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Expanding their Horizons: Fredonians go beyond the classroom to help Central American children

It is often said that travel is the only expense that makes you richer. For the past 10 years, many Fredonia students and faculty have found truth in this adage. Students from various undergraduate and graduate degree programs have had the opportunity to travel to the eastern coast of Central America and visit the beautiful country of Belize to teach math and literacy to Belizean school children.

The two-week stay throughout J-term significantly changes students’ outlook on life, exposing them to situations they aren’t familiar with on a daily basis. The trip allows volunteers to establish new relationships, make life-lasting memories, and above all, help a developing country move forward.

This past January, 27 students representing a variety of majors across campus joined three College of Education professors and a VISTA volunteer on the educational journey.

Upon their arrival, students applied concepts they learned at Fredonia in their work with teachers and children in the Belize classrooms. Students were placed in one of three schools where they developed daily lesson plans and taught children literacy skills, basic math, sight words and colors. Some students also taught music and led sing-alongs, which resulted in ear-to-ear smiles on everyone.

The children in Belize City, the largest population center in Belize, have dedicated teachers and principals, but sometimes lack school supplies. This year the group brought approximately 800 pounds of school supplies as well as four iPads to donate to the schools, students and teachers. Throughout the academic year, Friends Across Borders (FAB) volunteers make it a mission to raise money to purchase school supplies such as notebooks and glue sticks to bring to Belize classrooms. In addition, they donate money to the schools to help fund their educational programs.

Senior Sara Bartz, a Communication Disorders and Sciences major minoring in Leadership, described the 2015 experience as, “truly eye opening.”

“You may think that you are just going to teach, when in fact you will learn more from these kids than you thought possible,” she said.

“Be thankful for what you are given, and even more for what you can give,” she added. “The students did not have a lot in their possession. Most of them barely owned more than one pair of shoes that fit, let alone a lunch to bring.  The teachers had even less to work with to teach their pupils, but they still were master teachers without the use of advanced technologies and the unlimited amounts of craft supplies [that] we have.”

“Each year I am enormously proud of the work students do in the schools and their openness and generosity of spirit,” explained Dr. Janeil Rey, the current Belize Service Learning Project Coordinator and a College of Education professor. “It is a privilege to be part of this program and represent Fredonia.  Belize is a beautiful country with a rich culture, but it is the people we have met, worked and played with that make this experience so special.”

Not only did the trip cover educational aspects, but volunteers were also able to come together as a group and go on various excursions. During the first Sunday, students went snorkeling at the world’s second-largest barrier reef and then enjoyed lunch at a local café. Other excursions included zip lining and tours of the Belize Mayan ruins, a baboon sanctuary and the Belize Zoo. The trip concluded with an endless night of karaoke, dancing, spectacular food and memories they will never forget.

The Belize Service Learning Project, celebrating its 10th anniversary, was originally founded by former College of Education Professor Ellie Reddy. Today the program is led by Dr. Janeil Rey and Dr. Michael Jabot. It is open to Fredonia students in good academic standing in all majors. A one-credit course (INED 499.01) is required to participate. Informational meetings are scheduled each spring semester regarding the trip. All who are interested are invited to become part of the journey.

To learn more, contact Dr. Rey at janeil.rey@fredonia.edu or Dr. Jabot at michael.jabot@fredonia.edu.

posted @ Friday, August 21, 2015 2:59 PM by Jonathan Woolson

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