Some Mesa teenagers had a living social studies lesson on Thursday when a group of Guatemalan legislators and teachers visited their school.
Three members of the Guatemalan Congress and several rural Guatemalan educators visited Rhodes Junior High School in the morning as part of a State Department-sponsored cultural exchange.
The visitors hope to take lessons back home with them as they attempt to update the country’s education system, said Jorge Villatoro, president of the congressional educational commission.
“God, as well as the people of Guatemala, gave us the opportunity to rebuild our country after three decades of armed conflict,” he said. “Right now we are in the middle of intense discussion about a comprehensive education reform law.”
Villatoro said he hopes to learn things in Arizona about technology, cultural diversity and curriculum that will help as they create that law.
The group also visited Texas to see how bilingual education works, and now they are studying how Arizona implemented English-only instruction, explained Jeannine Kuropatkin, a Rhodes seventh-grade teacher who helped arrange the visit.
Bilingual education is an important issue in Guatemala, too, Kuropatkin said, where many Mayan children speak one of 23 indigenous languages and learn Spanish only in school.
Yet Guatemalan schools face some drastically different challenges than their American counterparts.
Santa Pacheco de Canastuj, Guatemala’s teacher of the year, said she was impressed by all the teaching tools available at Rhodes. Her school in rural Totonicapan has to make do with wooden tools made in the town, she said through a translator.
“We lack the financial funding for a lot of the low-income people,” she said.
She is one of 14 teachers in charge of educating 375 students, and teaches in two languages.
Before returning home, the team also will visit with Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Mesa, as well as Arizona State University officials and members of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.
Student Valerie Chavez, 12, enjoyed asking the visitors questions in Spanish, which she speaks fluently. She said visits that make geography “come alive” help her understand why learning social studies is important.
“It makes the students want to learn,” she said, “Without it, I don’t see any sense in it. This was really fun.”