Natalia Salazar

Natalia is thrilled to be back at SJBS as the Program Administrator! She can probably be found playing with her students, eating with their families, adventuring on the weekends, or working out at one of Cofradía’s new gyms while she’s not at school. Natalia was a BECA camp counselor in 2010 and 2011, the Administrator at ADJ from 2014 to 2015, and the Administrator at SJBS from 2015-2016. She said a tearful goodbye to her students and their families in 2016 and moved to Tucson, Arizona, where she worked for the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project on the children’s team until her return to BECA. Through her work in Arizona, Natalia learned about the immigration system in the U.S. and worked with children and families from Central America. Natalia has long been interested in education, child welfare, and social justice and youth justice issues. She graduated from Clark University in 2013 with a BA in International Development and Social Change, and in 2014 with a MA in Community Development and Planning.

Posted on Monday, February 15, 2016, 12:24 pm EST

Each year, some members of the BECA team decide to stay for a second (or third or fourth) year. While the kids and the school are the same, the experience of a returner is really different after they have a year of teaching experience behind them. Miss Natalia, SJBS administrator and upper-school teacher reflects on returning to SJBS after Christmas break and her second year with BECA below. BECA is also lucky to have passionate, engaged volunteers who become passionate and engaged alumni, many of whom return to visit students and families each year, as well as lend support in other ways. Miss Sarah, former SJBS wearer-of-many-hats (including administrator, resource teacher, and English teacher), describes her experience of returning to Honduras in January to lead a professional development session. Read both below!

Miss Natalia

After working as a BECA administrator both this year and last, I thought I’d be slightly less excited about this year’s Christmas break, just because the feeling would be familiar. I was wrong. This year’s Christmas break was equally as welcome as my days of waking up at 5:30 came to a standstill. No more bells, no more meetings, no more discipline – and no more kids! I decided to go to Mexico on bus for Christmas rather than back to Massachusetts. Although I knew it’d be much warmer than a snowy New England, I looked forward to visiting another part of Latin America and two full weeks of sightseeing, trying new food, and getting the hang of Mexican Spanish – not to mention actually getting a full night’s sleep!

The break was as refreshing as I expected, and as such, I barely thought about school– but when I did think about it, I remembered the biggest change I was about to face after Christmas – teaching. As an administrator, I’ve spent a lot of time in the classroom, but had never been captain of the proverbial ship. This year, however, I’m teaching Elective and Computer class to 7th, 8th, and 9th grade. This year’s course is titled “Facing History and Ourselves,” and focuses on analyzing human behavior during and through the lens of Holocaust. I took this class in high school and remembered the life lessons I took away from it. All I could do was hope it went equally as well with the SJBS middle schoolers.

After the two weeks were up (so quickly!), I was surprised at how ready I was to return to school. I breathed a sigh of relief as soon as the bus pulled over the border back into Honduras. Home sweet home, where baleadas are plentiful and I could count on it being much warmer. I missed my own bed and—surprisingly—the never-ending noises of Cofradia. Coming back to school was no different. I looked forward to the first day of school in January, when dozens of children swarm you for the first hugs of the New Year. The parents, who at this point feel like neighbors, were equally as welcoming, as they too flooded the school to clean, bring lunches, and badger their children back into the homework grind.

I continue to be relieved and excited to be back in Cof and at SJBS. There have been no major disasters in my classes (so far!), and teaching has given me a renewed sense of responsibility for my school. Almost 70 middle schoolers count on me to teach them something each day! More research, more photo-copies, and now grading! I look forward to seeing how this challenge shapes the rest of my school year here at SJBS.

Image obtained via http://www.hotelmariaangelina.com.mx/img/san-cristobal-de-las-casa.jpg

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Miss Sarah

Put me in front of a classroom of angsty, stinky, but enthusiastic middle-schoolers, and I feel right at home. Our shared predilections for toilet humor and sarcasm allow for an easy rapport, and the fact that their emotions are always fully felt and expressed means that, although I may be perplexed by their reactions, I always know where they stand. Put me in front of a room full of my peers—other teachers and school administrators—and things are suddenly not quite so clear. Perhaps my lowbrow humor will be interpreted as a lack of professionalism. Are people not participating because they’re bored, or because I’m making no sense? These concerns emerged whenever I lead discussions as a Classroom Coach, or, more recently, when asked to teach several sessions for a BECA-wide professional development day.

In January, when I returned to Honduras six months after finishing a two-year stint with BECA as, variously, the middle school English teacher, the Upper School Resource teacher, and a Program Administrator, it was to face a classroom of fellow educators, not as a classroom teacher. Of course, I also saw many of my former students, shared hugs and laughs with parents and school board members, and freaked out over reunions with BECA friends I had missed terribly. But it was the classroom full of peers that had me reviewing my powerpoint, preparing handouts and rehearsing my key points.

When I left Honduras for graduate school in June, I sought answers to questions that had arisen from my time as a teacher in Honduras and the U.S.: Why are some programs, like BECA, successful while others are not? What can we in education do to best help students? How can schools be a source of joy and support for all students? What I’ve learned so far is that these answers are hard to come by, and they look different in different contexts. So much for easy solutions. What is consistent, however, is the fact that teacher quality is one of the most important factors in student success. BECA does a great job training teachers before they even walk into their classrooms, but just as learning is a constant, iterative process for our students, it must also be a recurring theme for our teachers.

As a BECA teacher, the most important growing I did was when I was pushed by other teachers to reflect on my teaching, to move beyond the frustrating class period or the activity that took hours of preparation and only a few minutes of class for total chaos to ensue. Likewise, and more challenging for me personally, were the moments when I was asked to discuss what was going well in my classroom, to consider what alchemy had produced moments of joy and learning in equal measure. I was fortunate to work for an organization like BECA where my professional growth was taken seriously and where I was given consistent opportunities to both learn from and guide my peers towards a better pedagogy for all our students.