Vol. VI, December 2008
Vol. V, April 2008
Vol. IV, January 2008
Vol. III, October 2007
Vol. II, May 2007
Vol. I, March 2007


Newsletter Volume V, April 2008

  1. Calle Nueva - A Rural School Gets Some Long Overdue Attention!
  2. Training for Preschool and Early Primary Grade Teachers in Villa El Carmen
  3. Congress for English Teachers at UNAN, Leon

Dear Friends,

CHESS is now One Year Old and growing! This project has been up and running and impacting the lives of thousands of people in the community of Villa El Carmen since March, 2007. We do have much to be grateful for and many accomplishments to celebrate. In this Welcome Message of our April issue of the CHESS Nicaragua newsletter I would like to focus on three key questions of the exciting, dynamic, partnership-based community development work in several schools and health posts in the rural areas of Nicaragua. What have we done? Why have we done it? Where are we going?

What have we done?
We invite you to read through the previous CHESS newsletters to review “what we have done” from English training for elementary teachers, to water filters for all classrooms, to archeological training programs for teachers and community members, to the building of libraries within several of our CHESS schools, just to mention a few of our project objective areas. The photos on our web site and within our newsletters will tell the stories of the children, families, schools, health posts, and CHESS staff and volunteers at work.

Why have we done it?
The CHESS Nicaragua innerCHANGE (iCHai) project is not about deciding for others what they need. It is about reaching out and offering to sit together, to ask and listen to those in the most need, to learn by working, to start by acting and to learn by doing. Our way forward is through small steps along side those with whom we are working. By putting those who are usually last in the first place not once but in every service project we offer throughout the world we develop, adapt, and extend our unique approach to creating sustainable community development. Our work will result in a worldwide partnership with a purpose and with a goal for building friendships and relationships through “working together across cultures” service.

Our mission is:
To provide strategic, tactical, and program management services to international social enterprise and community service initiatives to help ensure their sustainability.

Our vision is:
To focus on the basic human needs of health, education, and economic opportunity through a network of service programs, small businesses and committed international development partners. The expertise of iCHai will be leveraged in the implementation of initiatives that result in lasting and culturally appropriate improvements in the lives of people in both domestic and international communities.

Where are we going?
Our next steps are to begin the process of performance evaluation of the CHESS staff, the project effectiveness, and the financial contributions from the funding partners. Through an iCHai trademarked three-step process of evaluation, adaptation, and replication (EAR), we will be able to prepare mid-term and project completion reports for the partners and to prepare for research-supported applications to present to future funding partners for CHESS projects in other communities in Nicaragua and other parts of the world.

Thank you for your interest in our work in Nicaragua! Please let us know, through our “Contact Us” page of this web site, if we can connect with you in any way to further our work in Central America. iCHai and CHESS invite you to join our work together across cultures to make a difference one step, one person, and one partner at a time. Through creating global partnerships we can change the world. Happy Birthday CHESS!!

Janet J. Foerster, M.Ed.
CHESS Project Director
innerCHANGE associates international, LLC

I. Calle Nueva - A Rural School Gets Some Long Overdue Attention! top
By Ligia Diaz, CHESS Nicaragua Project Coordinator

The CHESS project is committed to fostering a love for reading in students. CHESS personnel, Gran Pacifica shareholders and property owners, and other supporters are working closely with the community of Villa El Carmen to renovate available spaces into clean, welcoming areas for children to read independently and for reading aloud to groups. On Sunday, January 13th, all concerned parties gathered at the Calle Nueva school; Calle Nueva serves approximately 60 students.

CHESS personnel teamed up with GP supporters to make the repairs necessary to turn an abandoned classroom into a mini-library for the students.

The team worked together to paint tables, chairs and bookshelves.

The shelves were then stocked with 250 books; these books were donated by the Gran Pacifica team. In addition to the work done inside the school, the playground equipment was also repaired and painted.

The GP contingent included Franco Harris, a Hall of Fame football player known best for his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Franco has taken a special interest in the children of Villa El Carmen; he was especially involved in teaching students how to paint their own furniture.

The students of Calle Nueva rewarded the CHESS/GP team with wonderful performances. A folklore dance was performed.

Songs were sung and Ruben Dario read a poem that he wrote. These performances highlighted the fact that these students are learning English.

Capping off the celebration, the children enjoyed batting at a Piñata; they also received gifts from the Las Perlas staff member, Fred Ulrich Jr.

Thanks to the contributions of so many Gran Pacifica friends and the CHESS project working with, Pittsburgh Rotary Club and Gran Pacifica, the first of five planned mini-libraries was inaugurated and is now ready for enjoyment.

On January 28th and 29th of 2008, Manuel Marenco and Aracely Sequeira, CHESS facilitators since the beginning of the project, delivered the program entitled “Use of Art as a Tool for Teaching” for all Villa El Carmen preschool and early primary grade teachers. Back in July of 2007, 15 teachers within the Villa El Carmen school system were lucky enough to attend the formal training at the La Ceiba school; this training was delivered by Maricela Gonzalez and Ana Fredes of Colegio Caminos, Managua. The Ministry of Education Delegate in Villa El Carmen, Mr. Denis Espinoza, greatly assisted in the preparation for this session. Without his support our desire to reproduce this training across the 12 schools would not have been possible.

