One of our Guatemala Starfish staff members, Vilma Saloj Chiyal, recently returned from a two-month trip to the United States. Formerly the coordinator of the Sololá mentorship office, Vilma was recently selected to become Director of the Starfish Impact School, opening in January 2017. In addition to attending professional development sessions with our team of educators, Vilma has spent the past six months learning what makes an effective school director. While in the United States, Vilma visited several Starfish partner schools in Colorado, shadowing school leaders, educators, and administrators to learn best practices and understand how to effectively create school-wide culture and integrate it into high academic standards. In the following testimonial, Vilma shares her thoughts on her experience abroad:
I am Vilma Verónica Saloj Chiyal, the second daughter of six children in my family (with three sisters and two brothers). I was born in a small community in the department of Sololá, Guatemala, and I currently study middle-school education. When I started my position at Starfish, my biggest dream was to become a doctor and support people with their health needs.
In the long run, Starfish has transformed my way of thinking by encouraging me to think critically. I’ve learned to form goals and a personal life plan, which has allowed me to progress from being a Starfish mentor to a coordinator and, now, to Director of the Starfish Impact School.
In the United States, I observed teachers as they served as guides, facilitators, and directors who supported the learning processes of students. The educators modeled positive values, practices, and character strengths in the classroom, as well as every space in the schools. It was valuable for me to be able to compare and contrast the “traditional” education system in the United States with the education I experienced as a student in Guatemala and the education we hope to create through the Starfish Impact School.
Each of the schools I visited possessed something courageous and unique. I could clearly see their visions and missions put into practice, as the educators performed each and every task in a very intentional manner. The teachers I observed were always looking to achieve excellence and utilize every minute of their time.
In addition, all of the people I interacted with in the United States were passionate about education. At the schools, happy students were eager to do every task and activity. Parents and family members are convinced that the quality of education depends very much on the ability and preparation of the teachers. Put simply, a synergy exists within the education community; everyone seems to know how to do their work in a way that will allow the students to achieve their goals.
Homestay Families and Friends:
I am grateful to all of the homestay families and friends I met during my time in the United States. Their spirit and dedication to Starfish allowed me to more fully engage in my work with the Girl Pioneers and their families, with local communities, and with my country. I felt like a part of their families, I learned new words (like “spoon,” “brain,” “of course,” and “no worries”), and I also learned how much families in the United States incorporate learning into their homes. Parents read with their children and teach them how to use “growth mindset” by looking up words or ideas that they are not familiar with. There is also a young spirit and energy in everyone, and all of them believe in educating women. I felt like I was with my own family in the United States, and this comfort level allowed my English to greatly improve!
The schools in the US that I visited are models of a quality education and high expectations for education. They are character-builders, a source of encouragement for students who hope to attend university, and they change old paradigms of education. I extend my sincerest gratitude to the directors, teachers, leaders, students, and school staff who gave me support as I develop into a school director. With everyone’s support, my dreams and the dreams of many young women are possible.