3/4 Through My D.A.T.

Today marks a month since my midway point through this Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching grant. Refer the the midway post here if you want to get some background. I’m approaching my last month in Mexico as if I were trepidatiously skirting the edge of an abyss. My grant officially ends in 3 weeks and I have one more school visit this week to collect a few more significant stories from students. My blogs do not at all resemble my vision of them when I began this trip in terms of look or utility. I would consider it a giant fail if I do not get it together by departure time.

Despite this pressure, I am somewhat comforted by the work I have managed to do from September through November. All that preparing, teaching, traveling, reading serve as a parachute and hang glider as I jump off into December. I am embracing the trajectory that this project put me on in terms of the digital stories I will show my students in Harlem, New York, as well as the stories they will produce from January through March 2017.

We will share them via link to my main Escuela Secondaria No. 29 in Iztapalapa, Mexico City, as well as the Telesecundaria in Maxcanú, Yucatán, México! I hope other teachers can share their students’ stories through the various online teaching platforms I am joining. Also, in February 2017, I will be in Lima again (at my own expense during our school’s mid-winter recess) to work for a couple days with the English teaching staff at the Colegio Marianistas in Callao, Lima, Peru where we visited last August  on the Fulbright-Hays Semester Abroad Program. All this sharing about other students and cultures internationally should eventually shift the global consciousness toward a peaceful world even a modicum, right? Maybe.

At “T minus 4 weeks”, I can blog retrospectively that my time here in Mexico was unequivocally well-spent. Time went by quickly, but I feel vigilant every moment so as not to lose a learning opportunity that would widen my view about the Mexican culture, its people, economic development and education policy–for my own edification and that of my students. The underpinnings of the Mexican society today (I learned) is inextricably tied to historical events and movements fomented by the arrival of the conquering Spanish in the early 1500’s up to and including the election of the current president of Mexico. Of all the significant stories that I have read and heard here, the overarching tumultuous history of Mexico is the one that fascinates me the most.

 

Maxcanú and Calkiní Visits

Maxcanú, in the State of Yucatán, is just across the board with Calkiní. Equally small in population (around 14,000), they both suffer the same malaise in terms of school quality. Schools follow the same curriculum set forth by the national government offices (Secretaría de Educación Pública, SEP), however, I notice a wide gap between the national standards from SEP (that seem to focus on the advancement of urban school) and the educational needs of the rural population in towns like Maxcanú and Calkiní.

It would be great to channel support toward creating a curriculum that caters to that need, namely a more compact plan of study focusing a trade. For example, English for vocations such as baking, auto-repair, beauty school, art basics, and rural health screening. This includes training in treating patients with indigenous plants and apitherapy. The curriculum is shorter, but complete, so that graduates can enter the workforce earlier and earn money sooner.

Focusing on young mothers, return immigrants, girls and boys, and continuing adult education might begin to solve social issues that have been plaguing Mexico.

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Weekend 14: Campeche City

What an amazing find! The State of Campeche certainly tops my list of surprises in Mexico. It seems to be a given that the western region of the Yucatán is a bit “sleepy” relative to other places in the country. What I discovered is that Campeche City is vibrant, even if it is not as robust as other cities I’ve visited. In 1999, UNESCO declared and listed Campeche City as a Cultural Patrimony of Humanity due to its preservation of the fortified walls from the XVII century.

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What Campeche does not lack is history! Founded in the mid-1500’s, it prospered because of the tremendous value of its timber resources. The palo de tinta (or palo de Campeche) is wood that gives off a reddish to dark-blue ink. This quality was known by the Maya’s, but completely exploited by the Spanish entrepreneurs who invaded the Yucatán. Not to be outdone, pirates from England, France, and the Netherlands robbed the galleons transporting these logs and other precious commodities en route to Europe.

Logwood (Haematoxylum campechianum L.), highly prized as a dyestuff for the European textile industry, attracted British smugglers who settled mainly in Laguna de Términos and Belize, where they were a threat to local trade.

Museo Baluarte de la Soledad (Mayan Architecture)

This museum is worth visiting for the information-packed videos when you reach the fourth display area (dealing with funerary customs of the ancient Maya). I appreciated the explanation of they type of tools used to construct the pyramids as well as the use of these buildings.

The ancient Mayas employed hammers, wedges, and chisels made of stone or wood. Limestone blocks were joined with stucco (lime and sand mix), also used to surface buildings with painted platers of different colors, and to model figures adorning both facades and inner spaces. Building decoration also included stone sculptures, as well as hieroglyphic inscriptions and carvings on lintels, columns, and jambs.

“The distribution and shape of decorative elements (such as this winged figure) varied by region and through time. In Campeche, at least four regions have been identified with distinctive architectural styles that could indicate political or cultural exchange networks. In all of these cases, Maya cities consisted of two basic areas: a civic-ceremonial precinct, where rulers lived and conducted their administrative and ritual activities, and a residential area located on the outskirts of the city, where the rest of the people dwelled.”

