A Few Honduran Women
In 1991, a mother named Nora Arita de Welchez wanted to give her young daughter the opportunity to receive a quality, bilingual education. At the time, however, her only option would be to send her daughter to the nearest city, three hours from Copán Ruinas.
After meeting other parents who had similar ambitions for their children, Doña Nora decided that she would forge another path for her daughter. With the help of family, friends, and the community, Nora founded the Mayatan Bilingual School.
In its first year, Mayatan was comprised of 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 Mayan archeological site. Nora wore many hats in the early days, from driving the bus to teaching. In 1992, Mayatan took on its first foreign English-language teacher, a Peace Corps volunteer. As the first class continued on to higher grades, new students were brought in below them.
Two other women who wanted English educations for their children joined Nora in 1995: Maria Eugenia Aviles and Mayra Arias. Early teachers and administrators, such as Secretary Marisol Welchez and Principal Norma Casasola, have continued their work at the school for nearly two decades. These women have each played an essential role in developing Mayatan into what it is today.
Help From Abroad
In 1998, Frank Hopkins and his wife, Belva, visited Mayatan Bilingual school while touring Copán with a Road Scholar / Elderhostel group. They were both moved by the school's mission and decided to return to Copán to volunteer.
Mr. Frank arrived in 2000 as principal, and Belva taught literature. 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 built on top of newly discovered 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 could more easily support our work.
In 2003, Frank and Belva returned to the United States, though their involvement with Mayatan continued. Frank helped to found an American non-profit, Hope For Tomorrow Inc., that supports bilingual education in Central America.
John Weber traveled from Missouri to Copán Ruinas in 2008 to teach science and math at Mayatan. Upon arriving, he tasked himself with developing Mayatan's technical infrastructure and fulfilling Nora's dream of offering high school classes. John oversaw our new technology classroom, brought wireless internet to our campus, and set up a relationship with the University of Missouri High School Distance Learning Program that allowed our students to receive American high school diplomas -- all while he continued to teach classes!
In 2012 Mayatan graduated the six members of its first-ever high school class, and the following year 14 more seniors graduated. John served as a college counselor to both graduating classes, going so far as to sponsor one Mayatan student from an impoverished family to attend college in the United States. John returned to the United States in 2013.
One Student's Story
In 2000, Mayatan began a concerted effort to offer scholarships to children from the outlying aldeas (villages) surrounding Copán into Mayatan. A local organization selected one boy, Jose Danilo, and one girl from the poor aldea of El Sinai to enter into Mayatan's first grade class. Unlike most of Mayatan's sponsored students, whose parents could afford at least some portion of tuition and expenses, Jose Danilo's family could not even pay meager academic costs. Thus, these expenses were covered by a group of generous Honduran and foreign donors.
While the other scholarship recipient from El Sinai left Mayatan after completing Primary School, Jose Danilo decided that he wanted to continue his education. Doing so would present a serious challenge: as a young man, Danilo was now expected to not only take on new responsibilities within his family, but also to support them economically. If he was successful, he would become the first person from El Sinai to receive a high school diploma.
Throughout Secondary School and High School, Danilo frequently spent weekends farming corn in El Sinai and looking after his father. Mayatan supported Danilo, as well, going so far as to rent an apartment in town to ease his commute during the school week.
After 12 years of studying at Mayatan, Danilo graduated from our high school program with a Honduran high school diploma, an American high school diploma, and a certificate in hospitality and tourism management. But his ambition had not yet subsided -- Danilo wished to study in the United States. With the support of John Weber, Danilo was accepted to Rock Valley College in Rockford, Illinois, where he began attending classes this year. He plans to return to Copán once he completes his degree.
Based on Danilo's success, Mayatan has place a renewed emphasis on providing scholarships to more students from the outlying aldeas. Recently, the school admitted two young children from the Maya Ch'orti aldea of La Pintada into our kindergarten class.
Mayatan's campus in the hills above Copán Ruinas now hosts some 350 students from Copán, the neighboring countryside, and surrounding aldeas (indigenous villages). Our staff consists of 20 native-English speaking teachers and 15 Honduran teachers, supported by a mixed group of American and Honduran administrators. The school's curriculum fulfills Honduran national requirements, as well as the standards set by the Association of Bilingual Schools of Honduras (ABSH) and the American-accredited University of Missouri Distance Learning Program.
Mayatan's history has been shaped by the dedicated efforts of locals and foreigners alike. Those listed above have played important roles, but theirs are not the only stories; there are many others whose hard work has made Mayatan the strong educational institution it is today. Founder Nora Arita still has many more dreams to fulfill, such as offering college-level classes at Mayatan -- we'll see what happens as the Mayatan story continues.
1991 - Nora founds the Mayatan Bilingual School. Nine students enroll in 1st grade.
1992 - Mayatan recuits its first foreign teacher, a Peace Corps volunteer.
1995 - Maria Eugenia Alves and Mayra Arias join Nora as supporters of the Mayatan Bilingual School.
1997 - Mayatan graduates its first Primary School class.
1998 - Mayatan begins moving campus from near the ruins to the hills above Copán Ruinas.
2000 - Frank Hopkins arrives as Director and begins the process of creating the Mayatan Foundation, a Honduran non-profit that manages the school and its scholarship program.
2002 - Mayatan graduates its first Secondary School class.
2003 - Mayatan begins its relationship with Hope For Tomorrow.
2005 - Mayatan opens its English-language library.
2008 - Mayatan opens its Technology Classroom, replete with desktop and laptop computers, and installs wireless internet across campus.
2011 - Mayatan becomes a full member of the Associated Bilingual Schools of Honduras (ABSH)
2012 - Mayatan graduates its first High School class.