The sign on the front gate of the Hospital reads; “ DIOS OBRA AQUI ” ( God is at work here). Just as Loma de Luz is not just a Mission Hospital; it is a Hospital and a School, a Foster Children’s Home and an Agricultural work, it is in Community Development and Support of the Church, God is also definitely at work at the School, El Camino Bilingual School. When, in response to the threat and the fear of SARS-CoV-2, “the Coronavirus”, governmental decrees recently closed all schools and made free movement on the roads much more difficult, , El Camino Bilingual School, the administration , the teachers and staff, along with the students and parents applied God-given inspiration, ingenuity, and redoubled energy to educate the future leaders of Honduras.
Shortly after 2pm on Thursday, March 12, passersbys on the dusty, bumpy road that runs by the El Camino school would see a small circle of teachers standing in the schoolyard. One might assume a normal end-of-week meeting (as the majority of our classes meet Monday-Thursday), or perhaps a sharing of anecdotes from a week full of learning with our over 100 students. On a normal Thursday this would be true as small groups of teachers often gather to recount stories of the day.
But this was the last of the “normal” days. As we stood in a circle our Director, Rosanne McKenney, shared that we would not be seeing our kids on Monday as many of us had just told them as they loaded onto the bus or gave a hug before hopping on their family motorcycle to head home. El Camino, along with every other public and private school in Honduras, had just been ordered to cancel classes for two weeks. While the headlines of COVID-19 had already begun to circulate, we had no way of knowing with what intensity and speed it would change the world as we knew it. Nor how it would so quickly change this small Central American country even without any known cases here of this deadly virus at that time.
On Monday morning those same teachers gathered in the 7th grade classroom. The view from this room is stunning as to the east you can see the beautiful mountains and lush jungle, the splendor of God. But that morning it was all hands on deck. We kicked around ideas about how to best engage our parents to partner with us in this new era of distance learning. Each idea felt like it was met with a red stamp of “NO” due to quickly changing conditions. For instance, during this meeting our ideas for parent contact changed several times as new emails came in that announced even further restrictions on in-country travel and gatherings. This included the cancellation of all commercial flights entering and leaving the country. Just the night before, the border (air, land and sea) was closed at midnight with only hours of warning. All this to say, we had to get creative with our teaching!
Rosanne, a talented artist, was talking just the day before over lunch about how art flourishes with limitations. I’ve seen this truth play out at El Camino in the last few weeks. Although limitations abound, we feel more creative than ever. Collectively we decided to prepare learning packets for a week and a half of work for the students to begin their “homeschooling.” To pair with these packets, we launched a YouTube channel to post instructional videos for our students to watch. Most of our students are the only English speakers in their home so we needed a way to keep their English ears turned on, as I often describe it. We would distribute these packets two days later on Wednesday morning, inviting one parent to pick them up for each child. We made use of our beautiful and shady schoolyard, spreading our grade level tables more than the required two-meter distance and equipping each desk with plenty of hand sanitizer.
Spanish worship music played through a speaker as a representative for almost every single student came to pick up their schoolwork. The families showed us yet again their dedication to their child’s education. We have now done this three times. While more and more parents show up with masks, they continue to show up and show us again and again that we are a team.
Our Youtube Channel has become a robust resource for our students and their families. Most missionary teachers have their own playlist in which we are posting full lessons for our students to follow along with in their weekly packets. My living room now contains a four-foot whiteboard and math lessons are often taking place before dinner. There is a playlist full of teachers reading stories in both Spanish and English, just like we do daily in our classrooms. Because we don’t want to limit our students to only traditional learning activities, they can also find videos of songs and dances from their visiting music teacher Mrs. Vicki as well as at-home science experiments with Mrs. Kerri , one of our teacher’s moms who taught science labs at our school on a visit in November. They can learn about physical and chemical changes watching a few of us teachers make banana bread. One video even includes a lesson on harvesting honey with one of our missionary families. And each morning the students can watch a Bible lesson with Mr. Chase following the life of Jesus as we approach Easter. We are proud of this resource and are praying that it makes the kids feel loved even when we can’t wrap them in a hug the way we want to!
Story time with Ms. Guildy
Story time with Ms. Reagan
Science experiment with Mrs. Kerri
I’ll be the first to admit that in the quiet of recording a story for YouTube I deeply miss the raising of little hands and even the many interruptions that come with 17 second-graders sitting on the floor all around me, but we nevertheless press on in this “new normal” as some are calling it. Even though I don’t see my students every day I still fall asleep with ideas running through my mind about how to teach them something new. I made a list the other day of the things I miss about each student and found myself in tears. As with much of the world, we too are grieving the loss of this time, but I can confidently say we feel more encouraged and united than ever as a team here at El Camino.
We look excitedly to the day that our classrooms will be filled with the chatter of little voices and the recess yard will again become a soccer field. We eagerly wait to say “I missed you so much” face to face instead of on sticky notes attached to our packets. We know that as we are away from our kids, God is close to our hearts and theirs as well. He is still in control even when the future is so muddled with unknowns.
But we will emerge stronger because even the day we stood in that small group in the school yard shocked by the news, God wasn’t and He knows what the future holds for each one of us and each one of our students. So we trust Him and “press toward the mark”.
In Christ Jesus,