Most VEC preschool and early primary grade teachers lack formal training in the discipline of Education; many are still in high school themselves. This being the case, they have not attended Escuelas Normales (Schools for Teachers), and, therefore, lack the preparation and experience of the more advanced grade teachers. Mr. Espinoza wants very much to change this so he organized an entire week of training for all municipality teaches including those at the preschool and early primary grade levels. He felt that they, in particular, would benefit from exposure to the topic of “Art as a Tool for Teaching”.

Teachers were to taught how to encourage their students to “give color to your story.” The objective of this exercise being the development of creative thinking skills and increasing memory capacity.

Visual Arts Techniques, which help young children to develop fine motor skills, were demonstrated.

In order to demonstrate non-verbal means of communication and self awareness, Manuel and Aracely, taught the teachers how to be more dramatic – using theatrical expressions and telling stories without words. The teachers found it refreshing to put themselves in the children’s shoes by actively participating in such as painting with their eyes closed. They were very receptive to and motivated by the idea of using readily available materials to make musical instruments and “works of art.”

Following the training, the teachers talked about how they could incorporate the techniques and strategies they learned into what they already do in the classroom. They feel strongly that doing so will make their classes more enjoyable and motivating for all children. When asked for a one word description of the workshop, the teachers used adjectives such as: “motivating,”“excellent,” “enriching,” “dynamic,” “fun,” “creative,” “unforgettable,” and “high quality.”

For us, the CHESS staff, these words mean a lot; they mean we are doing our job very well and that the effort and love we put into what we do is felt and rewarded on the ground. We thank the Ministry of Education Delegate, the donors, the schools and the teachers that support the CHESS mission to better the quality of education and health in Villa El Carmen.

III. Congress for English Teachers at UNAN, Leon top
By Helio Alfaro

It took several weeks and extensive planning to get a group of 7 teachers from the municipality of Villa El Carmen, led by Helio Alfaro, to the Congress for English Teachers at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Nicaragua (UNAN) in Leon. CHESS funds were used to cover expenses such as registration and transportation for the attendees while room and board was made available through the National Association of English Teachers.

In the early morning hours of January 31st , before the sun was even up, we embarked on our new and exciting adventure! The Congress location had been carefully chosen so that all sessions would be held in the same building; our dormitories, however, were not close to this building. We enjoyed having the opportunity to explore the university and observe the other teachers on campus. Everyone was reporting just as early for registration as we were; this was most definitely a punctual group and the presenters appreciated it.

There was one unwritten rule for all presentations; we were to share of our knowledge, ideas, techniques and experiences in the classrooms. Those topics that we believe will be the most relevant back in our classrooms at Villa El Carmen are:

• How to create something from nothing – developing activities from scratch;
• New methodologies and techniques for teaching;
• Preparing speaking and listening activities;
• How to eliminate “boring” grammar classes;
• How to encourage students in a large classroom to speak aloud;
• Be a beginner once again.

“Be a beginner once again” touched us all; we could imagine that this is how our students feel whenever we introduce a new topic. The presenter started the class by speaking in a language that none of us recognized. We were VERY confused and misunderstood every direction. But, in the end, the method used by the teacher had us all laughing which made us very comfortable. So comfortable, in fact, that we could participate and ultimately learned a bit of Dutch.

At the end of the training sessions, a closing ceremony was held and diplomas were distributed.

Two of our Villa El Carmen teachers were lucky enough to win items in the raffles. Manuel Marenco, CHESS facilitator and English teacher in Osneida and Calle Nueva, won a set of text books; Luis Felipe Reyes, who teaches English in San Miguel and Buenos Aires, won a flash memory card for the computer.

Having the ability to attend this training was a truly awesome experience. The more exposure our teachers have to the importance of the English language as it relates to the development of the municipality of Villa El Carmen, the better they grasp the task at hand. Advanced training such as that provided at UNAN Leon, motivates everyone to improve the quality of teaching and the learning process.

IV. Institute for Education from Universidad Centroamericana (IDEUCA) Offers a Course Organized and Financed by CHESS for 39 Primary School Teachers in VEC top
By Ligia Diaz, CHESS Nicaragua Project Coordinator

In June of 2007, the CHESS team was dealt what could have been a staggering blow if not for the resilient nature of Ligia Diaz, CHESS Project Coordinator. The Minister of Education released a document advocating a change from the traditional methods for delivering workshops and trainings. MINED feared that teachers were spending too much time outside of the classroom and were becoming confused by the wide variety of material on which they were receiving instruction; they were also concerned that the trainings, in general, provided no method for measurement of success. The original CHESS proposal, although including components for performance measurement and appraisal, was created and approved on the basis of several small trainings for the VEC teachers over a two year period. In order to receive MINED approval, the CHESS team, led by Ligia and with the support of Alianzas, began stepping through the process required to create an IDEUCA sponsored course that would total 210 hours of classroom training, research and tutoring for primary grade school teachers over a four month period. The ultimate goal of the CHESS/UCA program is to improve the student’s ability to read and write using the English language. Creative methods such as developing the leadership skills of teachers and demonstrating innovative ways to share information were critical to the success of the program. All teachers would be required to complete a final project and, upon completion of the project and course attendance, the teachers would receive a diploma from the office of the Ministry of Education.

