Photo Journey of Libros for Learning Vallarta Visit
Glenn Baron - Libros for Learning

December 20, 2012

Libros for Learning is an North Carolina non-profit. Our mission is to assist small schools in rural Mexico. We bring classroom libraries and assist the teachers with ideas and resources.

We've just returned from Puerto Vallarta where we visited the orphanage and set up new libraries and updated the current libraries in the small rural schools of Cabo Corrientes, just south of Puerto Vallarta.

Prior to our trip, Mike Leonard ordered the books during the summer.

In October, we had to organize, label and sort the books.

We had the help of the Cuthbertson High School Spanish Honor Society and several families from Dr. Baron's fifth grade class and all the wonderful folks who helped get the books ready.

Flying down to Mexico went very well this year.

We always take the books as luggage, being careful to pack them in crates that are no more than 50 pounds. The cost is high, but much cheaper than shipping by FedEx.

In the past, we had had problems with Mexican Customs, but this year we slid right through. We had the proper paperwork and very helpful Customs officials.

We rented a van to haul everything and were on the way.

We spent the first days in Puerto Vallarta and our first visit was to an orphanage called Refugio Infantil Santa Esperanza (RISE).

The orphanage is in a beautiful old hacienda in a poor part of town.

The orphanage had about 30 kids from 1 month to 12 years old. The 13-18 year olds were at an entirely separate facility where they could get job training in order to prepare them for leaving.

Most of the kids in Mexican orphanages are not orphans by death. Rather, the most common tale is a single mom who gives up her child because of poverty.

I was telling one 8 year old about our plans for the week, he perked up at the name of the town El Tuito. "Mi madre vive alli!" ("my mother lives there!") It was hard to hear that. He knew where his mom was, but couldn't see her.

It was owned by the nearby Catholic Church and run by a few nuns, but much of the work done by local volunteers and most of the funding is charity.

We found the kids to be fun, healthy and energetic. Their lives were a little bit regimented, but the kids are safe and secure and their faces showed it.

One of the nuns who ran the orphanage really did love books. She spent our entire visit reading from the kids' new library.

The next day, we travelled out to Cabo Corrientes to deliver books to the rural schools.

The pueblos mostly had schools with either one room and one teacher (grades 1-6) or two rooms and teachers.

The bathrooms are outside, but usually clean. It's a seasonally dry area, so water is delivered. You see the big black water tanks on top of most schools and houses.

Inside, the classrooms are spare but lively. The kids sit at tables or individual desks and are usually divided by achievement level rather than by grade level.

The curriculum they use is roughly equivalent to curriculum in US schools, although the learning doesn't go in depth.

The reason this project started is because of the meager library available to the kids in these schools. These are typical shelves of books that the kids can read on their own.

Lunch is brought each day by some of the mothers of the pueblo. Some schools have a contract with a single woman that does it for pay. Other schools just share the responsibility around among the mothers, who rotate the job.

After lunch is recess, which almost always includes a pickup soccer match somewhere.

The next thing we did at each school was to talk to the kids about the libraries. There are a few things we want them to know.

1. The books are interesting and fun and they are welcome to read them at home any times.
2. The books belong to the school, so they must bring them back. That's when we show them the card in each book and teach them how to check them out from the teacher.
3. We talk about how to take care of the books so that they will be available for many years.

After the first school, Alicia Rangel did most of the talking to the kids. Alicia is a high school junior from Waxhaw who was a student of mine in fifth grade. She is fluent in spanish and the kids listened to every word she said.

Next comes picking out a new book. This can be a little stressful because most of them think that once they pick a book, that's the only one that they will get to read. We and their teachers have to convince them that they will get to read them all.

One little boy asked to trade his book, then asked to trade again, then asked to trade a third time. I asked why and he said that he just wanted to make sure that it was OK to trade.

The kids practice checking out books by signing the library card and giving it to their teacher. Most of them have four names and it can take a very long time for a first grader to sign all those names. They insist on it, though - it's the first thing the little ones learn to write.

Now comes a really fun part of this project - we get to relax and read with the kids for an hour or two.

It's especially fun to do a read aloud. I like to do this because it's unusual for these teachers to do this with their kids, and once they see the response, they are hooked on it too.

Some of the kids get into groups and share.

Others want some private time.

Or quiet time with a friend.

Before we leave, we always get a school photo. "Say tequila!"

We visited a couple of schools where we had previously delivered libraries to make sure that the books were being used by kids. Here is a Libros for Learning Library after 3 years.

We checked a couple of library cards picked out of random books and they have been checked out and read by the kids.

Here is a map of libraries we have placed in the past five years. Each box represents a school we have visited.

Future Plans

The new Director of Education, Cesar Robles Bravo, joined us at all six schools this year. It was great to have him with us because we were able to talk with him about the current situation as far as supplies and plans. We agreed on a new way for Libros for Learning to help the teachers with books.

One way that teachers commonly work with students in the USA is to match a small group of students to a book on their level, then teach them one strategy to practice in that book. It's a powerful way to teach because it matches kids to a perfect book and gives them one thing to focus on.

To start this work, the teachers will need a small teaching library made up of 4 copies of each of 8-10 books of various levels. That will be about 1600 books.

We will then do a workshop on using this new tool. Prof. Robles will bring all the primary teachers in the area to a meeting in El Tuito. We will spend a lot of time during this school year developing a simple workshop that will bring a valuable teaching tool to them.

If you'd like to help with the plans for next year, you can make a donation at You could also contact Glenn Baron at

To see the complete slide show presentation, view it here.

  Learn about Libros for Learning

  Learn about Refugio Infantil Santa Esperanza (R.I.S.E.)

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