Escuela Caracol is located in San Marcos La Laguna, on the shores of Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. In 2011, the school has a total enrollment of 50, with 25 children in the kindergarten and 25 in primary grades classes 1-4. This area of the western highlands of Guatemala is primarily inhabited by indigenous Mayans, but there is also a significant international presence. At least half of the students come from indigenous Mayan families, while the other half come from varying international backgrounds. Each year there are around 10 different language groups represented at Escuela Caracol, but despite this diversity, approximately 75% of total enrollment is Guatemalan by birth. The school’s expenses are paid by tuition, and sponsorships are sought for indigenous students who cannot afford the cost of tuition. This region of Guatemala is one of the poorest in the country, where 80% live in poverty and 25% live in extreme poverty. An international mix of individuals, families, organizations and other schools make up the community of support that surrounds Escuela Caracol.
Escuela Caracol was founded in 2007 by Joshua and Courtney Wilson, who at first started a small homeschool group with their daughter. As Mayan families began to participate, they expressed a need for their children to receive official school documents. The overcrowded local school system, with its authoritarian character, residual tones of violence, and lack of creative emphasis could not meet the educational needs that many families were seeking. So Joshua and Courtney, who both come from families of educators, dreamed of an alternative that could help renew education for both indigenous and international families in San Marcos. What was needed was not simply more education, but a different kind of education.
Waldorf pedagogy, which as yet did not formally exist in Guatemala, is a natural fit for this community. The distinct focus on creative expression, practical work, the natural environment and social harmony provides an excellent basis for the unique cultural interchange between indigenous and international families. Waldorf education also places a unique emphasis on learning multiple languages. While there are many languages spoken in San Marcos, three of them are principal: Spanish, Kaqchikel (the local Mayan language) and English. Teaching these three languages is an essential element to bridge the divide between indigenous and international families.
In January 2008, the kindergarten began its first formal year with Courtney as the lead teacher, and in January 2009 the first primary classes began with first and second graders. In 2009, Escuela Caracol also completed the accreditation process with the Guatemalan Ministry of Education, making it the first and only recognized Waldorf school in Guatemala. The plan for growth is to add a class each year until completing at least the sixth grade – the typical primary school grades in Guatemala
In 2009, Escuela Caracol also formed a nonprofit civil association in Guatemala, called Asociación Caracol. The purpose of this association is to assist with the fundraising activities of Escuela Caracol as well as to promote Waldorf education in Guatemala. Joshua currently serves as president of the association and executive director of the school, while also teaching various specialty subjects at the school. Courtney works in the school administration, primarily focused on fundraising, but also teaching specialty subjects. Vanessa Sans Cudabac is the lead kindergarten teacher along with two indigenous teaching assistants from San Marcos, Marilily Mendoza and Ervin Quiacaín, both of whom are receiving Waldorf training in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Vanessa is from New York, but she completed her Waldorf training in California, where she also ran her own Spanish-immersion kindergarten. Maria Castells
Arrosa, who is originally from Uruguay but now a long-time resident at Lake Atitlán, teaches the first and second grade class. She has been a student of anthroposophy for over 20 years, and she is also a mother at the school. Andrea Arrivillaga, a Guatemalan teacher who is completing her Waldorf training in Cuernavaca, Mexico, is teaching classes 3 and 4. Escuela Caracol has a faculty of five additional specialty subject teachers who cover a variety of subjects (English, Kaqchikel, handwork, music, dance, plastic arts, gardening, and physical education) as well as administrative work. There are also two full-time cooks, who provide hot meals daily to the students, and a grounds manager/gardener.