With four days at Stevensville Middle School remaining, I am a relatively well-balanced bundle of excitement and nerves for what is to come a month and one day from Friday. On July 10th, I will catch a flight from BWI, pause for a brief Miami layover, and land at the San Pedro Sula, Honduras airport that evening. As I’ve mentioned my plans to friends, family, students, and fellow teachers, something that always seems to come up in the conversation: “Why Honduras?” “Why now?” or just “Why?”
During my sophomore year of college, I dived into a campus service group: Students Helping Honduras (SHH). This is the non-profit organization that introduced me to one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, and I was obviously hooked. I started with short-term, one-week volunteer trips. These types of trips have gained a notoriously bad rap (at least, it appeared so in my various social media feeds); however, it was alongside this group that I started to understand how voluntourism could be done the right way, namely by serving as a tool within a community and by learning from and alongside that community. Voluntourists should not try to “help” or “heal,” as these words have both denotative and connotative meanings that suggest brokenness and superiority of one party in the relationship. I imagine I’ll discuss this distinction at greater lengths in a later blog entry.
Anyway, SHH sparked my interest in Honduras and Honduran schools, something for which will forever be grateful for. I volunteered with them 6 other times, the longest stay being with a family in Villa Soleada (near El Progreso) for about a month.
Then, through another college student I met in Villa Soleada, I heard about the non-profit organization BECA (Bilingual Education for Central America). I researched the group and ravaged through its blog before spending July 2015 teaching a summer camp program with them. This time, I was about 30 miles (over an hour’s drive) away in a place called Cofradia. That summer, I promised myself that I would return as soon as possible to teach full-time with BECA.
As of June 9th, I will have finished my fourth year teaching with Queen Anne’s County Public Schools (QACPS) in Maryland. This number is especially significant for me, as one of my undergraduate scholarships (a generous yearly contribution towards my Towson University elementary education degree) was from this school system. In exchange, I promised to return to the county at the conclusion of my studies. QACPS would then offer me a job, and the only obligation would be that I teach for them for four years (and if not, then I would pay back the scholarship money). Now that those four years have passed, I have the chance to take this unpaid leave of absence in pursuit of one of my dreams: teaching in Honduras. Although I would have loved to have been able to pursue this opportunity immediately following my 2013 graduation, I am confident that I will be able to better serve my community in Cofradia, not only as a result of my classroom experience, but also with the knowledge gained through my master’s English-ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) degree program at Salisbury University.
Now, taking the next year to wholly immerse myself in teaching in a Honduran bilingual school is a direct way to better myself as a teacher and as a local and global community member. While working with BECA, I will be serving a population that is composed entirely of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) learners from diverse family and socioeconomic backgrounds. My experiences with BECA will inspire and empower me to better serve as an advocate for our EL, Latinx, and Hispanic populations in QACPS or whichever other school system I join in my future. Through my time with BECA, I will undoubtedly refine my understanding of TESOL theories in practice, knowledge of the Spanish language (the home-language of the majority of our ELs in QACPS), comfort level in working directly with Spanish-speaking families, and overall cultural awareness. Every day I will work with students who are learning English as a second (most common), third, or possibly fourth language. I will receive guidance and feedback from my Honduran campus supervisors and BECA leaders who have a wealth of experience in this setting. I will primarily speak English in the classroom, but in the community I may exchange adult English lessons for Spanish lessons so that I can accelerate my own language practice. Rather than communicating through a translator, I will visit families on their terms, something that is typical and a powerful motivator in schools that are high-performing in the Honduran community. Finally, I will actively seek to better understand Cofradia, Honduras, and Latin America as a whole.
So I reiterate: Why?
Part of the answer is that I see education as the key to decreasing community violence and increasing access to all of life’s opportunities. True education (not just knowledge) allows for people to empower themselves despite very real and often spirit-crushing barriers. I am an educator because I hope to fight these obstacles and connect youth with more opportunities to empower themselves. Of course, in order to be relevant and valuable as an educator, I must seek my own opportunities that allow me to contribute the most I can while also challenging me to grow. Right now, this desire is pushing me towards BECA, and I can’t wait to share pieces of the experience with anyone and everyone who is interested in listening.