In March, when schools across El Salvador had to abandon face-to-face instruction because of the pandemic, a Baha'i-inspired school in the country found a tremendous reservoir of capacity in families, teachers, and other community members to help maintain a high standard of education for all of its 200 students.
“Unity has been essential to progress during this crisis,” says Vanesa Renderos, principal of the Ridvan School established in 1989. “We have been learning to work as a team with the entire community to continue educating the children. The teachers are going out of their way for their students, striving to achieve educational quality and promoting moral concepts that have been like a pillar in this moment of crisis.”
Marcella Contreras, a teacher at the elementary school, says, “Like everyone else, we have been experiencing an unprecedented year. Yet, thanks to the Baha'i teachings about service, the light of hope has kept shining for parents and my colleagues, encouraging us to serve these precious gems, our students. During this time, teachers have learned to become much closer to the students’ families, who have been integral to the process.”
Early on, the school sent out a series of surveys to assess the circumstances of each family. As the year has progressed, it has responded on a case-by-case basis when difficulties are raised by parents.
In addition to offering classes online, teachers are conducting lessons at a safe distance in neighborhood streets where families have limited or no internet access. The school is now working within government guidelines to reintroduce limited in-person learning, adhering to public health measures.
Rene Lemus, a collaborator with the school, explains that teaching methods have had to be responsive to the needs of each age group. “The youngest children need the highest engagement from the parents to learn effectively. These are the children who would suffer the most from a gap in their education, and the method of online classes is not as effective for them. So the Ridvan School has created an at-home program, where teachers accompany parents of the younger children in homeschooling.”
Moral and spiritual education are essential aspects of students’ learning at the school and have been integrated into programs during the crisis.
“Our spirits have been strengthened by thinking about what is most important—helping and serving one another,” says one student. Another adds, “The spiritual aspect of our studies has helped give me all the strength I need to move ahead in these difficult times. I have great love for my teachers and classmates, because everyone is concerned about the needs of others and less focused on themselves.”
Mr. Lemus reflects on the close collaboration between parents and teachers in recent months and the impact this has had on the community as a whole. “Bringing school into the home has had an effect on broader education and literacy for some parents who did not themselves have the opportunity for formal education when they were younger. The student is sitting in front of the screen learning, and at the same time, the parent is sitting next to his or her child and is also learning.
“In the past, all matters of education were left in the hands of the school. But new circumstances are demonstrating that everyone—the school, the teachers, and the parents—must play a part. A new path for the intellectual and spiritual education of an entire community is emerging.”