Number of People with Nothing Better to Do

Monday, December 13, 2010

School Daze

Entrance to the school

Kids during ag class (it's very hot by the way)

Kids in science class
I've been doing a fair amount of work in the escuela secundaria (middle/high school) in my town. The school is called Institución Educativa José Abelardo Quiñones named after a Peruvian fighter pilot who, after he was shot down by an Ecuadorian artillery unit during the Ecuadorian-Peruvian War of 1941, kamakazeed his plane into the battery that shot him down. Peru actually won that war so he's kind of a national hero and is on the 10 Sol bill.

The school has a couple of smallish two-story brick and concrete buildings with classrooms, an administrative office and a computer lab and another one-story building with classrooms and shop classes. There is a little concrete futbol/basketball court in the middle of the buildings. I was pretty excited when I saw the basketball court and was ready to play ball but the backboards are all jacked up. Too many kids dunkin'? Mmm… Probably not. (Confusing but amusing fact - the Spanish word Aula = Classroom. The word Jaula = Cage)

Kids here go to secundaria between the ages of around 11 or 12 until they're 16 or 17. There are around 130 students in 5 grades. Class size ranges between 10 – 30 students. Staff includes one director (principal), an assistant, a janitor, seven teachers, an adult hall monitor (who is also the referee for the local cock fights), a part time PE teacher and an English teacher who barely speaks a lick of English. As in the US, teachers here are overworked, underpaid and underappreciated.

The school year runs from April until December. They're off during the summer months of January through March because it's just too damn hot. Classes start at 8am and go until 1:30 with a recess/snack break at around 11:00. They study the typical HS courses like math and science and also take practical, more hands-on courses like agriculture, metal shop, and wood shop. A couple times a week the kids have physical education where they do exercises, run track, play futbol, volleyball, and basketball (even though the backboards are unusable). There is a school band but there are no organized sports teams. I haven't seen any dopey, cocky meatheads wearing their letter jackets terrorizing the guy carrying the clarinet case.
Graduation is just a couple of weeks away. Some of the 5th year kids are going to attend the Instituto (junior college) in town studying either tourism, mechanics, computers, nursing, or agriculture. Some of the brighter students will spend about a year studying for a university entrance exam and hopefully get accepted. Many have few options and will leave town to look for work in the fields or doing construction. Imagine leaving home at 16 years old to brave this sometimes very cruel world.

So far working with these kids has been the highlight of my Peace Corps experience. They're bright, respectful, and appreciative and really a lot of fun to be around unlike their spoiled counterparts in a little place called America.