The logistics of creating a program of this scale were challenging. Working closely with the Ministry of Education Delegate in Villa El Carmen, CHESS personnel coordinated the business logistics. Permits were required to run the course out of one of the CHESS public schools and for the teachers to attend the course, after assuring that there would not be conflict with other MINED activities. Each participating facilitator signed an academic contract with each student/teacher to make sure each one of them understood they were making a serious commitment. Budgetary constraints had to be realized and funds reappropriated to cover fees for UCA professors and tutors, materials, meals during the course, transportation, gasoline and reproduction of written materials required by the course. CHESS staff worked with Programa Alianzas para la Educacion y la Salud, Gran Pacifica and the Pittsburgh Rotary Club to assure that the realignment of funds required to consolidate several training sessions into a large scale program was acceptable to all.

CHESS personnel also worked with the UCA staff to assure that the course material was relevant to the students and within the guidelines established by the CHESS grant. Training was carefully scheduled to avoid taking the teachers out of the classroom; all modules are delivered on Friday afternoons and Saturdays. The Santa Rita School in VEC was chosen as the training site to minimize travel costs.

After months of planning, the first training module was delivered to 39 eager pupils on February 8th and 9th, 2008. The professor, Guiomar Talavera, Master of Science in Education, was in charge. Dr. Talavera provided an overview of the program to students. She worked with them to explore their hopes and anxieties in the classroom and their expectations of the UCA training program. Most primary school teachers begged her to come back because they enjoyed her class very much and were afraid they would not like the other UCA professors as much. This showed a little bit of the insecurity to the unknown that teachers -now in the role of students- have.

First Module, February 8th and 9th

The second module was delivered by Dr. Juan Bautista Arrien, director of IDEUCA, former UCA Director and representative of UNESCO in Nicaragua. The title of his module was “Educación, Globalización y Política Educativa” (Education, globalization and education policy) and he concentrated his conversation with teachers on “La realidad educativa del país y la nueva política educativa” (The reality of Education in the country and new educative policy). Despite his years of experience and high level of accreditation, Dr. Bautista Arrien’s exchanges with local teachers –very few who held so much as a bachelor degree- were warm and smooth. He listened to their perspectives and helped them open their minds to new alternatives. He encouraged them reflect on the importance of their role as teachers in charge of new generations. They also opened voiced their concerns regarding making changes in their teaching methods; this is fear is directed toward the administration of the schools and also the technicians from MINED who supervise them.

Second Module, February 29th – March 1st

The third module was characterized for its energy and enthusiasm. The teachers were involved in many different hands on activities. Professor Juan Alamo, MEd., emphasized the importance of defining such intangible traits such as “self-esteem” and “leadership”. He introduced creative methods of communication and self expression. Professor Talavera, who led the first module, returned to focus the importance of gender perspective in teaching. This topic was eye opening for all teachers; they repeatedly expressed how much work there needs to be done in their own classrooms. She also taught through several activities.


Third Module: Students making music and crafts out of old newspaper.


Professor Talavera who taught again in this third module focused on teaching with a gender perspective. All teachers expressed how necessary this topic was and how much work there needs to be done in their own classrooms. She also taught through several activities.

Third module: activity discussing gender issues

In the fourth module, Dr. Rafael Lucio Gil, discussed metacognition, including self-regulation, as a strategy for learning and change. Metacognition refers to a high level of thinking that involves active control over the process of thinking used in learning situations. Planning the way to approach a learning task, monitoring comprehension, and evaluating the progress towards the completion of a task: these are skills that are metacognitive in their nature. Similarly, maintaining motivation to see a task to completion is also a metacognitive skill. These abilities cannot be taught one day and learned the next. Metacognition is an active and conscious process that teachers have to perform in the classroom each and every day. It becomes ingrained in the way they teach students to analyze their strengths and weaknesses, to analyze the demands of a task, to select the right strategy to perform the task, to observe the efficiency performing the task, to search for more effective strategies if necessary and then to judge and test the solution and results found.

The metacognitive process is the one by which teachers should use in their final research project for this course and the process they are supposed to use on their every day classes.

Dr. Gil exchanging ideas with a group of students

The IDEUCA program contains three more modules to explore. They are focused on the actual strategies to improve reading and learning in primary school classrooms. All three classroom activities will be facilitated by the two tutors who have worked with the teachers throughout the course. These tutors guide the research projects the teachers are responsible for completing.

In general, the teachers are very satisfied with this course. They know that they are learning a lot but recognizing that there is still a lot of hard work left to do.

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