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Our Lady of the Highway

By Julianne Connell Sachs

Our Lady of the Highway

Responding to a need for early childhood education, Sister Immaculata and Sister Marie started Our Lady of the Highway Preschool near Novillero, Guatemala, in 2002. While recently visiting the Guatemala Mission in Solola, my children, my parents and I observed one session of the tuition-free preschool which serves about 15 children, children who otherwise could not afford preschool.

Upon our arrival, the teacher, Elena, ushered us into a small room brimming with colorful learning opportunities. Children ages 3-5 were seated at tables while a few women, with a baby or two, watched from the side and several siblings peered through windows. One young student began to cry and her neighbor, apparently older than she, attempted to console her without success. Elena asked the older child to take the younger to her mother, whose knowing smile expressed laughter; evidently, we were quite a fright.

Prompted by their teacher, the children greeted us in their native language Quiche, in Spanish and in  English. Elena moved about the room, pointing to wall decorations and holding up pictures as she led the children in all three languages, emphasizing colors, shapes and numbers. Soon, she instructed the children to find their journals and add to their collection of artwork by dipping a finger in green paint and pressing the finger to a page containing the outline of a leaf, counting fingerprints as they worked. Once the journals were safely stored, the children demonstrated opposite pairs by moving about the room, even jumping on and off the bench outside. At one point, wearing wings and holding flowers, kids paraded through the room while singing about butterflies.

Elena – after exuberantly leading the children in song, movement, languag, and counting – directed the children to a collection of blocks, puzzles, matching games and more. After completing one task with determined concentration, each child hurried to return the activity and select another.

With every second full of learning, an energetic and dynamic teacher, a space bursting with color and possibility and engaged and active children, the preschool was vibrant. Prior to leaving, aunts and mothers helped the kids wash their hands in a large bucket of water and served the children a nutrient-rich drink along with a banana. Nourishing the bodies and minds of these youth, Our Lady of the Highway Preschool is laying the foundation for a brighter future.

Thank you, St. Patrick and St. Francis Parishes (Walla Walla), Our Lady of Fatima (Spokane) and St. Joseph Parish (Colbert) for your support of this valuable program!