Sail Away Story is a celebration of children’s books and innovative schools from around the world, and while our lists of children’s books and juvenile novels continue to grow, our selection of innovative global schools remains small and incomplete. I sigh and chuckle…why have I not written about la Puerta Abierta, the school I co-founded in rural Guatemala 12 years ago, the learning center I love and know intimately? How does one begin to describe a “project” that feels much more like a daughter or a son, a living being that is growing, changing and evolving over time? How can I find the objective voice in a creation that remains so close to my heart? How do I wrap a school that I live, breath, experience every day into one short blog post? I am still not sure, but the glass of wine at my side and the glorious setting sun over Lake Atitlan that meets me at my office window is offering guidance and support on the first night following the first day of school of the 2019 school year.
La Puerta Abierta which now hosts 118 students from preschool through fifth grade has grown into so much more than a school. It’s a culture, an ambiance, a sentiment.
At the 4th grade parent orientation meeting last week, we shared hopes and dreams for the children of our families. Words like empathy, humanity, friendship and generosity were bounced between the conversation as if they were common parts of speech. My heart melted. I remembered asking parents the same question 8 years ago when we welcomed our first group of students at our center. The discussion was focused on academic accomplishments. Parents had dreams of their 4 year olds learning to write, complete math equations and speak English in the duration of a year. While I was touched by their ambitious scholastic dreams, I understood that a successful early childhood experience would also need to embody creative play, socialization, problem solving, and exploration.
Today I watched with a giant smile as those once preschool students walked confidently into 5th grade and were greeted by an amazing mentor and teacher who is committed to collaborating with them throughout the school year. I observed our kindergarten class listen with captivation to a story read by their teacher under a tree in the school garden. I saw Angel, our first autistic student join into the morning meeting in 2nd grade and I witnessed a new group of preschool students begin to play, explore, dream. I watched Jaunita, the genuine and talented director of la Puerta Abierta, welcome parents with a warm “buenos dias,” as she was simultaneously greeted by new and old students with warm hugs.
Love. Gratitude. Kindness. Creativity. Compassion. Ingenuity. Appreciation. Acceptance. Integrity. These are the ingredients for a dignified education. This is the recipe for la Puerta Abierta.
To learn more, please visit our webpage at www.atitlanabierta.com.