Mayatan Bilingual School is a growing organization with humble origins: In 1991, a mother named Nora Arita de Welchez wanted to give her daughter the opportunity to receive a quality, English-language education. At the time, however, she would have had to send her daughter to the nearest large city, three hours from Copán Ruinas.
After meeting other parents who wanted their children to receive a similar education locally, Doña Nora decided that she would have to found such a school herself. The obstacles have always been great, but the payoffs are tremendous. In Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere, English-language skills are important advantages in building a future.
With the help of family, friends, and the community, Nora started Mayatan Bilingual School. Two other women who also wanted English educations for their children joined her: Maria Eugenia Aviles de Arias and Mayra Arias de Welchez. Originally, there were just nine first-grade students housed in a one-room schoolhouse in downtown Copán. Soon, the school moved into its own ramshackle building opposite the town's main Mayan archeological site. Nora wore every hat in the early days, from driving the bus to teaching. In 1992 Mayatan took on its first foreign English-language volunteer teacher, and our staff has expanded since then.
In 1998, Mr. Frank Hopkins and his wife, Belva, visited Mayatan Bilingual school while touring Copán with an elder hostel group. They were both moved by the school's mission and, seeing opportunities to help, decided to volunteer here.
Mr. Frank arrived in 2000 as principal, and Belva taught literature. Their involvement in Mayatan forever changed the school's direction. At the time, our secondary school was meeting in Nora's house because of space constraints, and the school buildings near the archaeological park were found to be on the grounds of newly located Mayan Ruins. It was time to move. Mr. Frank designed buildings for a new campus and started the process of incorporating the Mayatan Foundation in Honduras so that American non-profit groups, including Hope for Tomorrow, Inc., could more easily support our work.
Frank and Belva have been indomitable supporters of Mayatan Bilingual School since their first visit, helping to guide us in Honduras and reach out to friends abroad. In 2003, Frank and Belva returned to the United States, though their involvement with Mayatan continued. As often as possible, the couple would drive down to Copán Ruinas from their home near Boston to check our progress.
In 2002, under Mr. Frank's direction, Mayatan began transferring from the site near the archaeological park to the small campus in the hills just east of town. Our expansion now allows some 300 students from Copán, the neighboring countryside, and aldeas (indigenous villages) to receive a bilingual education close to home.
Using about 20 foreign volunteers to teach in English and 15 Honduran teachers to teach in Spanish, Mayatan offers classes at the following levels: pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, elementary (1-6), secondary (7-9), and now colegio, or high school (10-12).
Colegio-level coursework was a long-term dream that we began to fulfill in 2009 with our first 10th grade class. The colegio follows the curriculum of the University of Missouri High School, which gives our students the opportunity to receive a U.S.-accredited education without leaving their home town. In addition, students may choose to graduate with a Honduran bachillerato en ciencias y letras or a bachillerato de turismo, which certifies them for employment in tourism and other industries. In June 2012, Mayatan graduated its first high school class.