Zona Arqueológica de Edzná

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Museo de Piratas

The disturbing image in the lower left of the collage is from the small Pirate Museum. It is not to be missed! You can get through the displays in about 20 minutes, but you’ll come out with a deeper historical perspective and understanding of a topic that other museums gloss over. Because of the lucrative lumber trade between the Yucatán and Europe, piracy flourished, too. Legends have been spun from the seemingly heroic feats of these men, but that is not to glorify the cruelty they meted to those they captured and killed. This museum has realistic effigies of pirate prisoners that will startle you. A wall of pirates (left) and defenders (right).

Museo Cultural de Campeche

I loved seeing the handicrafts that the Campechanos had to innovate to use as payments for their land grants. Did you know that the Mayans were essential indentured workers.

The Mayans had to deliver payment in goods to the encomenderos (land grant holders), the Spanish Crown, and civil and ecclesiastical authorities. These products included cotton mantles woven by the women, was and honey, collected by the men from the stingless bees int he region’s jungles; in addition to corn, beans, chilies, hens, fish, and iguanas.

Salt had to also be mined nearby to supply two major industries: hide and leather work, and salting and preserving meat and fish to feed the people on the galleons.

Centro Cultural Casa No. 6

Items pictured are typical to Campeche!

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Weekend 13: San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas

Thanks to Deborah Colvin, I was able to add her video project to my video project. Deborah works with English language teachers and a group of students in rural Chiapas who speak the indigenous language of Majosik. She and Frances Westbrook from the U.S. Embassy just produced a terrific video that highlights this community with these English Language Learners. My inquiry project on Significant Digital Stories on First Heroes overlaps their project, so I had to travel to San Cristóbal de las Casas! (Deborah and I met in Monterrey at the MEXTESOL Convention when the U.S. Cultural Affairs director at the U.S. Embassy, Brenda Bernáldez, connected us.)

The town itself is laid out in somewhat of a grid radiating (as usual in Spanish-conquered towns) from the central square, cathedral, and administrative buildings. It reminds me of Antigua, Guatemala. History links San Cristóbal, Antigua Guatemala, and Oaxaca City together.

The most memorable site for me in San Cris was a small, humble chapel behind the main cathedral. The chapel was open for the servants and slaves of that time to hear mass.

Tourism is heavy here as the trendy restaurants and trinket shopping areas attest. Eco-tourism is growing here because of the natural beauty that surrounds SCDC. The only time I had to see any rural areas was when I was invited to view a community property that is available to have a university-level school built on it, which is almost 2 hours east. I hope they include adult continuing education classes for those who want this instruction.

 

MEXTESOL Conference 2016

What an amazing week I am spending at the MEXTESOL Conference 2016 in Monterrey, Nuevo León, México! The Mexico chapter of the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages hosted this event and selected my presentation to showcase my Fulbright inquiry project on “Significant Stories” from communities in Mexico through the eyes of students in middle and high school.

I have already met several teachers (some of whom present their projects here) who are interested in implementing my “significant stories” project in their classrooms. They agree that teaching writing and speaking are difficult, but with my storytelling project the students can showcase their community and talk about themselves. Their finished videos will appear on this site as cultural “windows” to their worlds. I can’t wait to implement this project with my ELLs in Harlem, New York.

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I had a chance to network with the people running academic and scholarly programs in Mexico at the U.S. Embassy-sponsored event and other venues. I also like the great museums here full of interesting historical displays and installations. The sections of the museum of history, for example, had a better treatment of the story of indigenous people compared to other museums I have visited so far.

This town seems far from Mexico City, but I learned that it has been a vital trade point between the United States and Mexico. Specifically, the rail routes crisscross vertically between the agricultural pains of the midwest and the industrial sectors of northern Mexico. The tracks were laid in the 1800’s (or so) when foreign invest in Mexico was high. The ports of Tampico and Veracruz were conduits for loads of products for Europe toward the east and Mexicans toward the south.

Opening Ceremonies & Networking!

The conference started today with as much fanfare as was possible to have in a huge conference room. There were about 2000 people attending! A marching band started off the inauguration of the event. They played the national anthem which was sung by a man at the podium. Behind him was a string of the dignitaries of English Teaching in Mexico–and beyond; I didn’t catch all of the people who were introduced.

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It was at the opening ceremonies where I met Mary Curran, Associate Professor of Professional Practice and Associate Dean of Local-Global Partnerships at Rutgers Graduate School of Education, New Jersey. She also spoke on digital storytelling! She mentioned that I connect with Professor Ruth Ban who spoke on digital storytelling, too. I attended both of their talks and was glad to know that this form of teaching is getting serious validation.

MEXTESOL Prep

Gearing up for the MEXTESOL is like living in a pressure cooker. I have all the materials I need to present, but the time! Where is the Time! Anyway, in a few days I’ll be in Monterrey. I’m looking forward to presenting my learning from my colleagues in English Language Learning at the convention, but also I “need” to explore the two museums of fame in the historic center. I want to know how these museums present the indigenous cultures in Mexico. Since Monterrey is in the north, they might have a different take compared to museums in and around Mexico City. We will soon find out!