Belize Culture and EducationLatest update July 21, 2019 Started on May 25, 2019
For 3 weeks, I will be in Belize studying the education system and culture. I will spend time in a school, working alongside in country teachers, observing, coaching and mentoring. Outside of school, I will explore Belmopan!
The day came to return home. With my departure came the inevitable tears. After breakfast together, I gathered my bags and headed to the hotel lobby for my early departure. I was one of three heading out early this morning and so began the adventure home.
As I waited my plane in Belize City, the last 3 weeks flooded through my consciousness. What a team, what an expedition.
I waited until boarding my plane before cracking open a sealed envelope with my name on it. You see, a few days ago, we all sat down and wrote “sugar cubes” for each person on this expedition. Sugar Cubes are little notes that attempt to encompass what each person brought to the team—there is no way they can possibly articulate each person’s contributions to the extent we would like, but it would have to do. Thirty small strips of paper awaited me in this envelope. Notes from each person that I was anxious to read. I knew they would cause a slightly embarrassing waterfall of tears, but mt heart ached to rip the envelope open. As I tried to resist, I thought back to the 30 notes I wrote; one for each person on the team—what were they all thinking now as they time came to open their own envelopes? Were they all anxious? Were they scared? I am willing to bet we all felt a varying degree of those emotions and I can almost guarantee some people opened their notes last night. Tsk tsk.
Maybe I shouldn’t open it until I get home? Maybe I should wait for my layover? Maybe I should wait until my last flight?
I am not a procrastinator, but the anxiety I felt about what words and sentiment would be on those strips of paper had me delaying like a champ.
I settled into my flight, stowed my carryon bag, took my computer, phone, and snacks out along with the white envelope that donned my name on the outside.
Is it time?
Yes, yes it is.
I tore that envelope open as if a golden ticket might be inside permitting me access to Willy Wonka’s Factory.
That’s how many sugar cubes it took for full out Niagra Falls from my eyes.
With each sugar cube, I read it in my head in the voice of the author. I could see their face and it was almost as if they were in front of me saying the words to me.
I am guilty of underestimated my influence on others. I am a handful, boisterous, loud, happy most of the time, full of kinetic energy, optimistic almost to a fault, excited about nearly everything I encounter, and addicted to making sure others are happy. I am fully aware of how annoying this can be—especially my energy and need for almost constant kinesthetic movement. I can be a lot for people to understand and handle—when I try to water myself down, I am just….not me. A short while ago, I decided trying to water myself down to help others “deal with me” was not okay.
The sugar cubes in my envelope celebrated me, everything about me from my never ending energy, optimism, passion for learning, passion for teaching, and passion for spreading the beauty of science that is all around us but often ignored, shamed, or avoided.
Thirty people who spent three weeks with me, celebrated all of the things that I am most afraid of just letting out because it might annoy them.
I was right. It’s not okay to not be me, in all my glory, all my potential annoying behaviors and habits. All of me—I have to be me, I have to embrace it, I cannot hold it from the world.
And you shouldn’t either.
This morning began early. Honestly, I couldn’t sleep last night, I SO looked forward to the photo walk with students from the National Geographic Student Expedition and all that today would hold for me!
I woke up around 5 am but stayed in bed until around 6 when I headed to the rooftop balcony to watch the sunrise. It was beautiful but the ground, chairs, and tables were wet from a storm that blew through last night.
At around 6:15, I headed out on my own walk of the island. It’s about a mile walk from the hotel we were staying to the main part of the island, where the student expedition was staying. I also needed to be completely packed for the day while we were leaving via ferry this afternoon.
Along the walk, I stopped at a number of places to just observe and take pictures. This was one of the most peaceful parts of my expedition—just time to be present, no real worries, deadlines, agendas…just pure observation. I stopped for awhile to photograph sargassum deposits on the shore, memorize the smell of the deposits as well as photograph some old and abandoned fishing boats along the shore. Absolutely beautiful.
As 7:15 drew near, I headed towards the meeting point where Marie flagged me down. Four students came down stairs and off we set on the photo tour. They stated their intentions and goals for the walk and I set out behind observing their actions, habits, and interactions. Marie also challenged them with a photo scavenger hunt which helped them focus on specific techniques and perspectives.
