Local educators and a philanthropic group are working to establish an association with three private schools in Guatemala that may develop into a sister school relationship.

"It's just beginning," said Rock Canyon Elementary School principal Terry Shoemaker, who just returned from reviewing the schools funded by the Rose Foundation, a Provo philanthropic group.The potential of creating a sister school relationship could result in numerous benefits, including exchanging teachers and administrators for training.

The children in Guatemala stand to benefit most.

The Rose Foundation was set up by Nedra Roney Land to help educate people in Guatemala, said Dale Tingey, director of American Indian Services, also based in Provo. Tingey is on the Rose Foundation board. The name comes from a reference in the LDS Church's Book of Mormon scripture that says the South American natives shall "blossom as the rose," Tingey said.

Shoemaker was asked by the Rose Foundation's board of directors to evaluate schools the organization created in January in the towns of Patzicia and Chimaltenango, located in the Guatemalan Highlands - an area where lush native foliage buries ancient temples.

Shoemaker traveled with an American Indian Services group that toured the region from Feb. 20 to March 1. He left the tour group in Guatemala City and traveled with school administrators to the schools in the two towns.

Tingey and another board member, Dr. Randall Ellsworth, a Provo ophthalmologist, visited the schools later during the tour. Ellsworth was a missionary for the LDS Church in Patzicia in 1976 and was sleeping in the chapel when an earthquake struck, toppling the building on top of him. The 7.8 temblor lasted 45 seconds and killed tens of thousands of people.

Ellsworth was trapped under a heavy beam in the church for seven hours before being rescued. He was hospitalized for months, said Tingey. He later returned and completed his mission, despite being told he would never walk again - a prediction he proved wrong.

Shoemaker met with teachers and administrators of the private schools and conducted workshops with two Brigham Young University teaching interns and a Snow College intern on teaching English as a second language. "In this case as a third language," said Shoemaker. A native Mayan dialect is the most common language, but some also speak Spanish.

"Offering English typifies the best of private schools in Guatemala," said Shoemaker.

Children are required by national law to attend school from age 7 to 13. But the law is unenforced, he said. Despite that, public school class sizes range from 40 to 70 students per teacher.

"The (public) buildings are old and in disrepair," he said. Private schools range from poor to excellent, he said. But many children don't attend school. Many of the children who now attend the Rose Foundation schools weren't going to school at all, Shoemaker said.

The Rose Foundation pays all costs of its private schools but is working on a program to encourage parents to pay, Shoemaker said. "Some do, some don't," he said. Parents who cannot pay work off what they owe by taking care of the grounds and maintenance, Tingey said.

"The concept is to get families to assume ownership," he said. That would include both financially and in making decisions for the school.

American Indian Services efforts have also resulted in a 72-home subdivision that surrounds the LDS church that fell on top of Ellsworth. The church divided the land into home sites and sold each family a lot for $400, more than the typical person earns in Patzicia in a year, said Tingey. American Indian Services then helped put houses on those lots. Those homes are far different from the shacks and unkempt conditions people there once lived in, Shoemaker said. Because of the region's living conditions, 23 percent of the children die before their first birthday, according to the American Indian Services.

Last year the American Indian Services helped the native Indians and Latinos get running, chlorinated water. The natives worked to get the water and continue working to pay for their homes. American Indian Services provided partial financing for that project. To show their gratitude, the natives held a celebration while Shoemaker was there and named a street after Tingey.

When American Indian Services visits the region each year they bring clothing and tools to bolster the assistance.

Shoemaker said the Rose Foundation is now looking for two old school buses that can make the trip down there. The plan is to fill them with badly needed school books, toys and other educational materials and drive them to Guatemala.