More than anything, it was the ecstatic enthusiasm in the eyes of her
Belizean students at the sight of such simple supplies as stickers,
colored construction paper, and crayons that reaffirmed her decision to
forego much of her winter vacation to take part in a new immersion
program under the School of Education, Kathryn Bohan said.
speaks to the need for resources," said Bohan, a junior in the Dual
Degree in Teacher Preparation program and psychology, referring to the
students' reactions at Sacred Heart Catholic Elementary School in
Dangriga, Belize. "You can do so much with so little."
Bohan, the two-week, intersession immersion in early January was her
second trip to Belize. This time she acted as a student leader and,
along with three other dual-degree program undergraduates and a
graduate teacher education student, helped to inaugurate a new program
called Project Learn Belize.
Accompanied by Teacher Education
Department Chair and Project Learn Belize architect Geoffrey Dillon,
S.J. and two other staff, education students joined with 10 students
and faculty from University Ministry for the trek to Dangriga.
Considered the unofficial capitol of Belize's Garifuna culture,
primarily black Caribs whose ancestors were colonized and oppressed by
the British in the 18th century, Dangriga is a major cultural and
artistic center of about 11,500 residents.
With next to no
public education system in Belize, Sacred Heart, like most schools,
depends heavily on private and church support. Enter USF. Since 2004,
students and faculty from the Arrupe Immersion Program have put on an
annual, weeklong, kids camp, helped educators in the classroom,
established a school computer lab, refurbished school facilities, and
met with school administrators, area officials, and health care
Fr. Dillon sees Project Learn Belize as a
chance to use Arrupe's longstanding relationship as a springboard to
expand assistance to Sacred Heart and the wider community, while at the
same time expanding immersion opportunities for education students and
others at USF in one of the few English-speaking countries in Central
"Project Learn Belize is a first attempt to provide
students in the teacher education program with an education-focused
experience outside the usual confines of American education," Dillon
The immersion is meant to expose students to the
realities of the developing world, while shedding light on the cultural
differences, traditions, and challenges facing educators, health
professionals, and elected officials. "(Expanding their) worldview
perspective leads (students) to critical reflection and analysis of
their own culture, traditions, and the call to action and
transformation," Fr. Dillon said.
During the immersion,
students and faculty again ran a half-day enrichment camp the first
week, dividing students by age for arts and crafts, reading, and
computer (think Google Earth) activities. In the second week, USF
students worked as teacher aides, some even preparing and teaching the
day's lessons - illustrating some of the latest teaching methods in an
environment where few teachers receive even a bachelor's degree, Dillon
Where teachers depend strictly on dictation, note
taking, and rote memorization as their primary teaching tools, even
among the elementary grades, striving to craft lessons that got kids
out of their seats was her objective, Bohan said.
"We used cut
out triangles to learn fractions; and kids went to the front of the
classroom with letters written on pieces of construction paper and
arranged themselves to spell words," she said. When she wasn't
conducting a lesson for the entire class, she worked one-on-one with
kids to improve their reading. Such personal attention is rare since a
typical classroom has 30 students, Bohan said.
Fr. Dillon is
also intent on expanding opportunities for School of Education faculty
to teach the latest advances in pedagogy to Belizean instructors,
including children's literacy, exceptional and disabled student needs,
and technology training, he said.
USF President Stephen A.
Privett, S.J. who spent four days in Belize assessing USF's role in
Dangriga over the intersession, also sees expanded opportunities on the
horizon. "I think we need to continue current programming and develop
in-service training for teachers that would provide immeasurable
assistance to professional development of faculty and improve student
learning," Fr. Privett said.
Health care is also a critical
need in Dangriga, which is why Fr. Dillon invited School of Nursing
Dean Judith Karshmer to town over the intersession for an
information-gathering trip. The head nurse at the area hospital almost
immediately expressed interest in USF master's program nursing
students, already registered nurses, working with her staff to improve
patient care, efficiency, and educate nurse leaders, Karshmer said. The
first trip by nursing students could be as soon as this summer.