My children and I arrived in Guatemala yesterday morning and ever since we have been the guests of the incredibly friendly folks at Colegio Waldorf Guatemala. One of their 1st grade teachers, Andrea, connected with me through the A Waldorf Journey Facebook group and invited us to come visit. Before I knew it they had offered to pick us up at the airport, let us stay at the school (part of it used to be a farmhouse) and feed us breakfast, lunch and dinner for two days! We have been absolutely blown away by their generosity!
It has been so interesting to get to know the school and today Andrea led us around for a tour.
The first thing that surprised me was how many students they have! We learned that there are 460 students from preschool (down to age 1) up to 9th grade. They are adding a grade each year until they go through 12th. And, what is really astonishing is that the school has only been open for 3 years! Apparently Waldorf Education is really taking off in Guatemala. Andrea said that another school opened in Guatemala City this year.
Colegio Waldorf is just outside Guatemala City in a suburb called Fraijanes. Their campus is a former farm and they share the property with a horse stables. The grounds are absolutely stunning. See for yourself.
I sat in on a few classes and got to chat with some of the teachers. Early childhood classes are taught entirely in Spanish and the school starts instruction in English in 1st grade. The higher the grade, the more English is spoken in class. Since the school is fairly new, there are some differences among the students in their English fluency, so the teachers have to work hard to meet all of the students where they are.
Home Away From Home
As we made our way around the school, it was fun to see the things we see all the time at our Waldorf school at home. The fifth graders were studying Ancient India and the 4th graders had just received their play — The Theft of Thor’s Hammer. The 6th graders were working on stuffed animals in handwork class — all of them sea creatures. I heard the 2nd graders recite, “The moon is on my left hand, the sun is on my right. Good morning, dear brother. Dear sister, good night.”
The teachers receive training from Waldorf teachers who come from all over to work with the entire faculty. Andrea described the first grade rhythm she follows and it’s exactly what I’ll be doing with my students next year. We even laughed about the intensity of the Grimms’ fairy tales. When she described her indecision about whether she should change the nasty endings, I laughed knowing I’ll be facing the same question next year.
The school year ends in November here, so we were lucky to see things in full swing. We’re in the middle of the rainy season here, which I think is a complete blessing. The clouds make the sky so dramatically interesting!
We were fortunate to eat at the cafeteria with the children, all of whom are fed both snack and lunch every day. During recess we saw kids playing with fidget spinners and trading Yu-Gi-O cards, knitting and playing ukulele and, of course, playing soccer. Andrea and her assistant explained to us that it is quite common for parents to send their children to private school here because the public schools are not good. It is expensive to send your child to Colegio Waldorf, but there is no doubt that the children are well-cared for and receiving an excellent education. Tomorrow we will visit an early childhood program that serves local, lower-income families and is held at a local public school, so we’ll get a chance to see what the public school is like.
Andrea shared that Waldorf parents in Guatemala face some of the same criticisms from friends and family that American Waldorf parents face. Well-intentioned grandparents wonder when children are going to learn to read and encourage parents to send their children to a school that is more serious than this “summer camp” school.
The children learn all of the usual academic subjects during the day, and then at the end of the school day, they participate in many different extra-curricular activities on campus — drama, athletics, music, art, even horseback riding — all kinds of things are offered. When parents arrive to pick-up, students are called to the gate via microphone and escorted to their parents’ cars. I imagine that managing pick-up and drop-off for that many students is a huge production, but they manage it beautifully!
While the grounds are incredible, the food delicious, the children polite and respectful, what has impressed me most has been the incredible generosity of everyone we have met. Even though there has been a bit of a language barrier, the faculty and staff at Colegio Waldorf have done everything they can to make our visit comfortable and everything has been taken care of. They thought to make sure I had coffee in the morning. They’ve provided every meal (including a delightful plate of sandwiches for tonight’s meal) and even came in to tidy our room while we were out for a walk this afternoon. Andrea’s assistant even offered to be our tour guide when we visit Antigua!
I had heard that the Latin American people were warm and friendly, but I had never felt it for myself before this trip. If this is any indication, the rest of our visit Central America is going to be an incredible experience.