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Estrato 1: access to reading

Jennifer Degenhardt

Reading time: 2:38

We walked into the classroom, greeting the teacher, a small woman who didn’t seem a match - not in voice, nor in stature - for the 28 11th-graders in the classroom.

The school is in the barrio of Agua Blanca in Cali, Colombia. Agua Blanca is an Estrato 1 neighborhood, meaning one of few resources. The school houses 2000+ students where they are provided with free meals and snacks. There is a uniform for the students, either a regular one or one for P.E. days, but some students didn’t seem to abide by that requirement - for probably a host of reasons. They were there in school and that’s what mattered.

My friend and fellow Spanish teacher, Helaine, is doing a 5-month project as a Fulbright Scholarship recipient, a portion of which has her connecting students and teachers in Colombia with those in the United States. The lesson the day we were visiting was to write back to the U.S. student who had already written a letter to the Colombian students.

Teenagers being teenagers, they took a L-O-N-G time to get started with the assignment: some were on their phones, others were shouting out the window to the P.E. class outside, others were chatting amongst themselves. All of them were creating noise of some kind, made even worse by the echo that comes with concrete walls, few windows and 28 almost-adult sized kids yelling over one another to be heard. Crazy-making and deafening.

Learning English for these kids is hard for so many reasons, pronunciation among them. I kept thinking to myself about how great it would be if they had access to comprehensible reading via an app, you know, like a Digilangua app. They would only have to use the WiFi at school (or elsewhere) to download the app so they could put on it the books they wanted to read. And after they were finished with an assignment, they could be engaged with reading.

Yet another part of Helaine’s project, The Stories that Unite Us has her interviewing students here in Colombia to amplify their voices. She recounted that one student told her that her favorite thing to do in the afternoons is to escape to her room to read. After getting up at 4:30AM to help her mother prepare lunch for all of her uncles and then getting to school early to get something to eat before classes start at 6:45 AM (yes, you read that right), that student earns that reading time for sure!

The students of this Estrata 1 school in Agua Blanca, Cali, Colombia are the perfect candidates to receive and use the Digilangua platform. First things first: we need the funds to create the app. We have started a Kickstarter campaign (now in its last days) to try to raise the funds. Clearly we are better at writing books than asking for money, as we still have a ways to go. We would be honored if you’d like to contribute. No amount is too small.

Think of that girl curled up on her bed with a book on her phone, maybe even one in English, escaping into a story.

All students should have that kind of access to reading. All of them.

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