Thursday, December 15, 2011

December 2011
Participating in all activities that our District Education Centre Office supports is one way to integrate into my community and help out my colleagues in the education field.  On the second of December I participated in a parade here in Dangriga to commemorate National Disabilities Awareness Day, sponsored by NaRCIE, the National Resource Center for Inclusiveness Education.  The parade through the streets of Dangriga was the culmination of week-long activities designed to sensitize parents, teachers and students to the existence and needs of students with physical and developmental disabilities.  I helped carry the NaRCIE banner, walking behind a Dangriga fire engine blaring its siren.  Behind us were students from many schools in Dangriga, including several Special Education students from the one school in the area where there is a center devoted to working with children with either physical or learning disabilities.  Most children in Belize who might qualify for special education services are not able to receive assistance from a specially trained teacher, but the Ministry provides a trained special education coordinator for the entire Stann Creek District who travels to all 38 schools to support teachers in their efforts to include students in regular classrooms.  Here in Belize “inclusion education” is the norm. 
 My colleagues from the Ministry of Education, Therese, Ora and Tanya
Marching in the parade
The beginning of December marked our ninth month since arriving in Belize, but only the sixth month of our service as sworn-in Peace Corps Volunteers working in our permanent sites.  At this juncture, the Peace Corps brought all 36 of us together for a “Reconnect” and “In-service Training”.  The first day of our week together we traveled to Belmopan with our Belizean work partners for a workshop on developing our work plans based on a participatory analysis of our Belizean partners’ needs and goals.  The following two days were spent with our fellow Peace Corps Volunteers in workshops ranging from “Stress Reduction” to “Budgeting”.  We received even more training in “Safety and Security,” a major concern for Peace Corps worldwide.  We reread and recommitted to our original goals and expectations, and generally commiserated with one another by sharing our successes and challenges.  On the last day several Peace Corps Volunteers stayed in Belmopan for optional language training.  The original teacher who had worked with the intermediate and advanced Spanish learners during our three months of training was not available, so Peace Corps asked me to step in.  I was thrilled!  I was given the enviable task of designing and teaching a 4-hour immersion class in Spanish to ten of the most motivated students I have been given the privilege to work with.  Imagine ten confident, eager, driven, animated adults who are clamoring to learn to speak Spanish in order to work with students, parents, hopeful entrepreneurs or villagers.  It was a Spanish-teacher’s dream class.  We reviewed practical uses of grammatical constructions and applied them to communicative situations Peace Corps Volunteers might encounter in their sites.  We read Pablo Neruda’s poetry and an article in the Spanish version of Cosmopolitan magazine.  We listened to music, and learned lyrics to children’s songs.  Our 4-hour class culminated in a spontaneously-acted telenovela (Spanish soap opera), based on the descriptions of a tangled web of characters devised by this diabolical instructor.  I had a blast!  Feedback from my fellow PCVs showed a desire to receive continuing instruction of this kind in the future.  All will depend on our ability to come together in a central location for such an endeavor.  I hope Peace Corps will grant us that opportunity again.

In my primary project with the schools I continue to work with small groups of students who are struggling with reading.  I also conduct workshops for teachers and instruct them in ways to differentiate their classrooms to include the students who are not on grade level in reading.  One of my most enjoyable experiences in the school of Nuestra SeƱora de Bella Vista has been helping to conduct the bi-monthly Family Literacy Workshops.  Mrs. Juanita Batun, the Literacy Coach from the Ministry of Education in Belize City, had asked me to work with her to develop workshops for the parents of students in the village of Bella Vista, so we began in early November to conduct these workshops with 60 parents, mostly mothers.  The majority of the participants are recent immigrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, speak only Spanish, and many have not learned to read in either English or Spanish.  Mrs. Batun was able to secure a grant in order to provide materials for the parents, and she asked me to be her translator.  We have conducted five workshops so far, teaching the parents the alphabet in English, instructing them in the importance of working with their children at home, and providing materials that they have constructed with glue, scissors, paper and fabric in order to work with their children at home.  We have been pleased with the enthusiastic attendance and the teachers remark that many parents are beginning to feel more comfortable visiting their children’s classroom.  Our goal is to encourage the parents to be as involved as possible in their children’s education.  It’s quite a challenge in this little village, with no library, no bookstore, and few opportunities for the families to enrich their children’s education.  Most of the parents are either employed in small cottage industries, or work in the banana farms.  They are some of the warmest, more welcoming people I’ve met here in Belize.
I'm helping out by holding the baby while the mothers sew "reading mats"

Every Wednesday when I travel to Bella Vista I travel on the teachers’ bus at 6:00 am, travel and hour and a half to get there, and leave at 4:00 pm to arrive home at 5:30.  This past Wednesday, however, I remained at the school in the evening to help out with the Christmas Pageant.  All schools in Belize are expected to raise most of their own funds, by charging a small fee at the beginning of the school year, and by conducting many fund-raising activities throughout the year.  The Ministry of Education only funds the salaries of the teachers and distributes textbooks; the individual schools must raise all other funds.  The Christmas Pageant was one such fund-raising endeavor.  I helped to sell snacks and drinks while watching the children perform songs, dances, poems and skits.  Here are some photos:
Bella Vista Christmas Pageant

And here's my favorite little "host brother", Shemar:

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