As students began shooting, I gave advice about angles mostly and framing of their scenes and even took a few shots myself. As I was playing with angles and shots of bicycles, a shop owner engaged in conversation about what we were doing. He was preparing to open his shop for the day and gathered litter on his property. I engaged him in conversation about his business, his heritage, and thoughts of how Caye Caulker was changing. Rico is his name. Rico was willing and seemingly anxious to share his story, his thoughts, and perspectives on Caye Caulker, especially in the changes he has observed in the last five years. He was serious and stoic. He loves Belize and more specifically, Caye Caulker. He grew up here and has seen a lot of change in those years. He spoke of how development by foreigners has affected the island, economy, and atmosphere. He also shared his thoughts on recent government regulations on development which seem to be in favor of local businesses which he supports and hopes will be strengthened in the future. He is also very proud of his business and the work that he does here in Caye Caulker within the tourism industry. His business connects local guides to tourists for tours, snorkeling, diving, etc. We asked to take photos of him and his location and his face lit up with pure joy. I am grateful for his company, his willingness to share, and permission to take photos. This is the stuff photographers dream of; I am also grateful to have shared this moment with budding photographers. We all learned a lot from this experience.
Following the picture walk, I spent time at the student expedition home base and to my absolute delight, Jamal was there cooking up fry jacks. Fry Jacks are a traditional Belizean breakfast food and there was something magical about having Jamal there creating them. My plan was to wait until my teacher friends woke up and were ready for breakfast, but I ended up staying with the student expedition team and enjoying breakfast there! To everyone’s surprise, Jamal confessed that he had never actually made fry jacks before but it was okay, because he has seen it so many times. You never would have known he had never made them himself—they were absolutely amazing! Fry Jacks are fried dough that you can “dress” with beans, jelly, peanut butter, nutella, or anything really. Sometimes, I just eat them plain—they are that good, no joke. Today, I put a layer of peanut butter and nutella on them and devoured them quicker than it took to place them on my plate in the first place. This was an incredibly special moment that I will hold close to my heart for a long time to come. Honestly, I am still in disbelief that today and yesterday even happened.
Reluctantly, I left this new family of friends for my teacher family. We were headed to a place called “Koko King” today, which is a private beach accessible only by ferry. On this special beach there are cabanas, special food and beverage service, and beautifully manicured beaches. As long as you spend $25 Belizean dollars, the ferry ride is free. This is easy to do with just one meal, believe me.
Just as we arrived, the storm clouds rolled in. Not just rain clouds, but huge cumulonimbus clouds that blotted out the sky. The good news was there was a covered area to hang out and that just happened to be the mecca of food and drinks. We waited out the storms in this area, enjoying the company of our friends, lively playlist, and delicious food. After about 2 hours, the storms cleared but the sky remained overcast. Being closer to the equator, this is actually great while it helps to deflect UV rays from our skin that even after 3 weeks, is not accustomed to such exposure. We aren’t out of the clear completely, of course—we still applied liberal amounts of sun block. This is one of the last moments we will all be together here in Belize, the other Teacher Fellows and I. It was surreal at times to think about the family we now have in one another and that our time together on expedition is coming to a close. In fact, in just a few hours we will take the ferry back to Belize City for our last night in Belize together. Tonight, our last dinner time together and tomorrow morning, our last breakfast. I will be on one of the first planes to depart in the morning, less than 24 hours from now. Unbelievable. Or as they say here, unBELIZEable.
We still have time here though and as a few of us decided to head back to the other side of Caye Caulker. Immediately upon returning to the main part of the island, I ran into (literally) the student expedition team. What? They were headed to lunch and invited me along. How could I say no?
I hurriedly changed from my bathing suit to my normal clothes and met the group at Maggie’s. I knew this would be the absolute last time I spent with these incredible students. As I joined the group, two students saw me and excitedly say “What, we didn’t know we would see you again! Come see some video from today’s dive!” Another student said, “WE SWAM WITH MANATEES!” while another said, “What a great day, you AND Jamal with us!”
