September 3, 2014 by Debra Gittler


I’m in Buenos Aires for a conference on Service Learning, presenting the Babayan Story Project, an initiative ConTextos’ has helped launch with Harvard Professor Kiku Adatto.

I attended the conference sporadically—just a couple of presentations. And was impressed but not surprised that across the board, the presentations about service learning—one of the most active, involved ways of learning—were entirely lecture. So like higher learning to ruin exactly what it sets out to do.

Also both relieved and disappointed to hear my fellow American’s comments about the methodology behind the conference. They, too, noticed the irony; they, too were disappointed in such an untapped opportunity to engage diverse practitioners in dialogue and sharing. So the rumor about education in Latin America is true… that what we see in El Salvador is actually ubiquitous.

At the end, I don’t have even one anecdote of a successful story. Just pedagogical plans and evaluation metrics. The only moment for dialogue and sharing was the 20-minute lunch presentation that Chataqua and I shared.

That’s from the presentations. But from the experience, I have a wonderful anecdote!

I was invited here by Cynthia McCauley from the Chataqua Learn and Serve Charter School in Panama City, Florida. I got to spend the entire day with one of her teachers and three of her students yesterday (and two of her grandsons). Chataqua works with 18-22-year-olds with “exceptionalities”. Every day, the students participate in service-learning to develop authentic work skills.

And the kids were truly exceptional. Their limitations were clear, but the ability to connect with them was so tangible. To share the experience. To enjoy. To want to see and understand through their eyes. I interpret their enthusiasm, curiosity, perseverance and patience as a direct reflection of their schooling: clearly, they feel safe and supported, and as a result are able to thrive. Not despite their limitations, but because of them.

I can only hope that visitors to ConTextos’ schools and teachers have even an inkling of what I experienced. That the influence of our intervention upon schools in El Salvador is as palpable as Chataqua’s upon its students.

And that we at ConTextos can influence the same transformation upon El Salvador’s education that Chataqua has embraced for its students: to make sure that our schools and students shine because of, not despite, their limitations; that teachers and students develop the curiosity and enthusiasm that allows them to thrive!

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