Danielle in Peru

Danielle is a junior majoring in Spanish in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, with minors in elementary education and psychology. She was awarded a Maguire and Irby Family Foundation Public Service Internship for summer 2013 from the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility at SMU, and also is participating in SMU’s Engaged Learning program. She is volunteering in a kindergarten for underprivileged children in Cuzco, Peru.

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‘Shuff up!’

Recently, the teacher in the 4-year-old classroom at Kukuli has been trying to incorporate as much English as possible in every aspect of the kindergarten. The other day the kids were goofing off as usual, and the teacher quickly said “Cállense,” which means “Be quiet” in Spanish. She then started saying “Shuff up, Shuff up,” and she looked at me to clarify that she was directly translating “Cállense” into English. I realized that she was attempting to say, “Shut up”; I explained that in the U.S. we wouldn’t use this phrase with children and instead the command would be “Be quiet.”

Although in the moment, I thought the teacher’s confusion was a little funny, the truth of the matter is that knowing English is the key to success for many Peruvians. Because Cuzco is such a huge tourist destination, being bilingual greatly enables one’s chance of obtaining a job, from being a tour guide to working in a hotel near the main plaza. Unfortunately, though, it seems that most students do not learn English unless they have the opportunity to study at the university, which requires a very demanding entrance exam that many people take over and over, yet never pass.

With the time that I’ve spent at the kindergarten, I’ve been able to easily incorporate the colors and the body parts into the daily curriculum of the students. As the children walk into the classroom in the morning, they usually play with puzzles or blocks, or they draw. When I’m playing with the kids in the morning, I teach them the colors that can be seen on their toys. In this way, they don’t have to “sit still” and listen to me teach the colors; instead I make it a game when I play with them. Usually, if I’m helping one student with a puzzle and start quizzing him on the colors, other students nearby will come over and also want to learn. As time has passed, the children have been able to name the colors with much more accuracy. And not only have they learned the colors in English, I’m sad to say that many of them previously did not know some of the colors in Spanish. In this way, for some students, our morning playtime has been educational in both Spanish and English.

Additionally, I’ve taught the song “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” to help them learn the body parts. At first they were very timid about singing and pronouncing the words. With practice, though, they’ve gotten much more comfortable singing the songs and are able to make it almost through the entire song by themselves. The trickiest part is “Eyes and ears and mouth and nose…” I think this is because all of these parts are very close together on the face and this line is only sung once in the song. However, I’ve been very excited with their progress and hope that by my last day, they’ll be able to sing the entire song without my help. For now, though, we’ll keep practicing.

Because the ability to speak English is truly key for success in Cuzco, I wish I were going to be here for a longer time so that I could teach more English to my students. I can only hope that the curriculum and standards for the public school system change so that all students will have the opportunities they deserve to successfully learn English and pursue successful careers.

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