Flintridge Preparatory School Students and Faculty Visit Nicaragua

Published : Tuesday, October 15, 2013 | 2:44 AM

Five faculty members and 13 students of Flintridge Preparatory School went to Nicaragua this summer to be immersed in the culture and language of the Nicaraguans.

The school’s 4th Nicaragua Collaborative, which is funded by EE Ford Foundation, gave the students a chance to visit St. Mary’s School, a K–8 institution in Managua; and La Mascota, Nicaragua’s only pediatric cancer hospital.

The students also lived with Nicaraguan families, worked with students, visited patients and learned traditional dances in Nicaragua during the 18-day trip.

“Even my host family’s extended family treated me as if I belonged. I got a real flavor for the warmth of Nicaraguan people,” said Alex Khalsa, 15.

History teacher Ingrid Herskind said the students reached out to the patients of La Mascota Hospital.

“It was absolutely genuine interaction and support: impassioned and from the heart,” Herskind said.

Flintridge students stayed with the families of students from St. Mary’s, which is home to 500 pupils. Flintridge students spent mornings at the school with Nicaraguan elementary students.

Michael Weinstein, 14, said he was able to learn while teaching the students at St. Mary’s.

“I was in a first grade classroom with one of my ‘younger brothers.’ The kids spoke so fast, we had to step up—and we learned a lot of slang,” Weinstein said.

Julia Shaw, 14, shared the sentiment saying “It was cool how much they wanted to learn. Their energy was really high.”

The students will be using iPads this fall to connect Prep’s Spanish I classes to 7th and 8th grade English classrooms at St. Mary’s.

Faculty Participation

Flintridge science teacher Heather Clark taught environmental studies in Spanish for 1st to 8th graders in St. Mary’s, while World languages teacher Fabian Bejarano worked with St. Mary’s Spanish teacher Ximena Gonzalez.

Program Director Manuel Perez collaborated with St. Mary’s for the development of the Nicaraguan school.

Meanwhile, Flintridge’s Athletic Director Alex Rivera visited Nicaragua for the first time and taught sports clinics for coaches and players, working with St. Mary’s PE and Athletic Director Allan Mercado.

Rivera is also working with St. Mary’s president Jorge Luis Ayestas to realize the latter’s vision of making Nicaragua a basketball powerhouse—all the way to the Olympic level.

“[Ayestas] has a vision,” Rivera said. “I told him it reminds me of working with Peter Bachmann. There’s just no stopping him.”

Flintridge also remodeled classrooms and labs, saving equipment, chairs and tables this summer to be shipped in giant containers to St. Mary’s for its science labs.

In September, Ayestas and Karla Obregon, St. Mary’s academic coordinator, came to La Cañada to observe many facets of Flintridge Prep in action. They visited classrooms, interviewed teachers and administrators, and absorbed the day-to-day workings of the school. They also visited other area schools, including La Salle and St. Bede’s.

Ayestas will be back in Pasadena in September to learn more about PE from Alex, PE department chair Sean Beattie and the whole Prep staff. Alex and PE teacher/soccer coach Esteban Chavez will go to Nicaragua in January to start working on next year’s exchange program.

Flintridge students, after their return from Nicaragua, met this week to begin organizing a fundraiser for La Mascota, a 5K walk in La Cañada to take place Saturday, January 11, 2014. Their goal is to raise money so parents can accompany their children to the hospital, replacing income they have to forego when they make the journey to Managua to be with their kids during treatment.

“The whole Nicaragua Collaborative is a two-way street,” says Manuel Nunez. “St. Mary’s is excited to be mentored by Prep. They want to expand to high school, to be one of the best schools in their country, and offer an excellent education to people in the lower and lower middle classes. They are aiming for nothing less than developing the educational well-being of their entire country, to help their country prosper.

“Yet I believe we at Prep are receiving much more than we are giving. Our kids come home with profound understanding. They are more self-assured; they can handle things better across the board. They have been transformed,” Nunez added.


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