On Education: What Hanna Lucia wants you to know

December 21, 2014 in Education, Guatemala, North America, Travelogue


My house is beautiful chaos right now.

Hannah, Ezra and his new friend Ben, a young man he met at Tor’s place when he was building his drum, are sitting on the patio painting palm curls that they picked up along the road.

The kitchen is a mess, because Gabe and Hannah baked zucchini muffins and in the middle of the project Gabe sliced the end of his thumb off with the paring knife he keeps razor sharp, so dishes were down the list of priorities. Elisha’s in there now, carefully crafting a cup of coffee with the aeropress, just like his Daddy taught him. It’s for Hanna Lucia, her third cup today, and she’s earned every single one.

The table where I’m sitting is heaped with computers and an ipad, multiple empty tea and coffee cups, math books and notebooks, pencils, a chicken shaped hot pad, and a few dozen brussel sprouts scattered between the candles and a wrapper from Gabe’s bandaid. Miss Nelson is Missing waiting for tomorrow’s reading lesson. The floor needs to be swept. We’ll have 12 for dinner tonight and I haven’t even begun to cook. There hasn’t been time yet.

Last week Hanna Lucia came to me one evening and very timidly admitted something to me: she needs to learn. “I see all of the things your kids know, and I realize that I don’t know nothing,” she told me. “Because you are my family, I want to ask you, and it’s okay if you say no to me, but can you please teach me, like your childrens?”

It’s not the first time I’ve been asked to school someone else, but it’s the first time I’ve said yes.

Today, she arrived at nine, looking like she sorely needed a coffee, so we started there. And then, we dove in with purpose: assessing where she’s at and where to begin with spelling, math, reading and basic writing.

Hanna Lucia hasn’t had it easy.

She quit school before she was Ezra’s age for a variety of difficult reasons. Her mother left the family when she was only 8. Her wonderful dad raised her, but he died when she was just 16. Her extended family couldn’t deal with hermaphroditism, so they sent her to Guatemala to find her mother’s family. She’s been living, essentially homeless, ever since. What’s amazing about her is her beautiful soul, her optimistic attitude and her commitment to living a life characterized by generosity and love. She would tell you that music saved her life. So, when she came to me and asked if she could learn with my boys, of course, I said yes.

When she sat down to begin, her hands were shaking. “My brain is telling me I crazy to be trying this,” she said as we opened the book and I realized that single digit addition was going to require something to count with: enter the brussel sprouts. The bottom line: She’s at a late second grade level in the subjects that matter. She laughed and shook her head when I told her where we’d have to start, “Well, then let’s get going!”  She cheerfully announced.

She cried when I told her that my friend Jodi had donated a computer for her schooling. Tony set it all up this morning and delivered it to the kitchen table. “You know Sister, I never thought I would have a computer in my whole life. Now, I can learn everything, my guitar, my math, my reading and writing too. I can learn it all! I have to thank this family by doing my best. I will come every day and I will work very hard. I was saying to myself this morning when I woke up that this is not an opportunity I will have every day, but I have it now and I must work my hardest to learn everything I can. Is it okay with you if I come at nine o’clock every day and work all day to learn?” 


Today she cracked out no less than nine math lessons.

She made a valiant first attempt at spelling two and three letter words. She read, and reread a paragraph until she understood what it meant. Then she copied it carefully into a notebook, noting capitalization, punctuation and form. She worked through the first three typing lessons I set up for her on her new computer and we signed up for a reading program that she can begin on in a few days. Between every math lesson she took a smoke break. Once an hour, or so, one of the kids made her another cup of coffee.  She muttered while she moved brussel sprouts. We had to spend quite a bit of time discussing the concept of zero, that’s a tough one.

Meanwhile, I was talking to my homeschool mamas group on Facebook and discussing what else we might need to help Hanna Lucia forward. They’re a fantastic group of ladies and some of the most generous people I’ve ever had the privilege of calling friends. Hanna’s computer came from one of them. Several others have ordered the next two grade levels of math books and some reading books to send down with my goddaughter, who arrives on the 21. They sent notes of encouragement to her as she moved brussel sprouts around in groups of two and three and chuckled at where she was beginning.

“Can I ask you something, Sister,” she interrupted my train of thought, “Can you please take my picture with this?” She held up a sprout. “I want to remember this, where I started, with counting the vegetables because I ran out of fingers. Later, I think I will laugh.” 

I think later she will laugh.

I came into the room a couple of hours ago to find her sitting next to Gabe with her math book open and he was explaining the easiest way to group numbers and find tens when adding three single digits together. Her brow was furrowed as she worked hard to hear what he was saying and apply it. Gabe raised one eyebrow and grinned. Elisha spent a few minutes discussing the concept of “nothing” for zero with her. Ez interrupted with an, “Oh I REMEMBER THAT!” when I pulled out a piece of sandpaper for her to trace her spelling words on. “It’s weird, but that really helped me remember them, Hanna Lucia,” he encouraged her. She just laughed and took it on faith that if I said to trace her spelling words with her finger on sandpaper then that was the best way to do it.

Every now and then I remember how very lucky we are in our family.

I come from generations of university educated folks. Reading is something even the smallest children can do. We take the gift of learning for granted, so much so that we sometimes complain about it, it becomes a chore on occasion. The children are watching Hanna Lucia out of the corners of their eyes and we’re all realizing how very much we don’t appreciate our educations and what we can do because of the gift of learning.

I’ve corrected so many addition and subtraction pages today that my eyes are beginning to cross. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have a third grade student who needs a person to sit within reach and keep an eye on the process. By lesson six she’d gotten the hang of zero and would crow to herself every time she got one right, “Haha!! I got you, you sneaky zero!” The one lesson she got 100% on was cause for celebration, the children clapped for her, and she beamed from ear to ear.

Hanna Lucia is my age.

We’ve taken every breath together for forty years. My life has been as alien to her as hers has been to me. One of the things I truly do not understand about the world is why some of us are born into opportunities and others of us are not. Why some of us get to learn, and others are kept from it. Why some of us get the best start in life and family and others are handed the short end of every single stick. I don’t get it. The only thing I know to do about it is to share what we have and what we know. It’s the least I can do for my sister, because but for the grace of god or a twist of fates… our places could have been reversed.

“What you writing about over there, Sister,” she asked me between subtraction problems.

I smiled at her, “I’m writing about you, but I’ll only share it if you approve.” 

She grinned from ear to ear, “You writing about me?!  WOW!! That’s good! You tell my story to everyone and everyone can know that if I can be learning they can be learning too. Everyone should be learning. My life is hard, but learning will be giving me a new life! I want all the peoples to know!” 

If you have words of encouragement for Hanna Lucia, leave them in the comments and we’ll use them for reading practice!