Teaching the teachers

Terry Roberts
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Shearstown educators to share their experiences, skills with colleagues in Nicaragua

Patricia George (left) and Trudy Hutchings, both of Bay Roberts, are making plans to travel to Nicaragua this summer on a two-week mission to bring professional development to teachers in the poverty stricken Central American country. - Photo by Terry Roberts/The Compass

Bay Roberts - A duo of veteran educators from Bay Roberts are making plans to share their experiences and skills with some of their colleagues in one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.

Patricia George and Trudy Hutchings have been teaching young students for a combined 60 years.

This summer, they will join eight other teachers from across Canada on a mission to San Marcos, Nicaragua, where they will provide professional development sessions to local teachers over a two-week period, beginning in late July.

George is a science teacher who recently retired from the province's school system, having worked the last 16 years of her career at Ascension Collegiate in Bay Roberts. Hutchings, an English teacher, spent most of her career in Corner Brook, retiring in 2001.

She spent the last decade teaching English in places such as Nunavut, England and China, and also spent a year on the northern Ontario First Nations reserve of Attawapiskat, which has made national headlines in recent months for issues related to substandard housing.

They will represent St. Mark's Anglican Church in Shearstown, and are now actively seeking support - both financial and school/teaching supplies - for their mission, which will take place at the Skylark Retreat Centre, which is operated by 3-Fold Ministries.

The idea is that by improving the teaching abilities of teachers in Nicaragua, most of whom are women, the future will be a little brighter for young people, George said.

"In raising the education levels of the children, in the long-term they will get better employment and be better able to look after themselves," she added.

Limited resources

The idea for the mission took root during a trip to Nicaragua several years ago by a youth group from Ontario. Among those on the trip was Cindi Olsen, who is a school administrator.

She was asked if such a mission was possible, and agreed to do some research. She did a survey of teachers in the San Marcos area to get a better understanding of the needs, and then put the word out to some of her colleagues in Canada.

George immediately signed on, and Hutchings was quick to follow.

It's expected that up to 100 Nicaraguan teachers - 50 in the first week and 50 more in the second week - will take part in a series of professional development seminars, touching on a wide spectrum of the curriculum.

George said the school system breaks for just two weeks in the summer, and the Nicaraguan teachers taking part in the training will be giving up half their vacation.

And since there are so few teaching resources in the country, George and Hutchings will have to be creative in the way they pass along their knowledge and techniques to their colleagues in Nicaragua.

George plans to promote science concepts through the use of games, and emphasize the advantages of co-operative learning techniques, such as working in groups.

Hutchings will concentrate on literacy development, and will also use games to pass along some teaching strategies.

Both will learn as much Spanish as they can in the coming months.

"If I can help just one woman improve her lot in life, it will be worthwhile," Hutchings said.

Seeking assistance

They will be travelling to an area ravaged by social problems, including gang and domestic violence, teen pregnancy and poverty.

The country has undergone periods of political unrest over the years, including a dictatorship, and a fiscal crisis that led to a revolution in the 1960s and '70s. It has experienced economic growth and political stability in recent years, but nearly half of the population continues to live below the poverty level.

So why would two women from this area want to travel to Nicaragua?

Both say they have been afforded many advantages in this country, and feel a deep desire to help those who are less fortunate.

"We're all our brother's keeper," George said. "Everyone should be looking out for one another."

Trudy said those who have a roof over their head, food in the refrigerator and a warm bed to sleep in are very fortunate. Many in the world are not so lucky.

"I feel very blessed because I've had so many advantages. And maybe you have to pass on some of those advantages that you've been given," Hutchings said.

It's expected that George and Hutchings will need up to $3,000 each to take part in the mission. They have also started a campaign to collect school/teaching supplies.

They are organizing a March 4 gospel concert for St. Mark's Church, are selling tickets on a hand-made guitar, and a flea market is being planned for this spring. They are also making presentations to any group that would like to hear more about the mission.

All funds will be processed by St. Mark's Church.



- Location - Central America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, between Costa Rica and Honduras;

- Languages - Spanish is the official language, though English and indigenous languages are found on the Atlantic Coast;

- Religions - Roman Catholic (58.5 per cent), and Protestant (23.2 per cent), none (15.7 per cent);

- Population - 5.66 million (July 2011 estimate);

- Capital city - Managua (population of roughly 935,000);

- Education expenditures - 3.1 per cent of GDP, compared to 4.9 per cent in Canada;

- Literacy rate - 67.5 per cent (definition: age 15 and over can read and write);

- Government type - republic (gained independence from Spain in 1821);

- Leadership - President Daniel Ortega;

- Economy - is considered the poorest country in Central America, and the second poorest in the hemisphere, with widespread underemployment and poverty. An estimated 48 per cent of the population live below the poverty line;

- Industries - food processing, chemicals, machinery and metal products, knit and woven apparel, petroleum refining and distribution, beverages, footwear and wood.

Source: The Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook


Organizations: Northern Ontario First Nations, Anglican Church, Skylark Retreat Centre Central Intelligence Agency

Geographic location: Nicaragua, Bay Roberts, Canada Shearstown San Marcos Mark Western Hemisphere Corner Brook Nunavut England China Attawapiskat Ontario Central America Caribbean Sea Costa Rica Honduras Atlantic Coast Managua Spain

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Recent comments

  • Violet Holmes
    February 19, 2012 - 22:08

    Wishing my daughter Pat and my friend Trudy, a great success in this new adventure....Good Luck! Pat's mom, Vi.