Nestled in the hills, above Salasaca, in the area called Katitawa. there is located a small grade school by the same name. It is here that we transport 16 children and a couple of teachers and, sometimes a volunteer or two, from the different communities in Salasaca. The rest of the children and staff walk, the more or less 3km. It is a beautiful walk and a fantastic way to start a day. The elevation at the school is close to 3,000 meters, (9,000 feet) and for the new volunteers, the first few days will take your breath away and if the altitude doesn’t do it the view will.
Since there are many small schools in Salasaca, some visitors ask,.…Why would someone send their children up here when there is a school a block or two away from where they live? A good question….So at a recent parents meeting, I asked the same question….The answer was, “Because it is different.”
When a group of civic minded citizens started the Escuela Katitawa in 1997, it was described as an Experimental School, an Alternative School. The reason that it was founded was to be different. We have a new education law here in Ecuador that wants all the schools to be the same….and that worries me.
We humans and all other living creatures are not the same....And I am thankful for the difference. Each child is different and they do not learn at the same rate. Just because it is week number 15, they are all not going to be on the same page. Some of the great thinkers of the world were considered stupid in their early years.
We have classes that have eight children. If we need to, we split it into two or three or eight. We can do this because we have volunteers to help us. Several of our students are brought to us because they were number 28 in a class of 40 and were hopelessly left behind. We have a 16 year old who had not been to school since the second grade because his teacher gave up on him. Said he was stupid and could not learn…He won’t be another Einstein, but he is learning and he loves the school.
Classes in Katitawa start at eight and end at 3:15. We added the extra hours this past January. We added classes in Drama, Music, Art, Poetry, Chess and Sports. We are trying to introduce a variety of new ideas and subjects so that the children can find their own way. Even when they are young, they do not all want to go the same direction. They are different and that is good.
Although we are technically a government school, the government has never invested a dime in the construction or maintenance of Katitawa. It was started as a private school, but some years ago the directors joined the Bilingual Department, (Kichwa and Spanish) which has a network of schools and was autonomous from the national education department called Espana. However when they joined this group they automatically became part of the government. (Someday, when I have the complete story I will put it here). Now with the new education law the two departments will soon disappear and a new system will begin. I was assured that nothing was going to change here at Katitawa and we would still be autonomous….We will see.
In years past we rarely saw someone from the Bilingual Department. We were small and we were left alone to do things differently. Now it seems that every week or so someone is here to see what we are doing and tell us that we now have to put everyone in the same little box. It looks like they are trying to bribe us a little, with a few coloured beads, mirrors and trinkets, to get us to conform.
The government does provide some snacks so that we can provide a hot drink with cookies or granola, which we searve at 9:15 in the morning. In years past they sent some other staples, like rice, beans, tuna, sardines and a few other items so that we could provide lunch. However this year for whatever reasons they have stopped doing this. We still provide lunch and we are trying to make it a little more varied….According to some volunteers we still have a long way to go. Next year we will have a whole new system.