Thursday, January 12, 2017
Why Pre-K matters: Meet Yenifer and Nicolasa
Written by Student Sponsorship Coordinator Anne-Sophie Robin
For generations of indigenous children in the rural highlands of Guatemala, attending preschool has never been in the cards. Nicolasa was no exception. When this mother of five was given the opportunity to send her youngest daughter to the Mayan Families Preschool Nutritional Center in the heart of her community of El Barranco, she immediately seized it. Now, one year and 200 school days later, 5-year-old Yenifer is on the brink of entering kindergarten. Nicolasa opens up about the impact early childhood education has had on her daughter and her family.
“I cannot imagine Yenifer not going to school now,” Nicolasa said. “I bring her every morning and pick her up after class.” She feels comfortable doing so, viewing the village’s preschool as a safe haven in which young children are cared for by qualified and dedicated teachers while parents can work in the surrounding cornfields or carry out household chores.
Nutrition is another key benefit of the preschool. Yenifer and her class are served a hearty breakfast and a healthy snack daily, including fruit and atole – a traditional, thick, corn-based beverage. Yenifer never fails to tell her mother what she ate and drank at school. “Pineapple, papaya, atole…”
Yenifer (on left) in her classroom in El Barranco, Photo by Anna Watts
The after-school conversation does not stop there. Yenifer is always eager to share what she learned that day: a new word she has been introduced to, a new song she has been taught some choreography for, or a new game she played during recess.
Besides newly acquired pre-literacy skills, Nicolasa also noticed significant behavioral changes in her daughter. Play sessions now go more smoothly as Yenifer interacts easily with other children. She has also developed a passion for drawing and painting, which is inspired by the new colors and shapes she has been shown in class.
The Preschool Nutritional Center is a bilingual environment where learning happens in both Kaqchikel and Spanish. This approach is designed to level the playing field for indigenous students like Yenifer who speak Kaqchikel at home. Children are taught to follow instructions, communicate with teachers, and play with each other in the two languages – enhancing their cognitive skills and shaping their brain for a lifetime. Even though Nicolasa values the strong ties her mother tongue helps maintain within her indigenous community, she is well aware of the importance of mastering Spanish in today’s Guatemala.
Nicolasa is hopeful for the future. She firmly believes her daughter is being well prepared for future academic success in primary school and beyond. When the day finally comes to enter 1st grade, “Yenifer won’t cry like the children who have never been separated from their family.”
Nicolasa is not the only mother whose expectations have been raised. A generation ago, most residents of El Barranco would not foresee a formal education for their sons and daughters beyond elementary school. Today, parents within the community say they will encourage them to study longer to graduate from high school and pursue higher education, if possible.
“Yenifer can study whatever she wants, whatever allows her to get a good job and sustain herself economically.” To fulfill this dream, Nicolasa will continue bringing Yenifer to school every morning again this year.
How can you help?
For just $1 a day, you can help Nicolasa and other hardworking parents like her bring their child to school in the rural highlands of Guatemala. To provide indigenous students like Yenifer with the gift of education in 2017, click here.