Monday, September 17, 2012

A Description of a Special Project

In this blog post I will interrupt the usual chronological narration of my experiences in Belize to interject a description of a project that I have been privileged to participate in for almost a year now.  I have been working alongside five other Peace Corps Volunteers and the wife of the US Ambassador to Belize, to help bring a gorgeous new picture book to the children and teachers of Belize.  The following article that I wrote along with Barbara Thummalapally, our Ambassador’s wife, will introduce this project to you: 

Pat the (Great) Cat: A Jaguar’s Journey Brings an Important Story to Life for the
Children of Belize and the United States

The story of the publishing of the new book Pat the (Great) Cat: A Jaguar’s Journey is a story of two women’s passion for literacy and learning.  It is also a story of collaboration between the people of Belize and the United States.
Pat the (Great) Cat: A Jaguar’s Journey is the result of an international literacy initiative that is joining children across the United States and Belize through the true story of a jaguar from Belize who found his world forever changed as people came to share his land.

Most people know little about the elusive jaguar.  Of the four "great" cats in the world (lion, tiger, jaguar and leopard), the jaguar is the only one found in the Americas.  Students from Belize and from urban Milwaukee, Wisconsin (ages 9-13), took on the task of creating international awareness through an extraordinary literacy journey that celebrates not only the jaguar but the importance of joining hands across nations to impact our natural world through education and friendship.

During the first phase of the project, Nancy Kennedy, of Milwaukee Wisconsin, who had visited Belize on numerous occasions and became a dear friend of the Belize Zoo, developed a passion for the jaguar and for the animal’s plight as an endangered species.  She presented the true story of the down-on-his-luck jaguar, “Pat the Cat”, to students in Milwaukee and Belize.  Pat was captured by farmers enraged by Pat’s killing of their cattle, but was rescued by the Belize Zoo.  Pat’s canine teeth had been broken, so he would no longer be able to survive in the wild jungles of Belize.  At this time, the Milwaukee Zoo was searching for a male jaguar to help with their breeding and education program, and found Pat, who was in need of a home.  Pat was transported to Milwaukee, where he lives to this day.  

Nancy Kennedy’s engaging retelling of his story challenged students both in the US and Belize to learn about the jaguar, to discover and then write about its history and importance to our ecosystems, and to learn how to help ensure that jaguars in the wild have a safe and healthy future.  In early 2012 she enlisted the assistance of Celso Poot and Jamal Andrewin of the Belize Zoo to inspire students in Belizean primary schools to write about Pat the Cat.   At this point in time, Nancy brought another woman with a passion for literacy on board with her, Barbara Thummalpally, the wife of the U.S. Ambassador to Belize.   The project excited students and their teachers--both in the US and Belize--by highlighting how this powerful and important animal impacts their core subjects in science, conservation, geography, history, ecology, social science, art, and the balance of nature.

Nancy then took the children’s writings to the non-profit organization SHARP Literacy, Inc., where they were compiled and edited and became Pat the (Great) Cat: A Jaguar’s Journey.  Beautifully illustrated by award-winning artist Francisco Mora, and written side-by-side in English and Spanish, the book tells a compelling tale of a real Belizean jaguar whose journey from the forests of Belize to the U.S inspires young and old alike.

Nancy Kennedy then asked her friend Barbara to help her bring the book to the children of Belize.  Mrs. Thummalapally arranged for an official launching of the book at a ceremony and celebration at the Ambassador’s residence in Belmopan in October of 2011.  Following the Belize launch of the book, the Ministry of Education, Belize (MOE), gave permission to use the book as a supplementary text in the schools of Belize. This provided the impetus for the second phase of the collaborative project that entails the development of a free, online curriculum that can accompany the book for use by teachers everywhere.  Peace Corps Volunteer educators in Belize agreed to assist in the development of the curriculum and especially with teacher training that has begun to take place in all districts of Belize.

During the Summer Teacher Institute in Environmental Studies and Culture at Chaa Creek in July, educators attending from SUNY Cortland (State University of New York, Cortland),  Peace Corps Volunteers, MOE educators, and master teachers from Pennsylvania, all took part in the institute and developed ideas and lesson plans for PTGC.  These lesson plans were especially designed to integrate all areas of the primary school curriculum.  Now these lesson plans are being coordinated on a website for use by any teacher around the world who wishes to enrich his or her classroom with this beautiful book, Pat the (Great) Cat:  A Jaguar’s Journey.


The following photos show our Pat the Great Cat team at work developing curriculum and presenting workshops to teachers.   It has been so rewarding to collaborate with my colleagues on a project that promises to inspire Belizean children to preserve their natural heritage for future generations.

Our Pat the Great Cat Team:  Barbara Thummalapally Meredith Casper, Ava Hacker, Mickie Cuevas-Post, Barbara Levy, Katrin O'Leary

Meredith and Barbara demonstrate a language arts activity to enrich children's ability to recall what they have read.

We partnered with Belizean teachers who expanded on lessons in science and social studies using Pat the Great Cat as a jumping off point.

Here I am reading the first chapter aloud to the teachers in a workshop.  We demonstrated the Language Experience Approach.

At a workshop we facilitated for over 40 teachers in Belize City

The "Word Wall" I made to show teachers a few techniques for teaching vocabulary to students

Peace Corps Volunteer Linda Martin instructs Belizean teachers on drawing jaguars, and integrating art into their curriculum

Meredith Casper developed a wikispace to collect all lesson plans developed using Pat the Great Cat

Display of drawings made by the teachers in our workshop


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