It was incredible indeed.
After this short lunch with students, I headed to the ferry to return to Belize. With big hugs, high fives, and “see you on Insta!” exclamations, we parted ways for a final time. I am so grateful for this day.
After the ferry ride and dinnertime, I packed for my flight tomorrow.
Until tomorrow, friends!
Today was epic. I woke up early and enjoyed a beautiful sunrise on the roof of our unit here in Caye Caulker. My view was over the beautiful green natural foliage that reminded me of the dense jungle of Peru. It makes me feel at home, it makes me feel alive and full of energy. Combine that with a beautifully painted rise of the sun and I knew today was going to be amazing.
As my roommates began to stir for the day, we made a loose plan for our adventure. The rest of the teacher fellows would be out snorkeling today, but we were not a part of that excursion so we have time to fill. None of us wanted a rigid schedule and so we decided we would set off toward the beach, walk until we were hungry, grab breakfast, and see where the day would take us. One of my friends checked out a map of the island and found a small path from our hotel to the water and so, we set off! We trekked alongside a small mangrove littered with an overabundance of sargassum washing up along the shore. The smell is memorable, some kind of cross between low tide, sulfurous deposits (rotten egg smell), and earthy dirt. It’s definitely one our senses will not soon forget. Through our adventure trail, we saw different style homes, some brightly colored, some on stilts, some freshly painted, manicured, and some beautifully weathered by the elements. Each so unique and beautifully decorated the shore. We passed the ferry terminal where we arrived the previous day and soon, we headed west, inland to find breakfast and wifi. We found a little café and began placing our order. As we sat and waited, sharing what we wanted to do for the day, mostly just wander—I saw it. In my personal email inbox—a message I had been dreaming about for months.
When I first joined the LRTT (lrtt.org) team, I began looking for connections for field science work in Belize. I found a National Geographic Explorer Jamal Galves through educator explorer friends of mine. He is a passionate manatee scientist who was born, raised, and still works here in Belize. I reached out to him and over the course of about 6 months, we were not really able to connect. I called my pipe dream of connecting with him a loss…until possibly TODAY. The email from him read “ Becky, I wish you were closer, I am in Planencia today and Caye Caulker tonight with a student expedition. I will be passing through Belize City tomorrow, maybe we can make it work.”
WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAT? My jaw dropped and I most likely audibly said, “WHAAAAAAAAAAT?” in front of a café full of strangers. My face was stunned, my fingers working at light speed and my friends, thoroughly confused. I quickly stammered out, “You won’t believe what is going on!”
I replayed for them my dream while here in Belize and the email I just received and read aloud to them as I typed. I know I looked crazy, but SERIOUSLY!!
My heart was pounding, my fingers numb, “Please, Universe, have Jamal read my response today and not tomorrow.”
“JAMAL, I am in Caye Caulker today and tomorrow (Sunday)—my number is……. Connect with me on whatsapp or feel free to imessage me if you have an iPhone. My plans changed and I am in Caye Caulker, I hope we can make this work”
My heart pounded nearly the entire day, I obsessively refreshed my email in hopes of a response from Jamal.
Please, please, please, check your email today, Jamal, please.
My friends obsessively checked in with me at nearly the same rate that I refreshed my email.
We left the café and headed about our day; my heart still pounding and making my chest ache like it does after a heartbreak. We visited a few souvenir shops and anytime wifi was available, I logged in to check my email in hopes that Jamal would have responded.
During one of our treks around town, we ran into the group of teachers, preparing to go snorkeling for the day. I had to BLAB about the possibility of meeting Jamal and how I needed to stay in a wifi zone to obsessively check for a possible response from him.
It came—the email I was hoping to find! My heart was pounding even faster now. Jamal responded that he wanted to get together to talk and have me meet incredible students! We exchanged WhatsApp contact and my day instantly turned into a whirlwind of trying to figure out logistics.
