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Jorge Manolo Villarroel. Photo: EFE
Jorge Manolo Villarroel. Photo: EFE

A teacher with super powers

A Bolivian schoolteacher turns his classes into a fantasy worthy of Marvel to motivate his students during the quarantine.

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In times of the coronavirus pandemic, schools in many countries have decided to take extra precautions and hold virtual classes instead of reopening classrooms. As a result, many home-bound children have missed the warmth of their teachers and the games with their classmates. 

In Bolivia, where more than 18,400 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded, according to the latest reports, one teacher has decided to make virtual classes more enjoyable for his students in a surprising way. 

Sometimes Jorge Manolo Villarroel is Spiderman and other days he is The Flash, Green Lantern or Superman. Dressed as a superhero, he greets his students from his room in a La Paz neighborhood always with a big smile. So successful is he that even the youngest brothers, who don't even go to school, compete with the older ones for the laptop to see the famous arts teacher masked as a comic book character.

"They arrive before me at the virtual classroom and the first surprise is to guess which superhero will appear on the screen," Jorge Manolo Villarroel told AP journalist Carlos Valdez.

Villarroel's greatest superpower is that at 33, he still has the excitement of a child. His room, Valdez said, is a microcosm of all the things that matter to the teacher: his crucifixes and images of saints, his soccer club jersey, his parents' portrait and, of course, his costumes and masks.

"For years, they have entered our adult world. Now it's time for us to open up to their world, which is the chat room. When they talk, they are short, but in the chat, they expand. They are teachers and they teach me applications in class," said Villarroel, who teaches at a Catholic school in La Paz that is attended by 1,200 students between the ages of 9 and 14. 

"Listen, teacher, you have to anchor the image... Go to the screen of your cell phone and look for a small parliament," students say as Flash Gordon himself explains to his students how to put together a mosaic of geometric figures with colored sheets.

Forty-five students follow the class, which always begins with a hand warm-up - Villarroel is a zumba teacher - a prayer, and superhero music.

At times, Valdez listens to the children and their younger siblings fight to see the teacher, who makes the clothes himself. 

"I had to improvise, because with the quarantine you couldn't get out," he told the journalist. 

His glasses make him look like a Clark Kent who forgot to take off his costume; on his legs, his dog Coquito sleeps peacefully while another student points out: "You have to download the Dance Monkey application."

The best teacher, they say, is the one who learns from his students. But also the one who, despite how frustrating his work can be at times, faces it with passion and makes the classroom a stage for adventure.

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