DCSD, Belize teachers share global lessons
PARKER – This week’s snow is a stark reminder for a group of teachers and administrators visiting Douglas County School District that they are far from their tropical home.
“I love the weather,” said Sylvia Landero, a teacher from Eden Primary School in Belize. She was greeted by a spring snowstorm, when she landed in Colorado on Sunday.
Landero is one of six teachers and four principals from four schools visiting Douglas County for a week as part of the Belize Education Project. The partnership between the Douglas County School District, Belize schools and the country’s government has become and exemplar of international cooperation when it comes to literacy and the sharing of best educational practices.
The program was started eight years ago by Mammoth Heights Elementary first grade Teacher Jean Kirshner, while she was on a medical mission trip to the country. Kirshner visited one of the Belize schools and volunteered to help with literacy efforts.
In the years since, the program has evolved, growing into a constant exchange of teaching techniques between the teachers, as well as biannual opportunities for the teachers to meet to share ideas.
Every Fall Break, DCSD teachers visit Belize schools and in the spring a group of teachers and principals from Belize come to Douglas County.
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This year, even the students got involved in the project, creating lessons for each other.
Mammoth Heights Elementary sent Belize students paper snowmen last fall, so the kids could learn about Colorado. In return, this spring the Belize students sent back icons from their homeland, including toucans, mahogany trees and black orchids.
“It is one thing to talk about global citizenship in the abstract. What appeals to me about this exchange is that it is so authentic,” Kirshner explained. “There is no, ‘gee, I wonder if there is another world out there.’ They are making toucan projects for us and we’re making snowman projects for them.”
The items helped make the annual first grade lesson about symbols at Mammoth Heights a global experience.
For weeks the students have been learning about freedom and its connection to American symbolism from the bald eagle to our flag. During this week’s visit, they made a realization; America isn’t the only country that considers itself the “Land of the Free.”
“Ms. Landero began the national anthem of Belize and what are the lyrics? Land of the Free,” Kirshner said. “This makes a connection that freedom for a group of people, while it is a strong value for people in the United States, it is a value in many, many places in the world. Freedom is a human value.”
The students learned that they’ve actually got a lot in common with their Belize counterparts. Here in Parker, Kirshner often says, “One, two, three, eyes on me,” to get her students attention. While visiting, Landero shared the song “Let us Quiet,” based on the song "London Bridge is Falling Down," that serves the same purpose with her students.
LISTEN: Ms. Landero sings “Let Us Quiet”
“We talked about it with the kids,” explained Kirshner. “I said, ‘isn’t it interesting that Ms. Landero has to settle and focus and begin to learn. Here in Parker we have to settle, focus and begin to learn.’ I asked, ‘do you think they need to remind kids in Russia and Africa to settle, focus and learn, because that is what growing learners have to do,” Kirshner said.
The focus of the visits remains strengthening literacy efforts. While visiting Douglas County Schools, the Belize teachers get to observe reading exercises, like guided reading groups and Developmental Reading Assessments (DRAs)
This year, instead of moving from class to class, each of the visitors are being paired with highly talented teachers at Fox Creek Elementary, Mammoth Heights Elementary, Prairie Crossing Elementary and Cresthill Middle School.
Kirshner says it makes the experience a bit more personal. Instead of just seeing a showcase of the best practices, the teachers are getting to see first-hand how DCSD teachers handle tough moments in their classroom.
“You can do a dog and pony show for 40 minutes. You get the kids ready. ‘Everybody be good!’ That is great, but what do you do when the kids meander and get off task,” Kirshner said.
Landero is excited about the opportunity.
“I learn from them and they learn from me. It is wonderful,” Landero said.
And the students seem to be thoroughly enjoying the visit as well. On her second day, at least one of the students gave her a thank you card.
Learn more about the Belize Education Project at BelizeEducationProject.org