Teaching in South America—An Alumna’s Work in Bogota

“We are just two people of about nine million in this city, and we’ve been called to do a specific job working with certain students, teaching, discipling, and preparing them to do the work that they are called to do in God’s kingdom,” said Rebecca (VanderWilt) McKeever ’10.

Rebecca and her husband Ryan are currently teaching at El Camino Academy in Bogotá, Colombia, where Rebecca did her student teaching while enrolled as a Spanish education major at Trinity. She also minored in English-as-a-Second Language (ESL), and since approximately 85 percent of the students are learning English as a second—or even third or fourth—language, the experience proved to provide excellent experiential learning for the future teacher.

This initial student teaching experience also planted the seed for Rebecca to return to Bogotá with husband Ryan a month after they were married in June 2010.

“We knew we needed to go where we could serve but at the same time receive a lot of support, as this is our first year of marriage, and we are both first-year teachers,” said Rebecca. “Because I had student taught at El Camino, I knew that this would be a school where we could grow together and gain experience in a supportive Christian environment.”

Ryan teaches Bible class for grades 5-8, and he serves as the middle school chaplain. Rebecca teaches language arts and social studies for 6th grade, and she provides ESL support in the middle school.

El Camino Academy

El Camino Academy started as a school solely for missionary children, but has grown so that now mostly Colombian students attend. None of Rebecca’s students speak English as their first language.

“I’m always teaching them new vocabulary and answering questions like, ‘How do you say…?’ I’m so glad that I learned Spanish, not only because I can translate for students when necessary, but also because I know what it’s like to learn a second language, and I can identify with their struggles.”

One of the school’s main focuses is ministry. The goal is for students to take what they’ve learned at the school and use it to serve God and to serve people wherever they go.

“We’ve gone with our classes to after-school programs, orphanages, and other ministries,” said Rebecca. “It’s great to see God working through our students.”

Being Prepared

Many opportunities at Trinity prepared Rebecca well for her work abroad.

“My experience at Trinity was very rich and full,” she said.

Rebecca spent a semester in Spain and a semester student teaching off campus. Her involvement in Trinity’s Semester in Spain program reinforced her language skills so that she arrived in Bogotá able to communicate in Spanish. In addition to the two months student teaching at El Camino, Rebecca’s second student teaching experience was in a dual-immersion 3rd grade classroom in Blue Island, Illinois, where she taught in both Spanish and English.

During her capstone project for the College’s Honors Program, Rebecca conducted a study on the experience of students with English as a second language on Trinity’s campus. She discovered how language and cultural differences affect the learning and social lives of multilingual students.

Continuing the work

“We love our friends in Bogotá, most of who are teachers at the school. We like the fresh fruits and vegetables. We like looking out our apartment windows and seeing the mountains. We like walking and taking public transportation everywhere and being amongst Bogotanos. We love our students and their families– they’ve really helped us feel at home,” said Rebecca.

The McKeevers plan to work in Bogotá for the next two years. They work as volunteers in order to subsidize the cost of education for the missionary and ministry families who attend El Camino. Although the school provides a stipend, which covers rent, the couple depends on funds from supporters in the United States.

“We have to trust God to take what he’s begun in our students and what he’s begun in us and carry it on to completion.”

For more information, visit the McKeevers’ blog at http://rrmckvr.weebly.com.