Who are we?
In 1998 Habla co-founding director Kurt Wootton worked with a group of professors and students to create the ArtsLiteracy project in the Education Department at Brown University in the United States. ArtsLiteracy piloted a way of teaching and learning using the arts to develop the literacy of students in urban schools. Seven years after establishing the organization, Wootton and Brazilian educator Daniel Soares founded a language lab school in Brazil based on the ArtsLiteracy approach. They developed a way to teach language in a creative way using literature and focusing on the stories of the students in the classroom.
After establishing the lab school in Brazil, Kurt Wootton and Maria del Mar Patron Vazquez, a doctoral candidate in Hispanic Studies at Brown University, began to formulate the vision for a new school and educational center based in Maria del Mar’s hometown of Mérida, Yucatan, in Mexico. Maria del Mar specializes in Hispanic literature – with a primary focus on Mexican writers – and is interested in finding ways to connect literature to the daily life of communities.
Together they envisioned a cross-cultural space that is a language school focusing on the arts and literature and an international education center where artists, teachers, and educational leaders would gather across the Americas to exchange ideas and best practices in literacy, language, and the arts.
Maria del Mar Patron Vazquez
Habla founder and director, originally from Merida, is currently a PhD candidate in the Hispanic Studies Department at Brown University. Her work is focused on how reading literature can be part of the daily life of communities. At Brown, she received the prestigious Presidential Teaching Award for her teaching of Spanish to university students. Her unique approach to teaching involves a pedagogy deeply involving the literature and culture of the language.
Kurt is the co-founder and director of Habla: el centro de lengua y cultura in Mérida, México. He was one of the founding directors of the ArtsLiteracy Project in the Education Department at Brown University. He has piloted several ArtsLiteracy lab school in the United States and Brazil and worked with Boston, St. Paul, Providence, and Central Falls on multi-year, citywide initiatives. In 2005 his organization received the prestigious Coming Up Taller Award in 2005 from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities for “extraordinary work in making a remarkable difference to our nation’s youth.”
Mr. Wootton has been called on to offer keynote speeches and workshops in a variety of settings including at Harvard University, Middlebury College, Florida Atlantic University, the University of Maryland, Senac University in Sao Paulo, and for numerous conferences including recently the Encuentro International de Educatión: Arte y Analfabetismo Funcional in Rio de Janeiro. Mr. Wootton has written several articles and his work has been featured in many publications. The New York Times writes: “Mr. Wootton remains every bit as convinced of education's power to transform lives. He has changed his tool of choice, however, from a mirror in which students see only reflections of themselves to a window that opens onto the rest of the world.”
Viviana studied Hispanic language and literature at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM). After graduating, she traveled to Barcelona, Spain to study classical drawing and has been working as a painter ever since. She lives in Merida with her partner where they work as a team in the areas of painting and design. She has exhibited in Soho Gallery and the Museum of the City. Currently she also works at Habla teaching Spanish to international students. She is passionate about combining the visual arts with language learning and loves living in the city of Merida.
Karla, originally from Mexico City, is an artist educator working in the field of visual artists. She specializes in the Reggio Emilia approach to documenting student work and has taught in a range of school and community settings in both Mexico City and Merida. She graduated from the Universidad de las Americas-Puebla where she holds a degree in visual arts and a Masters in information design. She is an artist-in-residence at Habla and coordinates Habla’s summer arts lab school.
Jessica studied urban education at Barnard College in the United States while working and volunteering in various New York City public schools. In 2007 she moved to Merida to work at Loyola Comunidad Educativa, where she has taught 6th & 8th grade English and is currently the coordinator of the English program. She is passionate about involving students in their own learning and empowering them to use their knowledge and skills to make a positive impact in their community. During her time at Habla she has come to appreciate the power of the arts to make engage students and deepen their understanding of languages. Jessica’s interests include traveling, knitting, and cooking. She is studying her masters in Educational Administration.
Mark was born in upstate New York and lived in Worcester, Massachusetts, Washington DC and Chicago before moving to Merida in 2010. He brings a unique perspective to the classroom with a background in higher education, workplace learning, professional development, coaching and mentoring. Mark has over seven years of experience with programs for people with disabilities and applies a fundamental rule learned during this time to his work: Connect with people where they are not where you want them to be. He recently graduated with a MA in Human Performance Improvement from Roosevelt University.
Tommaso Iskra De Silvestri
Tommaso graduated from the Accademia de Belle Arti of Urbino, Italy with a specialty in visual arts. He teaches art and English to children and his passions are painting, music, videos and animation. Tommaso is piloting new ways to use technology in the classroom to document student learning.