MHS alum spreads love of reading in Nicaragua

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Megan McCann with some of her students in Nicaragua. (Submitted)

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

A young Keizer woman is using American newspapers and magazines to instill a love and habit of reading for children in Nicaragua.

Megan McCann has been in the country for just more than two years, departing from Keizer in August 2010. is completing her master’s at Gonzaga University in teaching English as a second language. She went to Nicaragua to teach public school in the town of Boaco, but has found even more fulfillment assisting in a scholarship program for underprivileged children with an aptitude and attitude for success.

It may sound elementary, but in this impoverished region, even the basics can be hard to come by.

“Materials are difficult to find here,” McCann said. “Most schools don’t have any textbooks or anything on the walls, so English materials are even harder to find.”

Called “Access,” the U.S. Embassy-sponsored program teaches English reading via dictionaries, textbooks and periodicals.

The students in Access get free textbooks and dictionaries as part of their participation in the program, but they have to do their part too: To stay in the classes, they must keep their grades up in both regular school and in Access. A typical student is between ages 14 and 17. Not only is McCann a teacher, she also served as an admissions officer, interviewing students who want to be part of the program.

“We’re working with teachers to be role models for their students, to show them how English has changed their lives and give them a better future,” McCann said.

As noted, textbooks can be hard to come by. The Nicaraguan government is working to fill the void, but it’s an expensive venture. In the meantime, her parents and others have sent in newspapers, books and magazines for students to practice their English.

“They love People magazine,” McCann noted, because they recognize the celebrities they’ve seen in movies and on television.

On some days, students may scour the pages for people with the same name as their classmates. The sports section is popular among the boys, she said, especially when it includes stories about baseball and soccer. One student in particular is challenging herself to the point that McCann brought in her own books for the girl to study.

On one trip, she managed to bring in a more current magazine – just seeing a recent date energized some of the students, she said. Advertisements bring their own questions.

“It’s a little different for them,” she said, noting that prices were likely to seem very expensive.

McCann lives with a host family in the country, and will be finished with her assignment in November. She plans to visit Carolina Ortega in Peru. Ortega attended McNary High School for a year as part of the Rotary Club’s exchange program.

McCann is grateful for the experience, but admits there’s one aspect she won’t miss: Being a visible face in the crowd, just because of what she looks like.

“It’s strange walking around and having people stare at you all the time,” she said. “It still happens even though I’ve been there for two years.”

She graduated from McNary High School in 2005 and Western Oregon University in 2009.

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