“Before the Colegio San Lucas, there were no doctors or lawyers in San Lucas. Now in San Lucas we not only have doctors and lawyers in town, but we have Maya doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, architects, priests, construction workers, bakers, blacksmiths, and other professionals in town. The Colegio gives the opportunity for us, the Maya people, to advance and better ourselves in society.” - ‘Chona’ Ajcot
Education places high as an indicator of development. Through education, an individual is provided with an opportunity to an informed participation within greater society, an informed participation politically, economically, culturally, and spiritually.
The mission elementary school, Colegio San Lucas, is one of the pioneer programs of the San Lucas Mission, striving for more than 40 years to provide holistic and affordable education. Founded in 1967, by Fr. Greg Shaffer and a group of School Sisters of Notre Dame, Colegio San Lucas was the first school in the San Lucas area that made education a viable option for the Maya children of the area.
When Fr. Greg arrived in San Lucas Toliman, school was not available to the children. The only option for education was found on one of the surrounding coffee plantations, where the owner had established a small school for non-Maya children.
With education inaccessible, discrimination was commonplace against the Maya (90%), who were consequently unable to find employment off of the coffee plantations.
Walking the streets of San Lucas, the Sisters began speaking to families about the importance of education. Initially, they were met with resistance as families were apprehensive to send their children to school. Until this point, children learned their skills in the family; a formal education was neither available nor viewed as necessary.
Beginning with two students, the Sisters began in what is now the Mission Library and gradually, as the community grew in confidence and interest, the school’s enrollment increased. In May of 1968 the Colegio San Lucas was recognized by the Guatemalan Ministry of Education as an operational school in Guatemala.
The campus of Colegio Privado Mixto Monsenor Gregorio Schaffer Regan, or shortened to Colegio Monsenor Gregorio, consists of a main building that houses the majority of the school’s student population. The library, the original stone building across the street, houses second and third grades. Consistent with the theme of offering a beautiful place for the people to work, the school has lush gardens throughout, fostering a feeling of tranquility to the atmosphere.
The Colegio serves children from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade, with a student population of approximately 550 students. The average class size is about 28 students, while the pre-primary grades and sixth grade have up to 33 students in a classroom.
The school is constantly growing and the mission is looking to add classrooms to better suit the needs of the school. The school is served by 31 dedicated members of the faculty and administration, many of which attended the Mission school during their elementary education.
When the school first began, educational indicators in San Lucas were well below national standards. A study done in 1964 showed 2.5 percent literacy in the area, with one school operating in the area. A current census shows literacy rates nearing 85 percent, with the majority of illiteracy in older adults.
Comparably, national literacy rates are at 70.6 percent. Much lower, however, national literacy rates for indigenous are at 57.5 percent, female literacy rates even lower at 49 percent. These changes are witness to the positive impact of the mission school.
Priding its effectiveness in the inclusive nature of the school and its open access for all children in the area, the school has been responsible for the primary education of many professionals in San Lucas throughout the past 40 years.
In the Mission’s efforts to provide an education that is not only high in quality but accessible to the people – families pay tuition fees of Q 10.00 per child a month ($1.32 US). This fee, in concordance with the rest of the mission’s programming, is based on a family’s ability to pay.
In 2008, the Mission began to convert a metal building adjacent to the other school buildings into a Montessori Center for the pre-k and kindergarten grades. Originally developed within the resource poor neighborhoods of Rome, the Montessori approach will allow for the introduction of a new and exciting approach for the teachers.
It was Father Greg’s dream to offer a more hands on method to teach the children in the Mission school since he was a young priest in Minnesota. Father Greg knew that by reaching young children when their minds were so open, they would learn the critical thinking skills necessary to better complete their education and provide a better life for themselves and their families.
In January, 2010, the first Montessori classroom opened in a converted storage building on the Mission grounds. The first classroom housed four-year-olds by newly trained indigenous teachers. Since that time, the Montessori method spread to four other classrooms, two for five-year-olds and two for six-year-olds.