|This is Us~~New Life Students and Staff|
The partnership between Reason to Hope and New Life School began about six years ago. New Life is a very special school for very special students located in the Mayan Village of Santa Maria de Jesus, on the side of the Agua Volcano.
Reason to Hope provides support services, educational resources and specialized training for the staff of the school. In addition, we have worked directly with about thirty of the 100 children who come to the school. I'd like to tell you about some of them
|Griselda in kindergarten|
I first met Griselda when she was in kindergarten. While her learning abilities are limited by Down Syndrome, this has not affected her personality or her ability to love. Her home life is difficult and for Griselda New Life is not only a school but a safe place where she is wanted and accepted.
She has only begun to speak in the last two years, largely due to the volunteer services of Jennifer Giesemann, a speech therapist from Georgia who served with us. Beginning with the use of pictures and symbols, Griselda could communicate her wants and needs for the first time in her life. We worked with Gris to generalize this ability to communicate to settings outside of the speech therapy room.
It has been a delight to see Griselda bloom with the ability to communicate orally. This year Griselda was voted by her peers as "Nina de Deportes" (The Sport's Girl) representing the school in the Independence Day celebrations for Santa Maria.
We have worked with Griselda this past year to develop life skills to equip her to care for herself in the future, as well as social skills to enable her to participate in the life of her community. We continue to work on survival skills in reading and math to prepare her for the future.
We are not sure what the future holds for Griselda. She is one of the young people for whom Reason to Hope would like to develop an adult living day program. She has taught us that the ability to serve and love is not determined by IQ but by the size of one's heart.
In August of 2013 my friend Donna Hultman came to visit us in Guatemala. As a specialist in teaching the visually impaired she brought a skill set we were sorely lacking. We called in a number of preschoolers who were known to have vision problems, and Donna evaluated then and recommended ways be could better meet their individual needs.
One of the children we brought in was Josef, who was three at the time. Never having been to school, this was a somewhat strange experience for him, but we came away with ideas to help him when he began kindergarten the following January.
Well, we were in for quite a surprise when he finally came. He was not used to being around other children, became easily frustrated and agitated. If the other children got too close to him, he would become aggressive. He was not toilet trained. Clearly, he had more than a visual problem affecting his development.
It was quickly decided that he could not remain in the kindergarten class. But requiring him to stay at home wasn't the answer either. Why would we think he would improve his behavior if kept in the same environment which continually catered to him to keep him happy.
So, he joined my class for two hours, three days a week. He needed close supervision and one-to-one attention and we did not have the staff to do this. We solved this problem by recruiting one of our older students to work as his assistant. (You can read more about Ronald in this post.) Given a high amount of structure and limited interaction, Josef progressed in his skills and abilities to complete tasks, but did not make much progress in getting along with other children.
The following year, after a brief trial in kindergarten, Josef again returned to my room. Ronald, however, was no longer attending school, so we had to make significant changes. Josef could now work alone to complete his tasks. He tolerated progressively longer periods working near and with the other students. He learned to accept "no" without tantruming, and would cooperate with "time out" when needed. All of these were necessary pre-requisites to joining the kindergarten class.
After much discussion, his mother agreed to work on toilet training, after we told her Josef could not return to school in diapers. Within a few weeks over the holiday break, he had this down.
This past January Josef was fully integrated into kindergarten with support from us and visiting Occupational Therapy practicum students. Francisco (you can read about him here) began working with him to compensate for his vision loss. Josef still has a long way to go, but now is ready to learn.