Building a New Global Classroom at NicaPhoto

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Level Up Village Account Director Nicki Brill headed up a team of Builders Beyond Volunteers volunteers to help build a new global classroom for NicaPhoto in Nagarote, Nicaragua, this spring. They did everything from digging garden beds, laying bricks, mixing cement and using a rebar to secure the foundation.

By Nicki Brill

It was 105° in the small town of Nagarote, Nicaragua. Sweat dripped down my face as I lugged yet another pile of dirt out of the garden bed. I sensed my advisees were growing more tired with every passing hour, but we all persevered, determined to both build a new classroom and create a garden that would help further the educational programs at NicaPhoto. That’s what we at Builders Beyond Borders (B3) were known for, after all – building a better world for others.

As I looked around at the smiling faces of hard-working high schoolers, I knew that I was lucky. There was no place I’d rather be than volunteering as an Advisor on another B3 trip. And the best part? My work wouldn’t just end once the week-long project was over. All of the STEAM courses I had been helping to manage over the past two years at Level Up Village (LUV) were going to be carried out in the new NicaPhoto classroom I was on the ground helping to build! I was leaving a legacy; and for that, I was grateful.

On our first day at NicaPhoto, we were welcomed by students and staff with an exciting ceremony. They danced, sang, and read poems for us to give us a true look into Nicaraguan culture. The B3 volunteers then passed out new backpacks filled with everything from freshly sharpened pencils to spiral-bound notebooks. As I watched countless connections form between each B3 member and their assigned NicaPhoto ‘buddies,’ I knew that the trip had been worth it, and my global colleagues knew it, too.

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When they weren’t working on the building project, Nicki and the B3 volunteers spent time with the students at NicaPhoto, playing games and learning about each other’s culture. This photo was taken right after a soccer match.

Between digging trenches, laying brick and mixing cement, our time was filled with strenuous labor and countless trips to the water station. In addition, I got a behind the scenes look at Level Up Village courses at NicaPhoto. One of the most memorable moments I had during the week was sitting in on LUV’s Global Web Designers class. This was especially exciting for me since I had spent countless hours developing that exact curriculum. What was so amazing was that Azucena, the NicaPhoto teacher leading this class, actually taught it the same way I did. And the students? They asked the same types of questions my students in the U.S. did! I also got to see the website each one was building with their new friend from the U.S. Before leaving the class, the students all introduced themselves to me and told me their favorite part about the class. Moments like these are truly inspiring and reinforce the impact of Level Up Village’s efforts to help bridge the educational gap between students in different countries and create meaningful global connections.

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NicaPhoto teachers Azucena and Karen are teaching a NicaPhoto Global Web Designers student how to use Weebly. Nicki joined this class during her trip to Nicaragua with Builders Beyond Borders and was delighted to see how the NicaPhoto students and their partners in the U.S. found common ground by taking the course together.

Our last day in Nagarote was one I will never forget. The high-school volunteers were clinging to their teary-eyed NicaPhoto buddies, promising they’ll cherish these moments forever. While the new school won’t be finished for another couple months, I was so impressed with how committed my B3 advisees were in moving the project forward. They had not only built a foundation for the new NicaPhoto school, but had also built lasting friendships. And I, too, had made lasting friendships of my own. I would miss NicaPhoto’s teachers – Azucena, Fernanda, and Karen – they had become more than just global colleagues. Together we had pushed education to a new level, and continue to do so today. Just yesterday I was Skyping them, explaining our latest curriculum plan for the summer. They’re still grateful for all that we accomplished on our trip. I cannot wait to meet more of my colleagues around the world as we continue to bridge the educational gap between students from different cultures and bring them together to work as partners.

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Nicki and the Builders Beyond Borders team toured the barrios of Nagarote, where most of the NicaPhoto students live.

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The new NicaPhoto garden will help introduce students to gardening. The vegetables students grow will be used for lunch and will be sold to the Nagarote community. Students will learn about agriculture and economics.

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A wide shot of the NicaPhoto worksite on one of the final days of the trip. There are still a few more months of work remaining before the project will be completed.

Level Up Village’s U.S. school partners sponsor Level Up Village courses at NicaPhoto through LUV’s “Take a Class, Give a Class” model. Learn more about the collaboration between Level Up Village, B3 and Nica Photo to build the new global learning facility for NicaPhoto in the Norwalk Hour: The Hour: Local students building school in Nicaragua