From Kansas to Mexico: FHSU students raise funds for Volcanes

[dropcap size=small]I[/dropcap]n the United States, children are required to attend school until they are 18-years-old and most continue their education at universities and community colleges to fulfill dreams of the people they would like to become with hundreds of different degree programs available for students wishing to continue their education after high school. Universities and community colleges award degrees at varying levels, from associate degrees to doctoral degrees.

But this is not the case everywhere.

In Mexico, children are only required to attend public school until grade 6. After that, the families must pay tuition costs to allow their children to continue their education. For poor families, these funds are simply not available to allow their children to continue school beyond grade 6.

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One area in Mexico, Puerto Vallarta, famous for its sunny climate, incredible beaches, wonderful food, and its amazing culture is nestled on a narrow strip of land between the Pacific Ocean and the nearby mountains is a prime example of the disconnect in education in this popular resort destination. The sun drenched shores, sparkling resorts, hotels and condominiums are a haven for tourists from around the world, making it a magnet for Mexicans desperate to find employment.

The poor of Puerto Vallarta can’t afford to live in areas close to the expensive shoreline, instead they live in areas pushed up as far up into the mountain jungle as possible where city services end. The most remote of these areas is the Colonia, or township, of Volcanes. Everywhere in the small community are homes without electricity, telephone, running water or toilets. Without employment, the families struggle simply trying to feed themselves and their children.

“The government doesn’t have the resources to hire English teachers nor do they have the resources to buy computers,” said Megan Shelton, VCEP Project Coordinator. “So, we supplement [the students’] regular government program by providing the English and the computer classes free of charge.”

For the families of the small Colonia Volcanes, the new six room Volcanes Primary School has become a point of pride and loving care as local mothers and fathers spent many hours of volunteer work trying to transform it into a lush shade filled area where their children can continue to learn. At their own cost, they planted and watered trees, bushes as well as planted lawns.

The Volcanes Community Education Program is not funded by the Mexican Government, by the public school system, or by a charity or foundation. All funding for this program is by way of donations.

The major operating expense in the Volcanes Project is funding the teachers. Each teacher receives a small stipend of $3,000 pesos per month — about $240 — to teach at one of the sessions. $600 per month supports one full time teacher.

In comparison, The National Education Association reports the average annual starting pay for a teacher in Kansas is about $34,000 — about $2,800 per month.

Hsin-Yen Yang, assistant professor of communication studies, along with Lorie Cook-Benjamin, assistant professor of teacher education, received a grant from FHSU’s Tilford Diversity Awareness Group.

“Dr. Yang and I are both interested in providing our students with international experiences while promoting authentic learning through class projects,” Cook-Benjamin said. “Due to its diversity, the Volcanes Community Education Project was a natural fit for students in the Diverse Learners course. This was equally true for the Writing for Public Relations course, since the culminating project was development of a project for promotion on a crowdfunding site.”

Students in Hsin-Yen Yang’s Writing for Public Relations class, with Shelton’s help, have constructed a public relations campaign, Envision Volcanes, Mexico, to help families in Puerto Vallarta, overcome the cycle of poverty.

The on-campus portion of the project first began with students in Cook-Benjamin’s Diverse Learners course creating a take-home activity focused on the diversity of language. The activity is then shared with the Volcanes staff, students and the students’ families.

“The Volcanes Service-Learning project provides an international service-learning experience to teacher candidates in the on-campus and virtual sections of the diverse learners course,” Cook-Benjamin said. “The project is implemented through an Internet-based, clinical-based practice that focuses on multiple aspects of diversity.”

In addition to benefiting students at Volcanes Primary School, this project also benefits the teacher candidates, according to Cook-Benjamin.

“The project expands the candidates’ connections within their educational career as well as in other careers,” she said. “This is due to a virtual experience in another country, school system and culture. It also promotes commitment to lifelong learning, social relevance and global engagement.”

This semester, Dr. Cook-Benjamin’s Diverse Learners class conducted preliminary research on the crowdfunding campaign and shared their finding with the Writing for Public Relations class. Then, students in Yang’s course set up a Go Fund Me account to raise $15,000 by Jan. 8, 2015 to help support the teachers of Volcanes. In the first week of the campaign, the class raised over $600.

***Since the publication of this article organizers of Envision Volcanes have notified TMN that they are extending the deadline until they reach their $15,000 goal.***

During FHSU’s 2015 Spring Break, March 13 to March 22, teacher education majors will travel from Hays to Puerto Vallarta (Mexico), where they will experience wealth and poverty living side-by-side.

“Our hope is to travel with ten students,” Cook-Benjamin said. “While there, the students will assist the children and teachers during the school day to assess the Volcanes students’ English skills. They will also work one-on-one with the students to read books and perform other academic tasks to promote the students’ language processes.”

During the day, the students will teach English to children in Colonia Volcanes and spend their evenings and weekends experiencing the local culture, visit the Malecon Boardwalk, dine in authentic restaurants, go boating on the bay, or zipline in the jungle.

Envision Volcanes is also on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  The campaign started November 24 will continue through January 8, 2015.

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Writing for Public Relations class, from left to right: Laura Calvillo-Martinez, Hsin-Yen Yang (instructor), Victoria Hale, Noelle Husman, Tanner Schubert, Alexis Pfannenstiel and Melissa Galvez.

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