an experience that benefits learning on so many levels. First of all, the students learn and practice new songs, which is great for language acquisition and memory skills. Second, they learn and practice discipline, a key component of learning that is, unfornately, too often lacking in the public school system here. (Teacher’s side note: basic classroom etiquette and life-learning skills such as following instructions or staying focused are otherwise non-existent in our typical education system here. That is why activities like this are so crucial for social and academic development of the students. I could nerd out on this topic for hours, but I will save that for another post.) And last but certainly not least, having a goal-oriented and fun, reward-based project to work on is exponentially conducive to the children’s motivation and pride. Like I said before, this concert brings me an entire new group of students afterwards. In a society where poverty is ubiquitous and the poor are oppressed, pride and success in an educational setting are meritious achievements.

This year was particularly special because of everything that is going on right now in Nicaragua. The country is facing some serious political and economic scenarios, and the repercussions have been felt very strongly. This year has been challenging as we push through these hardships. Nonetheless, in typical Nicaraguan resilience and style, we continue adelante and do the best we can with what we’ve got. (Side note: The people of Nicaragua are incredibly resilient and resourceful. I strongly encourage making friends with the locals while you are here, and you will have your mind blown. Such an inspiration…) As a North American, in all sincerity, I wasn’t sure if we were going to pull it off this year. But low and behold, this place just blows my mind time after time. Not only did we pull it off, but the kids did great!! We even choreographed a special dance for the finale! Make sure to watch the end of the video for the special performance!!

I believe that it is important to always strive towards improvement and growth. Since this was now our second go around with the concert, we had to kick it up a notch. So this year we made invitations to hand out and post around town! This was a great way for the kids to incorporate some of their language skills into real-world work on a project that means a lot to them. It also is a great way to subtly disguise a lesson about planning and communication. I am learning, too, and next year we hope to get the word out to a larger crowd to really grow our audience.

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In the mean time, we are all so impressed with the children’s efforts and results. This year’s special recognition goes to our new dance crew, Las Cinco Estrellas, who performed the special dance at the end of the show. Xia, Jarey, Yeslin, Kelly, and our token male, Gilson, often stayed after class to rehearse. Great job everyone !!

Oooh!! And how could I forget??? This year’s concert was introduced with a fantastic whale dance number out at sea!! Just as the first spectators were arriving, mid-dress rehearsal, a few of the kids began to gasp in awe of the phenomenon happening off in the distance. We’ve been practicing staying focused and concentrated, but this was a worthy distraction. Some whales (beluga, I think) we dancing not too far off shore. This was the first time the kids got to see such a sight! How exciting !!!

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Oohhh!! And another awesome marine wildlife sighting, Señorita Tortuga came to visit and remind us to protect and care for our beaches and oceans!! Extra special thanks to Miss Megan of Palmer Way Elementary School for contacting Señorita Tortuga and bringing her over!

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Thank you so much to Pili, Roberto, Armando, Carlos, and the staff for hosting us and taking such good care of our kiddos. They were super stoked to munch on some post-concert nachos!!

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Here are some of the boys practicing their manners saying please and thank you at the bar. Thank you for your patience and support, Roberto!

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And in case you missed us last year, here is a link to another lovely edit made by our proud father, Tony Roberts:

Thank you, Tony!!!! Check out http://www.playacolorado.com if you are thinking of visiting us.

Cooking Strong!!

Reflection: The Art of Education

Thanks for checking back in everyone! I really enjoy taking the time to reflect and share with you some of my own experiences. Lately I have been thinking about the art of education. One thing I really love about teaching is that we teachers are also always learning!! Education is so much more mutual than we realize, and for that I give thanks to the students and teachers, and for the opportunity to have such a fulfilling job. Words cannot express the meaning and gratitude felt.

Something interesting that I have been learning this year is that many of our students at Escuela Santa Marta are not exposed to the early childhood stimulation that is so key for setting up a successful academic path later in life. Basic literacy and math skills are delayed and can even be put in jeopardy when children are not exposed to educational (and even non-educational) stimulation at a young age. Science has confirmed that the early years in life are some of the most absorbant. Just the mere attention and affection of a parent to a child can have tremendous benefits to social and intellectual development.

