Our return to Bogota built upon reflections about our experiences and new learning about the culture of Colombia. Our group interacted with an Alumni panel who shared their post-travel thoughts and experiences. Some key ideas to come from the panel were the importance of setting reasonable expectations and building networks of support. We also gathered our thoughts and processed our own travel experiences in order to develop rudimentary plans to move forward in our own classes. Outside of the meeting room, we had a chance to return downtown to explore the Museo del Oro (the Gold Museum) and the Museo Botero (the Fernando Botero museum). Both museums provided further insight into the Colombian soul. Precious golden artifacts in astonishing numbers unveiled ancient customs and rituals. In contrast, Botero's work revealed the realism and humor with which modern Colombians approach the world and their own identity.
The last day of work with ENSB was bittersweet. Our morning began with a presentation of the U.S. education system and second language learning to the D campus of the school. It is here that students focus on pedagogy and it was here that we receive the most insightful questions about the American educational practices. The audience's questions revealed an in-depth understanding of student needs (especially those of hearing-impaired students), a desire to broaden and deepen their prospectives through international study opportunities, and a general curiosity about the nature of the profession in the U.S. The size of the crowd was daunting, but the audience was receptive even when our projection was weak (the natural lighting made seeing the slides difficult) and our discussion solely in English. After a lengthy Q&A with the larger crowd, we taught a lesson to 11th graders that combined both modeling and discussion of best practices in second language instruction. Once again, Martha welcomed us to her classroom and another teacher, Gloria, joined us to participate. We were, as always, humbled and impressed by the fervor of the teachers (candidates and pros) who welcomed us to their world. Finally, we traveled back to the A campus for a final farewell to our host principal, Dora. Dora always gives the best welcome, but we were surprised by her gift of schools from the school and her invitation for future contact. She hopes to connect future projects and visits between our countries. It's possible that the Elite Dance Squad that we saw perform last Friday may visit our schools next spring. It's probable that our schools will connect through shared lessons and ideas via pen pal exchanges and a joint effort on Global Youth Service Day. The sky is the limit!
The mountains of Santander province are filled with magic! We sailed down from the the top of the Parque Nacional de Chicamocha (Panachi for short), coasted over the Chicamocha River, and floated up to the top of the other side (the Mesa de Los Santos) on the other side in the cable car. One side of the canyon attracts thrill-seekers with ziplining, extreme swinging, and helicopter rides. The other is home to small farms, cattle and coffee. The local open air market atop the Mesa De Los Santos features every type of local meat or vegetable. We returned to Panachi to explore the magnificent art honoring revolutionaries and the view from the uppermost point. Beyond Chicomocha river valley and bustling town of San Gil, the charming colonial town of Barichara is a mecca for those seeking traditional crafts in the single most picturesque village I've ever had the pleasure to visit. I was entranced by the work of a local fique artist who trains others in this ancient craft. After a quick trip to the even older hamlet of Guane, we strolled the town and enjoyed lunch at a remarkable slow food vegetarian restaurant just off the main square. The town was alive with a local festival honoring farmers and buzzing with happy tourists. A truly memorable weekend in a landscape of ancient geological features, towns, and traditions.
The last full day at ENSB was one of celebrations. At the local library, students packed the auditorium to learn more about their American visitors and American culture. Danielle and I shared information about the American education system and our schools in particular. We were blown away by the presentations of the students - both student speakers and performers did an excellent job of sharing their talents and ideas. It was clear from the performances of the various age groups of dancers and the cheer squad that the ENSB students are talented and committed to their sport/art. Much to our surprise, the fun was yet to begin. The eleventh grade students from our teaching experiences at ENSB prepared marvelous displays and talks about the various regions of Colombia. With great enthusiasm, the explained the customs, clothing, economy, history, and natural environment of their chosen regions. Best of all, the students and their families created wonderful culinary treats from the regions! It would be impossible to say which was the best food, but I can say without reservation that we learned a great deal from the students and thoroughly enjoyed their enthusiastic hospitality.
The past two days have provided yet another study in contrast between the variety of schools in Colombia. Colombo Americana is situated in the bustling city of Bucaramanga and the Aratoca district is nestled high above Chicomocha Canyon in a farming community. Colombo Americana is a private school attended by students who are all ages (teenagers - adults) and come from all walks of life. There are doctors seeking to improve their communication with other medical professionals and those who wish to travel throughout the world. The Aratoca public district serves a dwindling number of students, but provides the first (and only?) English instruction one hour per week to students in the area and houses one of the few internet options for the community in its computer lab. Teachers at the urban school come from around the world and the teachers at the rural are native Colombians. Despite their differences, both institutions have engaged and engaging students. Both welcome visitors with smiles!
