In 2008, parishioners of Dolores Catholic Church in Austin, Texas provided scholarships in the amount of $20 a month for 76 students from various communities to attend primary and secondary school in Puerto Cabezas. This project was discontinued after the economic crisis caused by Hurricane Felix lessened in severity. In 2011 the Pro-Moskitia Foundation initiated a second educational project to address needs expressed by the educational authorities of the North Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua.
There are ten or eleven high schools (grades 7 through 13) in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua (RAAN). These schools are located in the cities of Bilwi-Puerto Cabezas and Wespam. Until 2004 these were the only schools in the region that offered grades 7 through 13. Students living in rural communities who wished to attend high school completed elementary school in their communities and then transferred to one of the high schools. The high schools are not boarding schools (with the exception of the small high school attached to University of the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast Autonomous Regions (Universidad de las Regiones Autónomas de la Costa Caribe Nicaragüense or URACCAN) and the students from out of town either lived with relatives or in rented rooms. Those whose families lived nearby might return home on the weekends. The high expense of travel and room and board resulted in less than 20% of rural students continuing school beyond the elementary grades.
In 2004 three-years of middle school was added to twenty of the approximately thirty-five rural elementary schools in the RAAN. Middle school classes (grades 7 through 9) use the same school buildings as do elementary classes. Elementary classes are held in the morning and middle school classes meet between 1PM and 5 PM. Because of a shortage of high school teachers, the middle school teachers were drawn from the ranks of the elementary school teachers. Each middle school is staffed by seven teachers and a principal. The teaching plan used in the rural schools is not coordinated with that used in the high schools. As a result students who finish middle school in the rural schools and then transfer to high school in Bilwi-Puerto Cabezas or Wespam are not adequately prepared for the final two years (grades 12 and 13) of high school.
After consultation with community and educational leaders, Father Melesio Peter, President of the Pro-Moskitia Foundation, agreed to seek funding for a pilot project designed to increase the effectiveness of the middle school teachers in three schools (in the communities of Santa Marta, Sisin and Auhyapihni) in three areas of study: English, Spanish and Math. These three schools have a total enrollment of 208 students and employ twenty-one teachers and three principals. The pilot project would involve three teachers and the principal from each of the three schools.
A committee consisting of Dr. Roberto Rodriguez Gaitan, P. Roger Dixon Baker and Ms. Cora Antonio Matamoro (former superintendent Moravian Mission in Nicaragua) was formed to develop the project. The two regional universities, URACCAN and the Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University or BICU, as well as the regional Secretary of Education and YATAMA (an indigenous party from Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast) support and helped facilitate this teacher in-service education project.
Mr. Barnabas Waldan Braulin, a highly respected high school teacher in Bilwi, agreed to coordinate this project. Mr. Braulin recruited three teachers from the high school (including himself) in Bilwi-Puerto Cabezas to travel twice-a-month to one of the three rural schools to train the assembled middle school teachers. Each in-service training session will last about eight hours (from 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM) with three teachers and the principal from each of the three targeted rural schools in attendance. The training sessions take place on Sunday with the location rotating among the three schools. The trainers are paid a stipend of $150 per month each with a food/travel allowance of $10 per session. The first two of 15 planned sessions were held in March and April 2011.
This is a pilot project. If it is successful it will be extended to other rural middle schools as funding becomes available. Other barriers to student success exist. For example, the rural middle schools have no textbooks for students and no secure place to store them. (Teachers purchase their own texts.) Therefore a related project involves the construction of two free-standing library buildings were textbooks and other materials could be stored. (One of the three schools involved in the pilot project already has a library building.)
The Foundation is actively seeking a grant to cover the cost of the pilot program. If it is determined that the in-service teacher training is meets the needs of the students then it will be expanded and extended to other rural middle schools. The three photographs were taken at the April 10, 2011 in-service training session held in the Ceibon school in the community of Sisin.