belize-byrnsTeachers today encounter students from other nations on a daily basis.

A group of  four students from Missouri Southern State University recently spent nearly a month in the Central American nation of Belize. The four students participated in daily classroom instruction at St. Andrews Anglican School and Sacred Heart High School in San Ignacio, Cayo, Belize.

Students taking part included Joplin residents Sara Adcock, Secondary English Education major, and Karen Byrns, Elementary Education major, and Randi Russell, Elementary Education  major, and Morgan Howard, an Elementary Education major from Carl Junction.

(In photo: MSSU Elementary Education major Karen Byrns.)

The students were accompanied by Jeanie Cozens, associate professor of Education at MSSU from Gentry, Ark.  The trip lasted from Nov. 3 – Dec. 4.

Located east of Guatemala and north of Honduras in Central America, Belize is bordered on the east  by the Caribbean Sea.  Formerly known as British Honduras, it is the only nation in the region where English is the official language.  The democratic nation gained its independence from Great Britain in the 1960s.

Candidates participated in classroom instruction daily at St. Andrews Anglican School and Sacred Heart High School, San Ignacio, Cayo, Belize.

Karen, Morgan, and Randi were placed in Standards 2, 3, and 4 which is the equivalent to grades 3, 4, and 5 in the U.S.  During this time they were able to work with their cooperating teacher within the classroom. MSSU candidates were also required to teach lessons while being evaluated in order to complete requirements for the student teaching semester.

Sara Adock was placed in Form I which is the equivalent of the ninth grade in the U.S.

“My teaching experience in Belize has helped me grow as a better teacher and a more adaptable individual,” student Sara Adcock says. “Even though I had a few bumps along the way, I would not change anything about it.

Two professional development workshops were presented while in San Ignacio. The first one was at Sacred Heart Junior College (SHJC) in San Ignacio and was titled Components of a Balanced Literacy Program: Integrating Listening, Viewing, Speaking, Reading, Writing. Candidates enrolled in the Sacred Heart Primary Education Program were invited to attend.

Each MSSU candidate and as the university supervisor taught a small guided reading group at various levels from grades K-3 with SHJC candidates filling the role of students. Door prizes consisting of classroom resources were distributed at the end of the workshop.

“I was amazed at the growth of the student teachers during their time in Belize,” Cozens says. “Teaching in an educational setting is very different from what they experienced during the first part of their student teaching semester. This required the candidates to adapt very quickly.”

The group also took part in a second professional development workshop at St. Andrews Anglican School, which provides instruction for students up to the eight grade level.. Each of the student teachers presented a minilesson; these included  Crafting Strong Sentences, Developing Story Structure, Silly Story Cards, and Analyzing Writing for Story Components.

MSSU candidates were able to celebrate the cultures of the Latinos, Creoles, Chinese, Lebanese, Guatemalans, Mennonites and Mayas.

“The country of Belize is very diverse and my experience there with students of various cultures has changed the way I view diversity in my classroom,” student Randi Russell states. “I have a better understanding of where some students may come from and I feel that I am now better equipped to tend to their needs.”

“My experience in Belize gave me a whole new perspective,” says MSSU student Karen Byrns. “I will be able to relate better to students who come tour schools from different countries. I will always encourage my students to be proud of their heritage and to celebrate their differences in ethnicity and culture.”

Cozens and the four student spent weekends visiting local attractions including the ruins of ancient Mayan cities.  One trip  provided the opportunity to see burial chambers with calcified remains, ceremonial vessels and other cultural artifacts left by the Maya centuries ago.

Student Morgan Howard says in many ways the trip was a life-changing experience. “Going to Belize taught me so much both as a teacher and person,” she declared. It opened my eyes to the unknown and I feel like I really grew from my experience.  It was amazing!”