We visited the three private schools attended by the children in the home. Whereas they all bore the stamp of Salvadoran educational philosophy, they were very different. The most strikingly different was the Laura Lehtinen school recently started in San Salvador. This school for children with learning disabilities was remarkable for the high teacher/student ratio and the skill of the teacher we observed. The child we were observing, “Tomas”, had demonstrated slow development from infancy and had always struggled in school. In his last school, he was very unhappy. In this new school, his contentment was obvious.
Tomas’ classroom had 8 children, though only 4 were present during the lesson we observed, the others apparently in an adjacent room with another teacher. The teacher in Tomas’ room worked individually with a student for about 10 minutes, then moved her chair and began work with another. As she attended to each student, she periodically turned to redirect another student who had strayed from his or her academic agenda or who needed immediate attention. She had great patience and tolerance for Tomas’ behavior – which included frequent departures from his seat and making little dancing or hopping movements – and she gave him many affirmations for correct answers.
An important focus of my school observations is the playground. In Tomas’ school, both teachers were present for the entire playground activity – an unusual and welcome observation, since so much can be learned on the playground, and opportunities to support that learning are so frequently missed. The atmosphere on the playground was relaxed and pleasant. Tomas needed to be redirected once when he strayed into territory outside the bounds, but otherwise he enjoyed himself watching some of the older boys and playing with a girl classmate. Although Tomas’ difficulty following through with an agenda was apparent in his playground games as well as in the classroom, his ease in making social connections and his friendly manner seemed to mitigate his many abrupt departures from the game.
The other two schools were also good schools with dedicated teachers and lively playground activities. One was more academically rigorous than the other and had smaller classes. In this school, the teachers were able to engage their students in the material they were teaching to an impressive degree. We focused on several children from the home in this school. One, a handsome boy of 13, was often distracted by the attentions of the girls sitting near him. Another, a 10-yo girl, seemed focused on filling in the answers in her workbook instead of listening to the teacher. Liz and I took careful notes and returned to the home to discuss our impressions.