There is so much to update about and we apologize for going so long without posting. The 2015-2016 school year finished well on June 17th. Report cards were given to parents and students on June 24th. Our sixth annual Change My Stars English Immersion Summer Camp began on June 27th, with this being the fourth year it has been held in the school.
|Old rough floor, new smooth floor.|
The school year was different for us in the renovated space with a new director. We extended the school day from 8am to noon to 8am to 1pm. We served meals five days a week for the first time ever. The space, while functional, still needs work. The floor is not finished but is a rough concrete that creates lots of dust and is not able to be mopped. As soon as school ended, we began working on finishing the floor.
A teacher volunteer named Kristine who visited and observed in May helped us to create more thorough behavior charts and teacher evaluations that can be conducted monthly. In April, we finished paying off the building and now are building owners. We were able to do this thanks to an amazing year of fundraising where we fundraised more than we ever have before, along with a $70,000 loan from a generous couple of supporters in the U.S. We are paying off the loan at a 3% interest rate over the course of nine years.
We used the code of another school called Niños de Dios (Children of God) this year as we continue to work on meeting requirements to solicit our own code. We were able to register all pre-schoolers and first graders into the system. Any student who is above the first grade level but has no proof that they attended an accredited school previously is automatically sent to first grade in the system. This is a problem in this country often. The aid community likes to say that kids without birth certificates can’t go to school, but often the problem is that the student attended a school without a code or a school in Haiti but was not able to properly transfer the original documents to the Dominican Republic. Or the child entered school late and was not allowed into his or her grade level because of their age.
We requested that the District office of the Ministry of Education send a technician to evaluate our students in 2nd to 6th grade and enter them into the system at the grade level that their academic level corresponds with, but we were told that it was too late into the school year. They would do the evaluation in August of the following school year. At the end of the school year, we had problems with our scholarship student in 8th grade that almost caused him to not be allowed to take the national 8th grade exam that allows him to go onto high school. We had to jump through hoops to resolve that. The District office again told us to come first thing in office to get those evaluations off the ground. So we hope and pray that all goes as planned and we are able to have all grade levels entered into the system next year.
We are also undergoing some personnel changes. The Ministry of Education requires that accredited schools have 80% of their teachers licensed to teach with a college degree and the other 20% working on their final years to do so. We do not have that. Two teachers were recently let go. We have a group of resumes whose owners we will be calling to hold interviews to replace these teachers. The rest of the teachers who do not have teaching degrees and are not working toward them have been notified that if they do not enroll in the university seeking the proper degree (as we have some who are studying Accountability, Information Technology, and other fields), then the 2016-2017 school year will be their last year working with us.
Now that we have paid off the building, we have control over the outdoor space as well, which has been rented to a group of mechanics for a few years now. The rental has transferred to us and we get the 20,000 pesos (around $450 US) they pay for rent each month, which helps out with the $750 US we pay toward the loan each month. This has also given us access to a small office space on the mechanics’ side, so we will move Project Esperanza’s office, which is in town, to this room, within the next two weeks. We are still in negotiation with the renters, but this change will slightly lower their rent as they will no longer have access to the office space as they currently do.
One day we will turn the outdoor space into recess space, but we are happy to rent out the space for now, although it is tricky having no outdoor recess space, but holding recess inside. There are a few building improvements we would like to make ASAP. One we have already started taking action on: the floor. The rough
cement creates lots of dust and is unmoppable so we are putting on a smooth cement finish. We have a 600 gallon tinaco that stores water on the roof throughout the week. However, we often have problems with this system. City water is available through the pipes one or two days a week. It does not always have high enough pressure to force it to go up into the tinaco and fill it. Therefore, sometimes we have to buy truckloads of water to fill the tinaco and during the time it takes for the truck to come, we have to haul water by buckets for cooking and cleaning. You can imagine that the bathroom gets bad.
The director suggested that we dig and construct a cistern, which would cost between 40 and 50,000 pesos, or right around $1,000 US. The cistern would be an extra water reserve which we could pump water into the tinaco from when it runs out. We looked into digging a well and found it to come out to the same price. So that is probably the smarter option and it is safer as well as we won’t have a large underground pool of water where the top could potentially be left open and a child who doesn’t know how to swim could fall in.
The wall divisions are definitely a step up from a large open
|Drop celings would go on top of the cincerblock wall.|
|Our current wall fans are not getting the job done.|
One thing that I hope we can accomplish within the five or so weeks before school starts back up is to purchase sheets of clear roofing to put in the back part of the school where little air comes between the space between the roof and wall, as it does in the front, to create sun lights. Electricity is not consistent and when there are no lights, it is hard for the pre-schoolers back there
These sheets cost around 2,000 per sheet and we hope to buy six.
|We hope to replace some pieces of tin with transparent pieces.|
One last update is that we plan to put in a seventh grade class next year. Up until now we have functioned up to sixth grade. After sixth grade, if the student has a sponsor, we send them to Colegio Mundo Feliz which is the closest private school where the students from Padre Granero can walk to. Seventh grade here costs 1,500 pesos a month. After that, they attend the same school, but in the afternoon, for 8th grade. 8th grade costs 500 pesos a month. For high school, there is another very good school nearby called ALIC. ALIC is expensive in the morning and has an all-day bilingual option, but also a more inexpensive high school option in the afternoon. This is also 500 pesos a month. Therefore, we have inexpensive options within walking distance for 8th to 12th grade. However, 7th grade is more expensive. We have several 6th graders who passed this year and are going onto 7th grade. It will be less expensive to hire a 7th grade teacher and add one more class and then send the students to 8th grade elsewhere after finishing 7th grade.
This year we had over 160 students enrolled. Attendance averaged between 130 and 140 a day. However, we only had 74 students sponsored. We have kept student sponsorships at $100 a year, even though the cost for each student to attend school is much more than that. Imagine, these students are receiving a meal each day! We have kept the sponsorship at such a low amount in order to supplement other fundraising efforts, and make it possible for more people to sponsor. We think that it should be possible, therefore, for us to get all of our students sponsored each year. Yet for some reason, we have yet to do that. We believe that 2016-2017 is the year to make that happen!