Culture, Literacy, and those Andes

By Dr. Nancy Sardone, Professor of Education

Kristin Cislak, Laura Parker and I, along with a colleague and students from Rutgers arrived in the capital city, Quito (Ecuador) on January 2, 2015 after three airline flights and a long taxi ride that traversed the winding slopes of the magnificent Andes. Even in the darkness, I could feel the altitude difference of Quito, standing a majestic 10,000 feet above sea level compared to Lakewood, which is just about even with sea level!

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The next day, we walked the narrow city streets and saw familiar sights: vendors selling wares in the Main Square, people socializing, and kids playing. But the terrain and steep grade of Quito was quite unfamiliar.  Literally, it took my breath away. Four mountains contain the valley, which run roughly north to south for miles. At the center of the valley, at its narrowest point lies Quito.

After two days touring Quito, we departed for Ambato located two hours south.  The Andes amazed and mesmerized us along the route. Our first day in Ambato, we observed the ESL teachers at the Atenas School. The next day, Laura and Kristin taught lessons to second, third, and fifth grade ESL students.

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While in Ambato, we had the opportunity to visit the Monday Fruit and Vegetable market. This was a big event! Laura was impressed by the unique grains while I was intrigued by the traditional hats and beautiful Ecuadorian hair!

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On Wednesday, we had the opportunity to meet 40+ students from the Universidad Tecnica De Ambato (UTA) studying to be ESL teachers. We had a whole group discussion about cultural stereotypes and then each American (8 of us in total) lead a small group discussion about topics of joint interest. I am sporting that Georgian Court University bag quite nicely, huh?

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On Wednesday evening, we departed for Baños de Agua Santa (Spanish for “Baths of Holy Water”) named after the hot springs located around the city which have a reputation of having healing properties due to their content of various minerals. We had fun in Baños, located in the northern foothills of the Mt. Tungurahua volcano (last erupted 1999). Some of us visited the baths, others braved “the swing at the end of the world,” and we all laughed over the zip line!

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Thursday was busy day for us as we visited an after-school program, Biblioteca Interactiva de Banos (short name, the “Bib”) dedicated to reading. We were thrilled at the opportunity to work with these eager students, reading books to them in Spanish and preparing an associated activity. We had three groups, each reading a different story. We feel fortunate to have been able to gift books to this program, in both English and Spanish. Program director, Karl Persechino (center, below) was appreciative of our gifts of books and time.

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Friday, we took a public bus and travelled one hour to Meira. In Meira, we visited a first and fifth grade class at a Catholic school. We read to students, in Spanish, and gifted the first grade teachers with books for classroom use and gave every fifth grader their very own book.

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The weekend was interspersed with fun and work, as we prepared lessons for Monday and Tuesday when we returned to the Atenas School in Ambato.

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