In some ways the picture to the left says it all. “ Notice – 5th grade does not have class. The teacher is sick.” This is a sign that too often can be found on classroom doors in government schools in the poor neighborhoods where VAMOS! works. It is reported that teacher absenteeism is an epidemic in Mexico. Education for the poor is simply not a priority.
You will never see a sign like this at a VAMOS! center. In fact what you will notice immediately is that each child who attends our centers is treated with love, respect and dignity. No matter how they are dressed, how clean or dirty they are or where they live, our teachers, cooks and aides honestly care for each student. Patience and listening are the tools VAMOS! employs to help children discover the best in themselves.
The average Mexican receives less than six years of schooling. By the time most U.S. children are entering seventh grade, most of their Mexican counterparts are searching for work. While the primary schools are far from free, junior high is much more expensive and senior high costs even more. There are no school buses, no truant officers to insure that all children go to school, no school lunches, no free text books after grade six, and a teaching method which has more in common with U.S. and Canadian schools of the 1920s or 1930s than those today. Many of the rural schools are taught by a remote teacher on a TV screen, giving lessons for 15 minutes followed by children working independently for the remainder of the hour. It is hardly an effective educational method.
In 1990 VAMOS! began informal classes in basic literacy and mathematics for both adults and children. From the beginning, it was obvious that this was filling an important need both for those who were in public schools and for those without the opportunity to go to school at all. Today every one of our centers provides 90 minutes of education every day from pre-school through 8th grade, with the goal of having all participants learning at their appropriate grade level. Our centers operate in tandem with the local school schedule so that, if the local school has classes in the mornings, our centers are open in the afternoon.
Early on we discovered many children could not concentrate because they were hungry and malnourished. Today VAMOS! centers schedule a meal for each child first, along with a vitamin, and then classes. Our teachers are all local women who VAMOS! has trained, and continues to train, with seminars and workshops on teaching techniques and child development education with an emphasis on the importance of caring for each child. We have an Education Supervisor who works on curriculum, monitors all of our educational programs and does staff development throughout the year. Early on a visiting child development psychologist noted that our children had never played with puzzles and other educational toys and thus found simple tasks like reading and basic math very difficult. We now use puzzles, games and educational toys, especially in our younger grades. Our computer classes are also helpful as older children print out reports and use the internet to research school assignments.