Candelaria Perez Chumil is a third-grade teacher at Colegio Monseñor Gregorio Schaffer in San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala. Candelaria studied at the school as a child, and today, she embodies the passionate and effective teaching the school is known for. The school serves 650 children from age four through sixth grade. This is one of the only schools in the country using a Montessori method for the early grades. About 95% of the students receive a need-based scholarship.
On this Give to the Max Day, Candelaria is telling us her story so that we can raise $6,000 for the school — the salary for one teacher in San Lucas. This school is one of the cornerstones of the San Lucas Mission because we believe education is the foundation for lasting social change. Read on to learn more about Candelaria, and why she believes in the power of the colegio.
“My name is Candelaria Perez Chumil. I have been teaching at this school for 17 years. When I was 19 years old, I was working as a cook in the Mission kitchen when [our founder] Father Greg invited me to start as a teacher at the school the following year. I have been here ever since. And I will continue to teach until they tell me I can’t come back anymore.
This school is special because it supports low-resource families. It allows students to receive high-quality education, who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford enrollment or tuition expenses. In our community, scholarships are very important because many people have limited resources. They often have 5 or 6 children. Many work as day laborers, earning about 25 quetzales [less than $3.50] per day. And they have to attend to their family too. Life can be difficult. How can they pay tuition for 4-5 children? That’s where our scholarships make a big difference.
We also offer Montessori-style education. A visiting expert comes a couple of times per year to donate Montessori materials and run professional development workshops about how to best use the materials.”
When you were a student here, what was it like?
“My father registered me here in pre-school. But when I was in 3rd grade, I could no longer attend school here because my dad was not able to attend the registration day. So I went to public school. I no longer wanted to study once I was there. The environment wasn’t good for me. Here, there is a certain sense of peace, cooperation, and social-emotional education. Our teachers supported us, taught us to be respectful, and held high academic expectations for us. If anyone was struggling, the teacher helped them. Soon, my father was able to arrange for me to return to this school, where I excelled.”
“I really love children. When I was a kid, I was fascinated by the role of the teacher. My favorite part of this job is being with the children, sharing experiences with them. Children’s happiness is contagious, and you can feel it. Everything is wonderful when you’re with the children.
And the job of the teacher is important because we’re helping to develop human beings. When these children grow up, they’ll know right from wrong. They’ll have had role models who showed them how to be a helper and a learner, how to defend themselves, and how to work with others.”
What’s a lesson that the kids really love?
“In math, we made our own manipulatives using foam to represent ones, tens and hundreds. The students created cubes and blocks that represented these quantities. Once we had the materials ready, I would tell them to form a certain number using the ones, tens, and hundreds, and they would work in groups to assemble the quantities. Sometimes I’d make it into a race, and all the children had fun.
I also enjoy teaching about our [Maya] culture and traditions. We learn about the lives of our grandparents. Our grandparents made all of their own food and medicine. We prepared traditional dishes together, like chuchitos and pepián. The children were so happy because they learned to cook and share with one another.
Sometimes I run into former students in the street. They have good jobs, and they’re good people. They always remember me, and they’re thankful. It’s really gratifying.
One of the challenging things about teaching is working with students who have difficult home lives, like having very little money, difficult family situations, or trauma. I have to think “How am I going to work with this student?” The student needs help, and I’m going to do everything possible to help them. I speak with them, and I tell them they can trust me, and I encourage them to tell me what’s going on with them, and I ask them how I can help. The children feel this support, and they develop trust in me, and often I can help. I work hard to find a way to help them.
I once had a student named Luis, from a very low-resource family. His mother was permanently hospitalized, and he lived with his uncles. He received a scholarship to study here. He was a very responsible and bright student with excellent grades. I told him, “You can find a way to continue your studies. Make your best effort, and you’ll be able to get a good job and support your mom. Keep working hard, and your uncles will see you have talent.” And he did. He now works in banking. And I see him sometimes, and he says, ‘Thank you.’ ”
What would you say to donors on Give to the Max Day?
“Donations are very important for us at this school. I feel glad that there are people who believe in love for their neighbor. They have a good heart and don’t just think about themselves, but about other people in the world. That’s the most wonderful thing a person can do – to give without knowing the recipient, without expecting anything in return.”
Each year the Mission in San Lucas impacts the lives of over 25,000 people. Each dollar donated makes a difference in the life of someone like Candelaria and all the students she serves. To support teachers like Candelaria and their students, please make your gift today. Visit GiveMN.org. Thank you for your generosity.