By Lourdes Medrano
Being the best teacher she can to her kindergarten students
is so important to Maria Irma Suárez that she left her students and her
native Honduras in January for a yearlong study program in Tucson.
20 FOREIGN EDUCATORS IN TUCSON
It wasn't an easy decision, Suárez said, because it also
meant leaving her own four children. The youngest was an infant, the oldest
But she said her parents encouraged her to take the trip,
promising to take good care of their grandchildren while she was gone.
"This is a great opportunity to better prepare myself as a
teacher for the benefit of both my students and my children," said Suárez, a
30-year-old single mother.
She is one of 20 visiting teachers, mostly from Central
America, participating in the Cooperative Association of States of
Scholarships in Tucson.
The University of Arizona hosts the international development
and peace program, which is administered through Georgetown University. The
program, in its third year, allows participants to teach in various public
schools and take courses designed to enhance their skills.
In addition to Honduras, this year's teachers come from
Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.
Today the teachers will perform traditional dances from their
countries at a Cinco de Mayo celebration. It starts at 2 p.m. in the
cafeteria of Los Amigos Elementary School, 2200 E. Drexel Road.
Project director Elizabeth Arnot-Hopffer said most of the
teachers are between the ages of 25 and 45 and come from rural communities.
The program, which covers most of the expenses and includes a modest
stipend, also pairs the teachers with mentors and host families during their
stay. And the teachers go on field trips.
"It's not just an academic program," Arnot-Hopffer said.
"There's a lot of personal growth that goes along with it."
She said one of the goals is for teachers to take leadership
roles in their communities once they return home.
While in Tucson, the teachers rotate four mornings a week
through four elementary schools. Suárez is now at Davis Bilingual Elementary
Magnet School, working alongside third-grade teacher Christine Lara.
Lara, a teacher for 27 years, said Suárez and other visiting
teachers have been a good addition to her bilingual classroom. "A lot of
them are well-prepared to teach in Spanish, so we learn from each other."
Suárez said life in Tucson has been pleasant - and
eye-opening. She finds the English language difficult and the city vastly
different from her hometown of 10,000 people. Trujillo has no traffic
lights, she said, and public buses in Tucson are roomier.
But Suárez said most striking is the abundance of school
resources. She has noticed the copy machines, the libraries filled with
children's books and the colorful playground equipment. Her school has none
of those assets.
"There are so many things I'd like to take back for my
students," said Suárez, who has taught for seven years. "I'm definitely
getting them books."
Thinking of her students in Trujillo as she meets their
counterparts in Tucson, Suárez said she has noticed that kids here seem more
"They're a lot more independent than Honduran kids," she
said. "They're not afraid to ask questions."
The students already have quizzed her about her age and her
family, and Suárez said she didn't mind it at all. "I'm learning from them
One of them, 8-year-old Seanna Portillo, said she wasn't sure
where Honduras is, but her opinion of Suárez was clear: "She's cool and
nice, and she reads books to us in Spanish."