American Teacher Lends Talent To Educate Guatemalans

Close-up of female hands touching buttons of black computer keyboard

Close-up of female hands touching buttons of black computer keyboard

An American teacher wanted to share her knowledge with the world -- so she went online.

Through a few clicks, Irene Barry spent long hours in the behavioral room at Aztec High School helping emotionally impaired and behaviorally troubled students.

At night, Barry lent her writing and educational talents to help rural teachers in Guatemala who want to improve their English and computer skills.

She has written and developed two online courses for the teachers.

The online classroom is part of her doctoral work in curriculum, instruction and assessment for Walden University.

"I attended a presentation by Dr. Douglas Tedford about his volunteer work to help educators in Guatemala, and I asked, 'Can you use an English teacher?' And he kissed me hand," Barry said. "Before I knew it, I was writing the curriculum for the courses and with other volunteers building the course sites."

A basic online English course for rural Guatemalan teachers began in fall 2010, with more than 30 students enrolled.

For many Guatemalans, English is a third or fourth language, after Spanish and native languages.

Since 2010, the class has enrolled more than 200 teachers, all free of charge.

More than 70 have completed the basic course, Barry said.

This summer, Barry plans to travel to San Lucas Tolimán to meet many of the teachers she has so far only interacted with via the course website or email.

She has written a grant to help her with airfare.

"The needs are many, but ultimately the goal of these teachers is to learn English and, in turn, share their knowledge with their students," said Douglas Tedford, the man whose presentation prompted Barry to create the online courses.

Tedford, who lives in Mexico City, works as an author, teacher trainer, researcher and writer for Teaching Services Latin America.

He volunteers with his wife, Becky, on behalf of the Rigoberta Menchu Tum Foundation, a nonprofit in Guatemala that helps indigenous and rural natives of Guatemala.

Menchu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her work on behalf of indigenous Guatemalans.

The teachers work in rural schools without books, pencils, paper, chalkboards and earn 40 cents per hour.

Many of them have second jobs, often field work, and little or no access to computers.

To access Barry's online course, the teachers travel to the foundation's locations in Guatemala City and San Lucas Tolimán or use Internet cafés.

"I wrote the course, the questions and organized 20 lessons with help from fellow volunteer Shane Fairbairn, who created the site using Moodle (free online educational software) and added graphics and visuals," Barry said. "As time went on, we added an intermediate course."

The online courses provide a basic comfort level with technology and free access to learning English for the teachers, Tedford said.

"Most importantly, critical tools like the online courses help raise the expectations of the teachers as they gain multiple skills," he said. "I'm thrilled that Irene has volunteered with Menchu. She's a key element in our helping lift these teachers up."

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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