Rebuilding a scholarship programme
By Patricia Marshall

Throughout its 75-year history, the American School of Guatemala (CAG) has stayed true to its founding principles, ensuring an ongoing commitment to providing a rigorous bilingual education while making a meaningful contribution to the improvement of education in Guatemala. These principles have been the school’s constants through leadership changes, earthquakes, political unrest, economic downturns and, now, the challenges of the 2020 pandemic.


A living and evolving legacy

CAG has lived up to its legacy as host to a scholarship programme affectionately called PBA (Programa de Bachillerato Avanzado).


As a college preparatory programme, it hosted the brightest applicants to study for two years at CAG, completing high school and earning a college-ready Guatemalan diploma. Many have pursued university scholarships and have careers in engineering, law, computer science, medicine, teaching, government and business. Many have served in leadership roles and are models of excellence not just for young scholars, but for all of CAG.


New to the community, I was enchanted by the history of the scholarship programme, its current iteration and its potential. The challenge was that it opened an invitation to the best and brightest for only 11th and 12th grade students, many of whom had no background in English language. Scholarship recipients required separate support, designated faculty, and assigned classrooms where they could be nurtured into the culture and language expectations of our school.


Equally bright, these students were separate – but not equal – benefactors of our school mission. CAG lifers were also losing out simply because they were not experiencing their new classmates as anything but temporary ‘guests’ in their school. CAG could do better.


Rethinking a valued programme

Within the school’s latest strategic plan, CAG established an initiative to rebuild the scholarship programme to embody our full mission. The vision was to introduce a CAG education to qualifying students at an earlier age – where younger adolescents would be less inhibited and more open to building relationships, no matter material differences. This meant designing an expanded scholarship opportunity to qualifying students for a complete bilingual, dual diploma, four-year high-school education.


In our revised programme, the Young Scholars’ Academy, the scholars enter CAG in the 9th grade. They experience a robust pre-high school experience with guidance and counselling, are immersed in English language learning, are paired with CAG lifers as mentors and are welcomed to explore learning to the fullest extent our school has to offer. Our CAG lifers are encouraged to broaden their relationships and their perspectives with these young scholars, and fully interact in academic forums and student life programmes.


Today, our CAG lifers and young scholars rub shoulders in classrooms and on the playing fields, share teachers and exchange debate about their world. How they study and play is beginning to mirror what life will look like for them as adults—cordial, competitive, and at times clashing over stark differences between them. But respect is nurtured among them and we believe it is respect that will be the greatest legacy of the scholarship programme and will be a game changer in building a more just world.


Learning from legacy

Guatemala is a beautiful country but its history has caused a deep divide between its own citizens. The idea that Guatemalans can coexist and come to an agreement on the importance of education, economic development and nationalism is not yet a full reality. Often, the recipients of scholarships are in fear of being judged for their poverty.


Change of the scholarship programme has not come easy. Many argue that the school’s previous programme was ‘just right’ and former scholars, alumni and faculty have been wary to adjust something that didn’t need fixing. At the juncture of debate, we called upon the insights of our PBA students and the wisdom of a boy named Marcos quickly surfaced.

Marcos is the last graduate of our PBA programme. He is walking with us to usher in a new generation of scholarship recipients. He has said that he cannot imagine the programme being better than what he experienced. He hasn’t missed the kinship of CAG lifers that could have been. He is confident with his English as is. And he is fully prepared to experience the benefits of his diploma from CAG as he applies for college to pursue his degree in chemical engineering. Marcos has been my teacher as we work to expand the scholarship programme for future students.


Marcos has confided that he worries about the young scholars of the future. He wonders how their lives will be in four years and hopes they don’t become spoiled with expanded opportunities. He is also keen to share with me the importance of making sure our young scholars are protected from the scrutiny and judgement of CAG students for not being perceived as ‘equal’. These are concepts I have struggled to accept and to understand. Marcos is wise.

This year, we inaugurated our Young Scholars’ Academy, expanding the scholarship capacity to host 60 students at its fullest stage by August 2022. I heed Marcos’ sage advice and watch over our young scholars with care and concern as they learn to make their mark and socialise in their new school. They are younger than Marcos, and although they enter new situations with eyes wide open, they are nevertheless naïve. Our CAG lifers, though they can be indifferent at times, have been gracious in welcoming new friends.  The faculty and I are cautiously optimistic and lean towards the lessons of respect as the class of 2023 grows and evolve together over the next four years. We are eager to watch their story unfold at CAG and see how scholars and lifers learn to depend on each other in the years ahead.    


Scholarship in the wake of COVID-19

COVID-19 has been a disruption to all nations and has threatened the health of people, economies, and schools worldwide. In the wake of our school’s shutdown, we have had to reconsider some strategic initiatives and ensure we can respond to the financial needs of many of our CAG families. Our scholarship programme, however, is not perceived as something we can put on hold, or a programme that we can scale. It is an extension of mission. It is essential to the school – its history and future – and, most of all, it is essential to the student experience for scholars and lifers.


Our scholarship programme is in the second year of its newest iteration. We have had over 250 applications for 15 scholarships. Young Scholars’ Academy continues robustly.

Patricia Marshall is General Director of The American School of Guatemala. Connect with her on LinkedIn:

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