Today featured all things about teaching. We started the day early at Campus D of the ENSB (Escuela Normal Superior of Bucaramanga) to observe a pedagogical (didactic) class preparing future teachers in action. Although my partner teacher, Danielle, had experienced similar teacher training in her certification program, it was a new experience for me. The teacher Martha modeled her lesson as designed for students (which had the additional bonus of furthering English language acquisition for her class) before engaging in reflection and evaluation of the pedagogical strategies used. I only wish that my teaching certification program had included similar training to better prepare me for the classroom! As always, we received a warm welcome from the staff of the school during a meeting. Martha treated us to enormous egg-stuffed arepas (amazing!) and German broke out his homemade spiced coconut clusters (delicious!). Back at the main campus of ENSB, our host teacher Diana provided a brief tour of the music classroom and the auditorium where we'll share our American culture presentation with the student body on Monday. We also had an opportunity to do some initial planning for a share literature unit with her colleague Claudia.
The students we met yesterday proved eager and willing to try their first lesson with two American teachers in the afternoon. Danielle and I used every support strategy that two second-language teachers can throw at students to explore and reflect upon symbolism in a cooperative learning environment. Students jumped into the lesson which eventually led to the challenge of communicating with students in our Coloradan and Wisconsin classrooms. It was clear that the postcards and letters from our respective students fired their imagination and enthusiasm. We hope to pick up stacks of letters and postcards to bring back to the U.S. by the end of the week.
Our first day at Escuela Normal Superior introduced us to the caring staff and energetic students of this remarkable school that ranks amongst the best at preparing the next generation of primary teachers in Colombia. We met with teachers and staff in the morning and returned to meet with the students in the afternoon. Everyone had questions. The staff wanted to know about opportunities to connect programs and how we could work together to improve learning and experiences for their education community. We were so impressed by their commitment to improving outcomes not just for their current students but for future generations of Colombians. They have a clear sense of their path forward and need only the means to make it happen for all of their students. Those students proved just how welcoming they could be when we were introduced to the 11th graders in the auditorium. Time and again, students braved the microphone experience to ask a question about our schools and our impressions of their city, country, and culture. Later, we had a chance to observe their work with an English song in class showing their ability to work in pairs to identify lyrics and reflect on the connections to their own lives and beliefs. An incredible first day at our host school!
Historic Giron is nestled in a narrow valley a mere 9 kilometers outside of Bucaramanga but feels a world away. Narrow cobblestone streets run between whitewashed homes topped with warm terra cotta tiles. Wrought iron decorates the windows and doors while the deep green of the acacia trees shades the plazas hidden between neighborhoods. Expect to see vendors of all sorts advertising their handmade beaded necklaces, freshly squeezed juices, and las hormigas culonas (roasted big-butted ants). The plazas team with residents and tourists seeking shade beneath the trees. Walk a little further and you can find an antique bridge teetering on the edge of collapse or an entire half-block of candy vendors. The ancient Colonial churches still pack in the crowds for service and it's possible to see small dogs in attendance with their owners. Take a rest with a refreshing pineapple creation - there's nothing so invigorating as a hollowed pineapple shell filled with fresh fruit and coconut mango ice cream. Even better, sit down for a luncheon surrounded by happy Giron families celebrating first communions, birthdays, and everything else with song and delicious food. La Casona is the place to relax with family and friends in Giron!
There's nothing like a rooftop breakfast with sweeping view of the city below and skyscraping towers and mountains to start your day. By all means, go to the local park to discover a fantastic Botero sculpture around the corner from your hotel. Still, there's an even better way to learn about your new location. After today's experience, I believe that the best introduction to an area is a helicopter flight. My first helicopter experience in the helm next to our pilot (go Diego!) was a revelation. Although the flight from the Ruitoque Country Club (which we'd explored via golf cart) was brief, it gave a better perspective of the way Bucaramanga is hugged by the steep mountains surrounding it. The rains that swept down upon the mountain side perch of Cerro del Santisimo did little to curb our enthusiasm for the magnificent site and sights over the lush valley. To our surprise as we sipped coffee and hot chocolate at a small restaurant, a talented group of youngsters performed several traditional Colombian dances in full costume despite the light drizzle that continued. We took the elevator up to the top of the floor (131 feet) of the tower behind the alabaster statue of Jesus blessing the city below. Even at this height, taller mountains towered behind us with tiny farms carving a niche of agriculture from their slopes. Still, the views were stunning. As the sun set, we made our way down to the stage to see a final performance by the dancers and to take in a a magnificent fountain and light show synchronized to music. A lengthy ride on the cable car finally deposited us at the bottom of the mountain and into the stillness of the night. The drive through the tropical forest over a muddy, rutted road resembled nothing so much as a scary turn in a Jurassic Park film but nonetheless led back to civilization.