February was for me a month of relatively consistent work in the schools with only a few interruptions to my schedule. Interruptions are actually quite common here in Belize. It seems there are frequent fairs, fund-raising events, parades, festivals, contests or teachers gone from classes due to workshops or retreats. But this past month I only really experienced two interruptions to my regularly scheduled sessions with students and teachers. One was a spelling bee which I was asked to help judge, and another was a Festival of the Arts for high schoolers which I was asked to help decorate and run. The spelling bee was held in several locations throughout the Stann Creek District, to determine the winner who would then compete in April in order to be the representative of the Stann Creek District overall in the national spelling bee held in Belize City. The Festival of the Arts is also an elimination contest to determine the best in the Stann Creek District who will eventually complete in the national festival in June. What a privilege it as for me to be not only an observer of the Belizean students’ talent, but also an active participant in organizing these contests. Here are some photos of a few high school performers.
High School students dancing the traditional Garifuna dance, Jankunu
Traditional Garifuna dance
The winning dance competitors
As I continue to work with small groups of students, teaching them how to read, and as I attempt to give teachers ideas for working with these underachieving students, we are all beginning to see some progress in their development. As the teachers notice their students’ progress in reading and their developing confidence, they are encouraged to work with these small groups of students on a regular basis. The traditional mode of instruction in Belize has always been whole-class, regardless of whether or not individual students are progressing, so the notion of working with small groups (known as differentiating instruction in educational parlance) is a relatively new concept. It is also very difficult to implement in the schools, because there is little physical space inside the classroom to group students according to ability level. I have taken to pulling small groups of kids outside to work a half hour at a time, or to working with teachers before or after school with these small groups. We have seen the students progress in their reading abilities just since November. That is very encouraging to teachers.
Teaching a small group of Standard I (second grade) students at Light of the Valley Primary School
Every Wednesday I also continue with the Family Literacy workshops in the Spanish-speaking village of Bella Vista. Two of the mothers have learned to write their own names for the first time and are beginning to learn to read in Spanish. I love working with these women, who dutifully complete their homework and show up each week eager to become literate.
On Saturday, March 3rd I did some hiking with two friends, Eva and Linda at the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve. This unique sanctuary in southern Belize covers an area of about 150 square miles of tropical forest, and is the world's only jaguar preserve. The jaguar is largely a solitary, opportunistic, stalk-and-ambush predator at the top of the food chain (an apex predator) and it is a keystone species, playing an important role in stabilizing ecosystems and regulating the populations of the animals it hunts. Belize declared the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary a preserve in 1984, and the jaguars within its boundaries have been protected ever since. We did not encounter any jaguars, since they are nocturnal. We did, however, glimpse a grey fox, a jaguarundi, a guinea fowl and two snakes.
After a rather strenuous climb, we were rewarded with two waterfalls and a pool of water in which to cool ourselves off. We were also treated to a view of the Cockscomb Mountain Range, and Victoria Peak, the second highest mountain in Belize, at 3,688 ft. I am so blessed to be able to witness this tropical, Central American beauty.
along the trail