The end of six months with Volunquest

Successes and challenges in a growing program

~ By Lizzie

Six months with Volunquest in Isla Mujeres have flown by! It’s hard to even remember what those first weeks were like, though I’m sure it was mostly mayhem. To be honest, Volunquest is still a young and growing organization, and I think the entire team learned even more how to develop and implement the program in the best way possible. We have already been successfully established in grades 1-3, and this semester, at the request of the parents in the community, we branched out to all six grades in the primary schools.

Teaching the big kids was a very challenging and rewarding experience. As English teachers in the public schools of Mexico, we are required to follow the national English curriculum set forth by the Ministry of Education. This does not take into account, however, the experience of the children being taught. In fact, it is assumed that English has been taught since kindergarten. It was very difficult to teach 10-12 year olds in completely immersive lessons when the majority had zero previous English knowledge. Us teachers worked very hard to plan and deliver lessons that adhered to national standards while also introducing useful and simple concepts to the 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. On top of this, the real trick was to incorporate fun and games into the learning process (a feat more easily accomplished with very young learners.)

Frankly, about half of the students in 4-6th grade were uninterested in learning English. Imagine trying to understand a teacher in a completely foreign language. It was very difficult and many appeared frustrated. Also, our twice a week English lessons are not recorded in their final grades, so I felt like I lacked some leverage. That being said, many students were interested and enthusiastic about English class. There really is a benefit in learning English as a second language on an island with a massive tourism industry. The 6th graders also knew that daily English class was compulsory in secondary school where they’re headed next year. I’d really like to thank my 6th grade teachers, Maestras Bibi and Nora, for their real help managing unruly students and demanding respect from their classes. When I arrived, my Spanish was not very good, so class control was very difficult.

After six months, it is clear that many students have grasped the English I’ve taught them. It’s also rewarding to see them enjoy English class, though admittedly they still don’t treat it seriously. Right now, one of the main goals of our organization is to foster a positive association with English language learning, and I believe we have absolutely succeeded there.

Finally, I have to say the students in grades 1-3, are AMAZING. Language learning really is easier at a younger age, and these students grow in leaps and bounds. My 3rd graders have had English classes through Volunquest for 3 years now, and can understand every instruction I say. They are the vision of this program coming to fruition. When students start English language instruction, especially from native English speakers, at the age of 6, they retain so much information. I can’t wait for the future of the Volunquest program where public school students in grade 6 will be practically bilingual. I am proud to have participated in this program that I truly believe in.