January 8, 2015 by Debra Gittler


This morning, I went with my sister and my 5-year-old niece to visit her kindergarten teacher. Kelema got a not-so-stellar report card; my sister needed to show her kid—and the teacher—that she meant business.

I was overwhelmed with sentiment as we passed colorful lockers, children’s pictures and decorations adorning the walls, bulletin boards lined with winter poems and crayon landscapes, display cabinets boasting rubber balls converted into demonstrations of planets, latitude, longitude…

The classroom was rich in text. Colors abounded, the morning message projected on the wall, books everywhere. As the kids filed in, they left their wet snow boots at the door and wore “inside-shoes” instead.

I had a moment of missing, of so wanting to be back in a school.

I visit schools in El Salvador all the time. I suppose that my work is still “in schools.” But the feeling is so different. Today, I wanted to sit on the rug, play with the math manipulatives, explore the science resources. In El Salvador—and I’m sad to say this—I’m often hesitant to touch anything (besides the kids) because of the dust that coats everything, the layer of sweaty grime that covers splintered furniture or abused shelving.

With ConTextos, I speak often about resources as being just a small piece of a bigger picture—it’s the ideas, not the materials, which make teaching/learning powerful.

I couldn’t help but have deep pangs as I walked down the halls of Kelema’s school. I coveted all of those materials, and the ideas that I know those resources support.

At ConTextos, we work so hard to get reading to be part of a child’s educational experience. It’s such a small and important step, and yet it’s so very hard to do. Developing the kinds of learning environments and experiences that I saw today… that seems impossible.

So today, I’m feeling a bit frustrated. The task at hand feels so big. I know the resources alone wouldn’t change education in El Salvador—but quality education that adequately utilizes such diverse resources in safe, beautiful environments… the kids we serve would blossom.

Most of the time, I do a good job of balancing “there” and “here.” Of recognizing the intricacies and nuanced differences. Today, though, it just seems unfair…

Debra Gittler
Founder and Executive Director

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