Kensington Elementary teacher targets literacy challenges in rural Mexico
Touring the rural Mexican countryside around the Pacific resort city of Puerto Vallarta proved eye-opening for Kensington Elementary School teacher Dr. Glen Baron. During his first visit with an aunt and uncle who live there, Baron glimpsed what school life is like for Mexican schoolchildren.
Although the one-room cinder block school buildings and limited school supplies were clearly quite different from the environment in his fifth-grade classroom back home, what really caught his attention was the glaring lack of books. “Mexico is not a country with public libraries outside of major cities,” Baron explained. Furthermore, it’s almost unusual to see adults reading. “You don’t see newspapers for sales or magazine racks anywhere,” he said.
Baron decided he wanted to try to improve literacy there, where the average adult reads at a level between third and fourth grade. He created Libros for Learning, and for the past five years, Baron travels to Mexico once a year when Mexican schools are in session to deliver children’s books translated into Spanish. Because he believes the best reader is the one who starts while young, Baron brings books that largely appeal to children in the first three grades.
Baron is excited about a recent Mexican government mandate requiring English be taught to students in grades 5 through 12 via a computer-based curriculum. This new law will allow Libros for Learning to expand its audience.
“There are no books associated with the computer program,” Baron explains, “so now I can bring books written in English.”
He hopes to purchase class sets of several titles to serve as part of their classroom English language instruction.
In Mexico, Baron gets help from a Puerto Vallarta social services agency to ensure his books clear an often-laborious customs procedure. Back home in Waxhaw, students in his fifth-grade class give him lots of support.
With the help of Kensington Elementary families, Baron has been able to raise money to buy books. His class even hosts a fundraiser where they make and sell crafts.
Baron fully vets each book donated, ensuring it is in good shape and interesting to his Mexican audience. He welcomes hardbacks as well as good quality paperbacks, provided they are on the list of titles he has created.
He already is looking forward to next year’s trip and clearly worries about the plight of Mexican immigrants.
“The people of rural Mexico are some of the most wonderful people on the planet,” Baron says. “If I can do even a little to help improve their education, it may allow them to stay and make their economy better.
To learn more about Libros for Learning and how you can help, join the Libros for Learning Facebook page or e-mail Baron at firstname.lastname@example.org.