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Reflections on Honduras: Experiences Strengthen Relationships with Scholars

I stepped onto the first bus, ready to greet the crowd of students with a warm smile and to welcome them back from their holiday break. I was bundled up in layers in an attempt to keep out the cold. The chill of Louisiana in January was a stark contrast to the weather I had enjoyed for two weeks while studying Spanish in Honduras with four of my co-workers. Before I said anything, I unzipped my jacket to reveal a t-shirt with the Honduran flag screen-printed across the front. Cheers erupted across the bus. “Buenos Dias, estudiantes!” I said. “Buenos dias, Ms. Bauman-Smith!” came the thundering reply. As each student exited the bus, I shook each hand and gave a greeting, as is our morning ritual. Each Honduran student greeted me with an extra big smile and wanted to know: “How did you like Honduras?” It was an absolute pleasure to be able to answer them honestly: “I loved it.”

Throughout the day, kids approached me in the hallway and in classes with tons of excited questions. “What did you eat? Did you try a baleada? Did you bring me back a pupusa? What did you think of the Mayan Ruins? Can you speak Spanish? Did you see fireworks on Christmas?” With my newly acquired rudimentary language skills, I fumbled through answering their questions the best I could. Every student I spoke to listened patiently, corrected my poor grammar and laughed with delight and sighed with longing when I showed them a picture of the best meal I ate in Honduras: homemade pupusas with pickled vegetables.

Although my Spanish is far from perfect, and my time in Honduras was infused with the experience of a tourist, that first day back I made more connections with my Spanish-speaking students than I had all year. Since then, we’ve swapped pictures, stories, and favorite memories. I continue to practice my Spanish with them, and they continue to laugh at my mistakes and help me along.

In many ways, my coworkers and I are still processing our experiences from our trip to Honduras, but the experiences from our time there have already begun to shape our roles as educators and our understanding of our scholars and their needs. We’ve compiled a list of our five biggest reflections from our two weeks in Copan, Honduras.

1. Right is right. It’s not just something Doug Lemov says because it sounds cool!

By challenging ourselves to learn a new language, we put ourselves in an environment where we were uncomfortable academically, usually because we weren’t feeling successful. This is an experience many of our scholars deal with everyday as they struggle to piece together confusing rules about phonics, grammar, and math. One of Carver Prep’s core values is tenacity, and we probably encourage kids to be more tenacious at least once a day. But, there were moments in language school, three hours into conjugating Spanish verbs, when our tenacity was at an all-time low.

The headaches that sometimes came after hours of one-on-one instruction made it tempting to make excuses and leave class a little early. But what kept us in the classroom were our wonderful and patient teachers: Maria Jose, Julia, Ana, Obrely, and Sara.

Our teacher, Maria Jose, recognized how important it would be to our students back in New Orleans to have teachers who could bridge the language gap, and she pushed for the answer that was 100% correct, even during those difficult first days. She didn’t give us answers, and she didn’t let us slip into speaking English during class. Her praise was targeted to make us feel encouraged when we got to the right conjugation or remembered the right vocabulary word.

Because we had a warm, encouraging teacher who insisted on perfect pronunciation and 100% Spanish in her classroom, we left Honduras with the skills to communicate with our Central American students in their native language and the hunger to learn more.

2. Our hard work means a lot to our families.

Teaching is sometimes called a thankless job. As teachers, we put in a lot of hours and energy, and it can sometimes seem like our scholars have no idea how far a teacher has gone for them. We know, though (and we try to remember in the toughest moments), that even though our kids might not show it immediately, they see and appreciate more than they show us. They’re teenagers. We know that.

But, when we returned from our trip to Honduras, scholars were so excited to talk to us and unabashedly grateful. Kids in grades we don’t teach eagerly approached us to ask about our trip. At report card night, parents’ faces broke into big grins when we told them in our broken (but improved!) Spanish that we spent Christmas in Copan.

The things we do for our kids, big and small, might not be verbally acknowledged all the time, but they don’t go unnoticed, and certainly don’t go unappreciated. This was a nice reminder of that.

3. We are honored that parents trust us to educate their children.

Ixbalanque, the language school that we attended in Copan Ruinas, was phenomenal. Our teachers held us to the high standards we needed so that we could walk away from our two weeks with improved Spanish language skills. Though we were only in Honduras for two weeks, our experiences reminded us of the tremendous responsibility we as teachers have for our scholars’ futures. We left Honduras with a renewed appreciation for the trust that our scholars and their families place in our school, and a resolve to push ourselves harder to reach each and every scholar.

4. Don’t underestimate the value of U.S. public education and the incredible responsibility we have in providing it.

Many of our Latin American students are fleeing the violence that exists in cities like Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. These cities are run by gangs and have some of the highest murder rates in the world. Many of our students have stories about family members who were targeted and killed by gangs. For them, fleeing the country was a matter of survival. We also have students who are from more rural parts of the country with much lower rates of violence. These students and their families moved to America because they were seeking to find a way out of the cycle of poverty that plagues much of Latin America. They have reached the conclusion that education is the best way to do this.

While Honduras does have public schools, the educational system struggles to meet the needs of teachers and students. The University system is much less accessible than it is here in the U.S. and students must move to larger, more dangerous cities to attend college. Some of our students left a relatively safe existence in Honduras and moved to New Orleans in order to have access to education.

No matter the reason our Latin American students have for being here, each of them has sacrificed so much to access a great education. As teachers, we feel a great deal of responsibility to provide them with this opportunity. We truly want ALL scholars at Carver Prep to receive a great high school education and to go on to pursue higher education and have a lifetime of limitless opportunity.

5. No matter how crazy you might think it is, you should go to Honduras. (Or, do something that might scare you if you think it can help your scholars.)

If you have an idea that can help your students or help you become a better teacher, chase it—even if it sounds crazy. Before we left for Honduras, friends and family pleaded with us to reconsider our decision to study in such a dangerous country. But once we arrived, we found that the small town where our school was located had a beautiful culture and a welcoming community. In fact, our new Honduran friends were worried about us once they found out that we lived in New Orleans, a city they had heard was dangerous.

Changing our vantage point gave us a new set of constructs with which to view our Central American students’ experiences in New Orleans, a place they may find just as dangerous or frightening as parts of their home country. Because we went on this trip, we now know more about the dimensions and shape of the challenges faced by our students from Honduras. This has had a huge impact on our teaching and relationships with students.

Six months ago, we weren’t at all convinced that fundraising enough money for this trip was a reality*. With reckless optimism, we gave it a chance. Our friends and coworkers trusted in us enough to donate and help us hit our goal. If we hadn’t pursued this crazy idea, we would still be guessing about our students, stuck at a surface level understanding of where they came from and how to best help them succeed in the United States. Now, we sit around and talk about planning more trips—for both students and teachers—because we know that we can turn crazy impossible ideas into reality. Don’t forget that the wildest ideas are the ones that offer the most opportunity for growth and change!

The writers raised money to support the cost of language school in Honduras, but they used their own funds to pay for transportation and the other costs of the trip.

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