Hannah DeVries – Staff Writer
Assistant professor of education Kathleen VanTol may have traveled to Nicaragua many times since she started teaching at Dordt five years ago, but as she prepares to head south once more, her plans are a little different.
Instead of simply working with Tesoros de Dios (a school for children with special needs) and performing workshops there as she has in past trips to Nicaragua, VanTol plans to spend much more time traveling around the country. Even though a law was passed which requires schools to include children with disabilities, the teaching staff in many schools are not trained in how to include these students.
This is where VanTol stepped in. “As I continued to return to Nicaragua to do workshops for teachers and schools, the Ministry of Education (MINED) for Nicaragua became very interested in my work and began attending my workshops,” said VanTol. Eventually, “MINED asked me if I would return to help schools implement inclusion throughout the country.”
Traveling to schools and training teachers may seem like a small gesture, but this is a great step for education in Nicaragua. Each school in Nicaragua has been assigned a facilitator to help implement the inclusion of special needs students, but it is VanTol who will be training each and every facilitator for the country. Some of the schools that VanTol has been working with have also agreed to be model schools for the rest of the country, and serve as host sites for the training work.
“I will be consulting either weekly or biweekly (depending on where the school is located) with their staff,” said VanTol. “I also plan to work closely with the facilitators and visit their schools to help support staff as they implement this programming.”
In the end, VanTol’s goal is to do much more than educate. She hopes to open doors for children with special needs who have the desire to learn at their local schools. “There are very few schools like Tesoros de Dios for children with special needs, and these schools cannot meet the great need that exists,” said VanTol. In fact, even children who go to this school can only attend for a couple hours twice a week, since there aren’t enough resources to give more time than this to any one child.
“However,” said VanTol, “If more of these children could be included in their local schools, then they could receive education every day. This would also free up time in programs like Tesoros de Dios to meet the needs of other students.”
To VanTol, special education in Nicaragua doesn’t have to become an exact replica to the schools and methods in the United States. “My job is to share the best practices with them, but I also need to respect the culture of education in Nicarauga. The Teachers in Nicaragua need to determine the best way to implement these practices within the culture of their schools.”