10.11.2008

School Days

We've made it through the first month of school. All progress reports have been good. The letters A, B, and C have been thoroughly investigated. Delaney and Hayden can't wait to get in the car each morning and often run and get their shoes (and ours) as soon as they wake up.



Their teacher Miss Tatiana (Tati for short) is sweet and energetic. She's also eight months pregnant. How she still manages to get down on the floor, back up, back down, round and round the rosy, etc etc, is beyond me. But she does.


When we arrive each day, Hayden gravitates toward the plastic spiders and bugs. Just like he gravitates toward real spiders and bugs at home. Both Hayden and Delaney like the saws and drills on the workbench and all the juicy plastic fruit in the kitchen. Delaney particularly loves the battery powered kid-sized blender. She made a potato chip milkshake today. At Circle Time, she likes to shake-shake-shake the maracas with the group, while Hayden likes to push a truck around the perimeter. They both love outdoor play time, especially when the wading pools and squirt bottles come out.


Mike and I are grateful to be part of the little octagonal schoolhouse in Sandy Bay. Sure, there are fancier facilities and shinier toys in West Hartford, CT preschools. But we couldn't have asked for a more diverse group of kids with interesting stories.
The parents of Delaney and Hayden's 18 classmates come from Honduras, Columbia, England, Italy, Ireland, Canada and the U.S. At least two sets of expat parents also have their parents living here, making Roatan an extended family adventure. Some of the women had their babies on the island, some went to hospitals in nearby La Ceiba on the mainland, and some, like me, waited til the babies were several months old to move here. All of them are encouraged by the opening of the Discovery Bay preschool.

Quality education is a big issue on Roatan. There is almost no provision in Honduras for early childhood education. UNESCO points to the care and education of children ages birth to nine as one of the greatest social challenges for Central American governments, with Honduras at the bottom of the list of the challenged. Only one-third of island children actually attend public school, and the drop-out rate is estimated at 60%. There are few supplies and overcrowding is a huge problem. The schools generally lack running water and most don't have bathrooms. Last week there was a teachers' strike across the country, because apparently the government hadn't paid their salaries in a while. So kids just didn't go. To reach high school here, and to graduate, is a real accomplishment.

As they are in so many respects, Delaney and Hayden are lucky. They are living on Roatan at a time of increasing numbers of educational options. There is now a highly regarded K-9 private "alternative" school founded by an American that seems to offer the equivalent of a prep-school experience. Like Discovery Bay, though, it caters primarily to the growing numbers of expat families.

For the native island children, fortunately, there are a few bright spots. Some good friends of ours are creating and sustaining a model daycare center in Coxen Hole, which combines healthy food, play, and learning for some of the island's poorest children. A requirement there is that the parents have jobs they need to go to -- so this venture is encouraging productivity and self reliance within families as well as meeting the basic needs of young children.

Other friends, owners of the Bay Islands Beach Resort, are spearheading efforts to establish an innovative network of privately funded learning centers with computers, well trained teachers, and other critical resources. They've even met with the World Bank to discuss how a major investment in education could help catapult this third-world island into the 21st century and ensure its future workforce.

Mike and I watch this commitment, and the commitment of others here, with a kind of awe. We can hardly get ourselves out the door each morning with two babies' worth of snacks, change of clothes, sippy cups, and emergency raisins for the car ride.

The education of Delaney and Hayden is more than a full-time job, and yet there is so much more to do.