“Becky, we need an idea for the Open House.”

“What do we have to do for the Open House?”

“Every class in the whole school does something for the Open House!  The English Department is assigned specific classes to highlight their English abilities.  We need you to help us think of a presentation we can make in English!”
And so it began, about 3 frantic weeks of planning for the Open House.  I had no idea how big this was going to be.  Each year, schools invite dignitaries, parents and community members to participate in a grand showcase of all the students have learned, and all the school has to offer.  Since my school is Pre Kindergarten-12 with over 4,000 students, this was a HUGE showcase all around the school.  It seems that each grade level chose or were assigned a theme, and specific classes developed projects around that theme. There are at least 5-6 classes in each grade level, so it was extremely interesting to see all that the students, teachers and parents created. 
The youngest students were showing off their knowledge of traditional foods – note the roasted cuy!
This young class had stations demonstrating the five senses. 

These students were showing off their knitting skills.  Handicrafts such as these are important in the traditional and Indigenous cultures as beautiful shawls, hats, blouses, and skirts are often handmade or bordered with hand stitched decorations.  Since there are many jobs in this sector, honing these skills are important for job opportunities in the future as well.

Painting and art is also honored in many ways in this country.  Art is everywhere in churches, museums, street murals and graffitied (sometimes beautifully done) all over the sides of buildings.  I haven’t seen a lot of specific art classes, but it is obvious that art, music, and using the right side of the brain, is an important part of Ecuadorian society.

This grade level studied plants in their science classes and were demonstrating the life cycle and importance of plants. They were also giving away some handmade felt flowers to participants of their game.

These students were demonstrating some principals communities and of physics with their cardboard cities. 

Many classes challenged younger students with math games.  This student used his knowledge of circuits to make a fun multiplication game. 
These students showed off their abilities in the Chemistry Lab

In a previous post, I have discussed the lack of teaching resources in this country.  However, as I am learning, that doesn’t mean that Ecuador is completely without.  One just has to become very creative in reusing and repurposing the items they do have.  I really enjoyed watching these 5th grade and 9th grade students show off their ideas for products made from recycled objects.  I think we all could learn a lot from their creativity!

Lamps made from recycled or repurposed goods
Popsicle stick doll houses
Jewelry Boxes made from….. toilet paper rolls!
I see toilet paper rolls, egg cartons, plastic bottles, bottle caps….
The blue serving cups…entirely out of plastic bottle bottoms
Have a tire, and some foam?  You can make a chair!
How about we use all those plastic bottles in the world to make garbage cans for our cities!
Plastic bottles make great plant pots, too!
This student figured out how to repurpose newspaper!
Look closely…. these students repurposed metal oil drums into this stylish furniture.  

When I walked into the gymnasium, I was really surprised.  The older students were tasked with creating products and marketing material to promote their creations.  Here is a small sample of some of their products:

These students were so proud of their graphic novel which they had written, illustrated 
and published into a professional book.  
These girls created a line of perfumes.
These students created chocolate of various flavors.  I also saw many other
projects inventing cupcakes, marmalades, and fruity drinks. 
These boys were very proud of their line of shampoos, made entirely of natural products including aloe, grains, and tea. 
These students were showing off the traditional way to make ice cream in a paila,
adding their own unique flavors. 
And finally, something that you will NEVER see in US schools…
these students created a whole line of alcoholic fruit-flavored liqueurs.  They were giving out samples.  Quite strong, but delicious.  I gave them a thumbs-up!
And the English Department?  Our teachers helped some 10th and 11th grade classes create cultural presentations about all the places to visit in the province of Imbabura.  Ofcourse, this was my idea because I wanted some tourist advice.  The groups did not disappoint.  They all created scripts (thanks to Wikipedia) to tell about the history, traditional culture, economy, climate, “gastronomy highlights” and tourist opportunities in each of regions of the province.  Then, they followed up these speeches with songs or dances in costume promoting the special heritage of each of these places.  I was impressed!  During our Peace Corps training, there was a lot of discussion about cultural appropriation and what was, and wasn’t, appropriate when you showcase the characteristics of another culture that isn’t your own.  These students aren’t necessarily Indigenous, and they’re certainly not all African Ecuadorian, but they all knew the songs and dances of other cultural groups around the province.  And they all own the authentic clothing to wear when they participate in these cultural  festivities.  In Ecuador, it seems that culture is everything that you are, and it is shared and celebrated by all in the community.
These students demonstrated a ceremonial dance and song at a traditional wedding 
of the Otavalo people.
These students performed a traditional dance of the people of Zuleta 
These students demonstrated a traditional dance called “San Juanito”, of the people of Carabuela
These students performed a traditional dance called the “Bomba”

I asked one of the students how they knew all of these songs and dances from different cultures.  She told me that they have been learning them in school, and dancing them in the community, since they were very little.  Later that day, I witnessed the preschoolers showing off their first steps of these traditional dances.

This is the Director (the man holding the child) and Vice Director (the woman next to him) of our school dancing with the students.  The parents (some authentically Indigenous) were sharing 
their homemade Chicha, with the Directors.  
Chicha is a fermented alcoholic drink, shared by passing a gourd-bowl around the crowd.  Everyone took a long gulp…. something else you won’t see in US schools.  
In the end, I was amazed.  First, there is so much more going on in this school than I had realized.  In a previous post, I discussed the (sometimes frustrating) realities of the Ecuadorian Educational System.  After witnessing this showcase of talents at this Open House, I’d like to end this post with a different take on those realities.  
Ecuadorians are raising “whole children”.  It takes a village to raise a child, and as these children are growing up in the womb of so many cultures, languages and historical traditions, they are growing up loved, supported, well-balanced, and a part of something greater.  Because Ecuador is generally a kind and gentle nation, it’s not made up of people who are fiercely independent, and competitive at the cost of others.  Perhaps because of this, they don’t have the statistics of suicides, mental health issues, stress and diseases that more driven societies sometimes battle.  On the whole, I find Ecuadorians very strong, hard-working, intelligent and incredibly kind.  They are self-motivated, and creative as demonstrated by the number of small businesses, community initiatives, and the incredible things they accomplish with little resources.  These students, and everyone else in the community, are the product of the Ecuadorian school system.  With this lens, I have to admit, there’s a lot of good going on.  Agreed, they’re probably not winning all the academic prizes for science, math or medical advancements.  But in this society where the sum is greater than each of the parts, and they work to nurture and take care of each other, it seems like everyone is more happy in their everyday.  That’s got to count for something. 
I’ll leave you with a performance by a student, Chris Jami.  I have been told that he is well-known around the world for his Indigenous flute music.  He speaks English very well because he has travelled to the USA many times to perform.  Chris is an example of an exceptional Ecuadorian student using the strengths of his Ecuadorian heritage to make his own way in the world.