Our names are Abby MacKnight and Jacquelyn Katuin and we recently returned home from spending seven weeks in Quetzaltenango, or Xela, Guatemala. With the help and support of Dr. David Burt, the UVA Guatemala Initiative, and the Center for Global Health, we were given the opportunity to improve our Spanish, explore Xela, and soak up the city’s culture. We are also so lucky to have been able to make strides in a previously-established collaboration with a local school in the area.
For the past year, the two of us have been teaching English and American Sign Language to a group of deaf Guatemalan students at the Centro Elisa Molina, a school for the deaf and blind in Xela. We have been teaching the hour-long classes two mornings a week, via Skype and Jabber. The experience has proven to be just as challenging as one would expect. And probably more.
We used our time in-country to observe at the school, and to specifically observe the online English classes from the Guatemalan classroom. It was eye-opening to be on the other side of the collaboration. We also did our best to collect data and information about the program from students and teachers. Doing so was quite an experience, as we had to work through somewhat of a “double” language barrier. Those that we interviewed used Spanish and Guatemalan Sign Language to communicate.
Our observations will help us to piece together a more complete picture of the school and how it functions. Our meetings with the students and teachers gave us insight into some of the various perspectives that play into this complicated program. We are currently in the process of writing and translating a comprehensive report of our findings.
It is our hope that the work that we’ve done this summer can shed light onto the benefits and the drawbacks of this sort of collaborative effort. Improving this program could lead to the implementation of similar efforts in other low-resource educational settings. And doing so could make it easier to reach students in these areas, particularly deaf students, who are typically less likely to receive an adequate education. Our experiences this summer in Xela will be invaluable in deciding how to best move this project forward in a way that is beneficial for all involved.