Laspa Center for Leadership: Mikaela Gallardo and Elizabeth Galvan: Developing Resources for Elementary School Students in Nicaragua

CLAREMONT, California - June 1, 2017

By Anyi Wong-Lifton ’19


In Bluefields, Nicaragua, a city along the Caribbean coast, rapid economic growth has improved the standard of living and increased the demand for education. Although the number of schools in Nicaragua is growing, public institutions are overcrowded and often inadequate, and many families cannot afford to send their children to private institutions. To help address the problem of children’s access to education, Mikaela Gallardo ’19 and Elizabeth Galvan ’19 used Laspa We Act Grants to work with Path of Knowledge, an organization that awards private-school tuition scholarships and provides educational support for Nicaraguan students and their families beyond the classroom.

Gallardo grew up volunteering in elementary schools, since her mother is a second grade teacher, but she had never traveled to Central American before. She hoped the experience would allow her to utilize the Spanish language skills she had acquired in school and to explore her identity as someone whose parents’ first language is Spanish.

Gallardo and Galvan spent three weeks with children at Verbo, a K-12 school in Bluefields. They reported to a supervisor in the U.S., but otherwise were given the freedom to decide how to best work with students. The pair provided supplementary learning opportunities such as creative writing and physical education. They also spoke with teachers about the progress of particular students, which helped them provide tailored tutoring for those struggling to transition from the lower academic standards at public schools to more rigorous expectations of private schools. They tried to tailor tutoring lessons to students’ different needs and adapt their teaching styles as they got to know each of their personalities.

At first, Gallardo was disheartened because it seemed that the students did not want to go to tutoring. However, as she worked with them, she saw their attitudes change, especially after she missed a day of tutoring because she was sick. The students’ concern about her absence showed Gallardo that they do care about learning and gave her hope that her tutoring would have a positive impact on their ability to complete their educations.

“I had no right or ability to tell them they had to do their homework. Instead, I thought it should be my job to show them the importance of doing it, so that they want to do it themselves,” Gallardo says.

“Their independence was a little bit of a struggle, but then I think it became an advantage. They definitely took charge of their education, which was very empowering for them.”

Since many families were busy with multiple children, Galvan and Gallardo also realized the importance of helping students get from home to school everyday, ensuring safe and nurturing study environments within active households, and steering families toward educational resources such as local libraries. Galvan and Gallardo hoped that meeting with parents would motivate them to stay actively involved in their children’s education even after the pair left Bluefields.

“It’s not that the parents didn’t place value on education,” Gallardo says, “but [it] came secondary to primary needs like food, making sure they had enough money that week, or household projects. So our job was also reinforcing to the parents that education is such an important part of your child’s future.”

On the weekends, Gallardo and Galvan also worked with parents and older siblings who were interested in learning reading, writing, and mathematics skills they had not developed or retained because they had dropped out of the public school system.

By the time they left Bluefields, Gallardo says students were getting more excited about learning and talking more about education with their parents. She hopes this enthusiasm will help create a strong culture of valuing knowledge and learning.