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However, many of our students come from households where the parents are busy working (or are absent for other reasons) and do not have time to dedicate to the child’s development. Hence, many of our children come to school starting from scratch. This is something I can easily overlook as a North American and I have to remind myself of the situation. In the United States, there are plenty of at risk children whose parents are not able to work with them early in life to develop literacy and math skills. Simple acts such as reading story books with our children, playing hand clapping games, counting stairs or cheerios, and any sort of parent-child interaction is crucial to social and intellectual development. However, at risk children in the U.S. at the very least might be exposed to educational television programs such as Sesame Street or something similar. They will most likely see street signs and business signs with letters and colors. They might even hear music or news on the radio. On the other hand, here in rural Nicaragua, many of our children do not have electricity where they live, so television programs are not accessible. Road signs and other visual stimulants are minimal in the countryside. I could go on about these differences, which are truly fascinating. The point is that many of our students come to school for the first time without having seen a written letter or number.

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(I must emphasize that while many of our students come to school without any prior academic or literacy exposure, they DO have lots of exposure to nature, which is also crucial to early development. So while they may be academically delayed, they are exceptionally developed in other aspects. For example, a student may start the first grade without being able to count their fingers, but that same child could tie a fishing line or fix a loose bicycle chain.)

So as a multi-cultural educator, I am constantly reminding myself of the background and situation of our students. This has led me to incorporate as much basic literacy and math skills into our class time as possible. For example, when the class gets roudy and I need to get everyone’s attention, I will have the students clap a certain number of times. The sound of the clapping gets them refocused, and – without even knowing – they get a little counting exercise.

One of their favorite brain break activities is to “launch a rocket”. This is something we do to reenergize our brains and fill up our thinking tanks with “rocket fuel”. I tell the kids that we are going to launch a rocket on the count of ten, recharging our energy and concentration. Counting back from ten, we squat low with each number and then jump high to launch ourselves up as rockets when we get to zero. Then we use that energy that we charged up with “rocket fuel” to complete the day’s activity. The kids love it! Imagination, creativity, and play are so beneficial to learning and academic development. Not to mention, movement and physical activity are tremendous brain boosters. I love doing this activity because the kids get stoked, they pay way better attention to whatever the following activity or lesson is, AND they get a little practice counting back from ten. The simple act of counting backwards is a great way to develop concentration, focus, memory, and simple math skills. I haven’t tested the hypothesis, but I am sure this little exercise helps the children with the math concept of subtracting one.

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When I first started teaching here, I felt compelled to follow the traditional teaching methods that the regular teachers use. But it just doesn’t work. Dictation, copying, and rote learning bore children and they lose attention and fall behind quickly. It’s no wonder Nicaragua has a drop out and truancy problem. I’m so glad that the other teachers accept my funky and alternative techniques and that the students respond so well to them. It’s so cool to watch their brains and spirits come alive! It’s also super cool to see that even though many of our kids were not exposed to the standard early childhood development techniques, they still learn at lightning speed when the right technique is applied along with just enough attention and affection. And last but not least, once again, words just do not express how grateful and appreciative I feel to have the opportunity to work with these kids and share my passion for learning. I was very blessed and privileged to receive a good education, and I want to share that with the children of this country that has stolen my heart.

Mid-term Update: semestre II

Hello everyone!

I am so pleased to be writing this update because so many things have happened at school this semester. Most of all, we are all so happy to be back to some sense of normalcy. While our country is still going through a very difficult time, politically and economically, we are so glad that the violence of this year’s conflict has subdued. That being said, this year has been a serious struggle. But in true Nicaraguan fashion, resilience carries us through the bad times and keeps us going on afterwards.

Despite everything that has been happening in our country, we are so stoked to continue our communication with our penpals in California. We have also begun a new communication with additional penpals in Hawaii! It is so exciting for the kids to send and receive letters to their friends afar. It is a surreal reminder that we live in a very big world and there is so much out there! I am always so proud of the kids when we send something because they put in such good effort! There is nothing more pleasing to a teacher than seeing your students working hard.

We are so grateful to our student and teacher penpals of Palmer Way Elementary School and Carden Academy and we genuinely appreciate the collaboration. It is fun to continue the snail mail tradition and teach the kids about how we used to communicate “back in the day” before social media and wifi. Plus, we get super creative with our international mailing technique 😉 😉 😉 Just ask Miss Megan of Palmer Way; she’s got speedy delivery down to a science!

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