Monarch Mondays: Week 4

June 7, 2010

Today’s story from Maren Pearson, a Special Education teacher with Marshall High School (Fairfax County Public Schools, VA), is the final installment in our Monarch Monday series.

We thank the Educational Information Resource Center and its Monarch Teacher Network for so generously sharing their stories of transformation with us. We hope that you have felt as inspired by Mary, Sarita, Hope and Maren as we have.

Maren Pearson with male Monarch on shoulder

By Maren Pearson

Mexico’s history and culture are so much more rich and beautiful than I ever realized.

Our trip began in Mexico City at the Museum of Anthropology, which really started the entire journey off right by laying the foundation for what we would experience during the week. A labyrinth of halls, each museum hall is filled with artifacts and dedicated to a different indigenous Mexican culture. As a prelude to our adventure, we toured the halls of Teotihuacan, Toltec, Aztec, Olmec and Maya, getting our first glimpse of the Mesoamerican god, Quetzalcoatl, the “feathered serpent”.

Quetzacoatl, the feathered serpent, Hall of Teotihuacan

Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent (Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City)

Throughout the week, our Mexican tour guide, Marcos Garcia, gave us the gift of his knowledge of Mexican people, history, culture and soul. Before becoming a professional guide, Marcos worked for four years at the Museum of Anthropology. Now as he moved fluidly between present and past… on foot or on horse… Marcos became our gateway to understanding.

Marcos Garcia on horse at Sierra Chincua monarch sanctuary

Marcos Garcia at the Sierra Chincua Monarch Sanctuary

On the final day of our trip, we explored the ruins of the ancient city of Teotihuacan (Tay-oh-tee-WHAH-cahn). Built by a culture that flourished a thousand years before the Aztecs, Teotihuacan is dominated by the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon, some of the largest pyramids in the world. After discovering its ruins, the Aztecs were so impressed they named it Teotihuacan, “the City of the Gods”. Visitors can climb the Sun Pyramid’s 260 steps to the top and ponder its connection to Mesoamerica’s 260-day Sacred Calendar.

Maren P - on top of the Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan, Mexico

Pyramid of the Sun

Also on the final day, we toured the Diego Rivera murals at the National Palace in Mexico City that capture the history and richness of Mexico’s indigenous past. A masterful explanation of the murals by Marcos brought our trip to a powerful close.

Diego Rivera painting at National Palace

Diego Rivera painting at the National Palace depicting Cortez taking a bribe after the Conquest while the indigenous people are enslaved

I have always wanted to learn about other cultures, but Monarch Teacher Network’s trip to Mexico made me thirsty for more knowledge.

My professional ‘a-ha’ moment happened when we visited a school in the rural town of Santa Fe de la Laguna, a lakeshore community near the butterfly area. I teach students with severe disabilities, so learning that Mexican children with disabilities are not given the opportunity to attend school broke my heart (parents have to cope with their children’s disabilities the best they can). It made me grateful for what America offers people of all abilities. While I yearn to know more about the culture of the indigenous Mexican people I met, I am thankful for the inclusive culture and opportunity of America.

Maren P - sharing bilingual The Hungry Caterpillar book with Purhepecha student, Santa Fe de la Laguna, Mexico

Sharing a bilingual copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar with a Purhepecha student, Santa Fe de la Laguna, Mexico

The Mexico trip was a chance for me to learn more about monarch butterflies, as I expected, but even more it was an opportunity to learn about a nation and its people. While monarchs are a great hands-on science unit, I now have information for a social studies unit about Mexico to accompany the science unit. Next year, I want to do more classroom work with cultures and include what I learned about on my journey.

As I reflect on my trip to Mexico I find new ways to bring those experiences to my students. I hope someday I have the opportunity to return to Mexico and learn even more to bring back to my students and school. I think my students could use their knowledge of Mexico to teach other people, which would empower my students.

I am a special education teacher of students with disabilities. The students I teach are not able to speak orally, but they can express feelings and communicate in other ways. I brought back lots of photos and artifacts for my students to enjoy and explore. Some of my artifacts made sounds, some had smells, some were brightly colored or had a great texture to feel. These items gave my students the chance to experience authentic Mexican culture in a way they could not do before. Telling my students about what I learned is not as meaningful as when I create opportunities for them to learn in new ways – this experience helped me to do this and have fun!

I have one student who was born and raised in Mexico, so my Mexico journey helps me to speak and relate to him more than ever. This also offers my class the opportunity to celebrate the different cultures that are found within our classroom. Students can learn about each other and interact in new and exciting ways.