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Planting Hope

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Cultural Arts & Educational Exchange

During the week of October 11-14 students and staff from Berlin Elementary School participated in a Nicaragua Meets Vermont Cultural Arts and Education Exchange. Throughout the week 7 Nicaraguan staff from Planting Hope worked with Berlin Elementary staff to provide rich cultural experiences during Allied Arts classes. In Art, students painted with coffee to create unique expressions of Vermont and Nicaraguan life. In Music, students engaged in traditional songs, movement, drumming and music. In PE, students learned customary dances of Nicaragua. In Guidance, students learned Spanish vocabulary.

On Friday evening community members were treated to a culminating event where students and staff presented their learning from the week. There were colorful costumes, songs, dances, whole group movement, an art show, coffee and a fruit dessert. The PTNA sponsored the week-long event. Berlin teacher Cindy Gauthier said “We are so grateful for the Planting Hope staff who provided an experience that has left our community wiser about life in Nicaragua.”  Gauthier traveled to Nicaragua

Berlin Elementary students have fun practicing folkloric Nicaraguan dance in PE class during the Planting Hope residency at the school

last April, along with her daughter, U-32 science teacher, Alison Gauthier.  Along with other Central Vermonters, including high school students, the mother-daughter team made an impact during the week by sharing dynamic and hands-on lessons with Nicaraguan teachers and students.  Alison’s first trip abroad was during her senior year at U-32 with a Planting Hope trip in 2006.

The Planting Hope staff will be working with Calais and U-32 students in upcoming weeks. Planting Hope’s mission is to serve communities in Nicaragua and the U.S. by enhancing educational opportunities, supporting grassroots initiatives and fostering cultural exchanges.

Planting Hope was founded in 2001 by U-32 alum Beth Merrill of Montpelier.  While teaching first grade as a college intern in Nicaragua, she made deep connections with families and students in Matagalpa, Nicaragua, a city in the central, coffee-growing mountains of the country. Working with limited resources, she realized that many of the educational resources available to us in Vermont could have a dramatic impact on education in Nicaragua.  Later she surveyed children in the community and found that their community especially needed a library.  Beth returned to Vermont, established the non-profit organization and used the Spanish language and journalism skills she learned at U-32 to create a newsletter to get friends and families aboard the project. Together they were able to raise the funds to build a library, which has since expanded to include a community center and cyber café, as well as 3 pre-schools, a scholarship program and a mobile library bus, staffed with teachers who bring “the specials” to under-served communities in Nicaragua.  All of these efforts increase the educational resources available to teachers and students and help foster a love of reading for kids who wouldn’t otherwise get to read even a picture book.

Planting Hope has been creating partnerships both here and in Nicaragua ever since 2001. The organization fosters cultural exchange between Nicaragua and the U.S. by bringing multi-age groups of Americans there to provide service work and learn about the region. Each year between 50-80 adults and students travel to Nicaragua with Planting Hope, including a multi-generational delegation which often includes students from U-32 and Montpelier high schools.

For more information about Planting Hope, please visit their website at planting hope.org

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