2016 Sister School Visit

On June 21, teachers Kalli Heric (1st) and Nicole DiGirolamo (4th) followed last year’s lead of Sara Hickman (2nd) on a Maryknoll immersion trip to Guatemala. The experience provided educators and ministers from across the U.S. with the opportunity to encounter the Guatemalan people and the Church through missionary discipleship. The group traveled across Guatemala learning from lay and religious missioners who work with those marginalized by society.

During the trip, Kalli and Nicole met up with Gary Teale (pictured below), Director of Avivara, an international support group for the most needy schools in the country and our connection to our ongoing sister school relationship.  Part of their time together was spent at our newest sister school – Escuela Especiales de Valle de Durazno.  Bellow are their posts and pictures from the experience.  The hand of SMS School – as changemakers – indeed reaches far.  Way to go, Nicole and Kalli!  (Continue scrolling for more information and to read their posts.)


I knew my passion for teaching and working with kids with special needs would take me on a rewarding journey but today was one that I will never forget and never expected.  After being welcomed with hugs and smiles we felt right at home at SMS’s new sister school, Valle de Durazno.  These kids and my new bestie Carlos will always have a special place in my heart and I am so excited to continue to support their beautiful school and mission. – Kalli Heric


Today, Kalli and I were so lucky to visit a special needs school just outside Antigua in Guatemala.  We were greeted with a million hugs and smiles.  We also learned that money donated by our school, St. Madeleine Sophie, was used to help builda sewage system for the school LAST WEEK.  It was amazing to be able to represent SMS and see the wonderful things they do at Educacion Especial en Valle Del Duranzo!  (Valley of the Peaches) – Nicole DiGirolamo


Some background information:

Since 2009, St. Madeleine Sophie School has offered support to the schools in the villages of La Trinidad and Don Pancho, Guatemala. That support has helped those communities complete school infrastructure projects and supply the teachers and students with teaching materials and student supplies.  Currently, those two schools (La Trinidad and Don Pancho) and their respective communities are in much better economic shape than when we first began providing them funding for school improvements through the international help group, Avivara.

For that reason, St. Madeleine’s was encouraged to shift its focus toward to supporting students within the Avivara network who struggle with learning challenges.

Examples of how this support would be used include:

  • Books in braille for blind students (who can read braille)
  • Vision testing and glasses for students with visual impairments
  • Teaching materials for teachers working specifically with developmentally delayed or physically disabled students including Big Books, learning puzzles with large pieces, math manipulatives, gardening materials and tools, and simple musical instruments.
  • Medical supplies for physically disabled students and storage units for those supplies

Also, while there has been an increase in all the schools mainstreaming students with special needs, many of these children are still kept isolated in their homes, or are sent to special schools serving their needs. One such school is the Escuela Especiales de Valle de Duranzo.

Our hope is for our new relationship to further spread the mission of inclusion as our Schoolwide Learning Expectations call us to do.  Serve, Lead, Love and Learn.  In the words of St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, “Your example, even more than your words, will be an eloquent lesson to the world.”