We visited a grocery store to buy materials to make lunch together and headed to our hotel. Once there enjoyed time by the pool, made lunch together, and headed back to the pool once more. As we enjoyed time by the pool following lunch, I received a message from Jamal that he was heading to the island soon and we would meet and head over to see students on expedition in Caye Caulker with National Geographic Student Expeditions. Before I knew it, I was rushing around to take a shower and get dressed to meet up with Jamal and the students. No joke, it was as if I was preparing for a first date.
After my shower, my friends and I headed town the more active part of Caye Caulker to spend some time before dinner with the rest of our friends on the island. As we were about halfway to the other hotel, we ran into our friends in the street, they had just arrived back. I could not WAIT to tell them about what transpired today—everyone was just as excited as I was about the situation, a true family.
As we headed back to their hotel for them to shower and head to dinner, I eagerly awaited the time and location message for my dinner tonight. My stomach tossed and turned with anxiety as I awaited the messages—and I could hardly contain myself. It turned out that a group of my friends wanted to go to a restaurant named “Maggie’s” and the student expedition team would be there too. I eagerly hit the road with my friends to the restaurant since that is where the student expedition team and Jamal would also be.
As we sat and waited, I saw someone speaking to a waitress—he was wearing a National Geographic logo and so I decided to approach him. His name was Daniel and he was one of two expedition leaders and was waiting for me. Perfect timing. He was also checking that 22 students would fit in the open air restaurant, but unfortunately not. I went back to the main street with him to find a restaurant that would work, meet Jamal, and all of the students for the first time. This. Was. It.
My heart pounded, stomach turned, and I could not wait for the next few moments to pass. Jamal greeted me with a huge smile and hug and the students grilled me with questions about what my role was within the National Geographic Family.
The evening was magical. I had time to speak with Jamal, amazing students, and the two expedition leaders. The night seemed to last forever and not long enough all at the same time. They invited me to join them on a photography walk tomorrow morning early to help advise students with their work.
WOW. I definitely felt like a celebrity and fangirl all in the same moments. I had expected to be the one who was asking all the questions—but it turned out, they found what I do fascinating and I really felt special. What a beautiful night—and to think that it nearly did not happen at all. The universe truly worked some magic today—I can’t wait for tomorrow’s photo walk!
The next three days, I was supposed to spend in Belize City with a small group of teacher fellows who opted out of an excursion to Caye Caulker. Last night, we decided to seek out a place to stay on Caye Caulker, so we would still be able to spend some time with our teacher fellow family.
We left our main luggage in the hotel where we will spend our final day in Belize and packed a day bag for the 3 days we will spend on the island. Caye Caulker is a more touristy destination but still holds strong to its Belizean roots. Their motto: Go Slow, reminds visitors to take it easy, stop rushing, and enjoy yourself while you are there. This is definitely a message I need to take to heart while I am regularly seen power walking from one task to another literally and figuratively.
Today was rough though, I was not sure about midday, whether I made the right decision in traveling to the island rather than staying back. I was feeling a bit like an outsider, not really supposed to be there, and not really excited about being there rather than home with my family.
I took some time away from the group to be present, enjoy an iced coffee, and think about what has brought me to this moment. While I cannot change the time and day of my flight—I need to let go and enjoy these last few days with my expedition family. It took about an hour, but one of my fellow Fellows helped me take a step back and relax, re-centering and making the best of what the next few days might hold.
In the early afternoon, my group of four friends headed off to our hotel for the night to drop off our belongings and then scurry to dinner with the larger group. This turned out to be quite the adventure. We arrived at our destination which was off the beaten path and in the area of Caye Caulker where locals live. I loved the location, quietness, and escape from the touristy section. That was, until we oculd not enter the premises. The community is gated and you need a key code to enter and a second code to obtain your unit’s key. We had neither. All of us shared an unspoken “Did we get swindled?” facial expression and began thinking about how best to solve this challenge. We decided to find a restaurant with wifi so we could attempt to reach the leasing company. This also proved a little more challenging than we had hoped. Every attempt to call the company came up with no luck, no answer, and our hope for resolution dwindling. Our backup plan was to check with the hostel where our friends were staying and try to get a room there. Just as we were about to make the decision to trek back, an email came through with the gate code and key box code.
In order to not feel guilty about going to restaurant just for its wifi, we all ordered a drink. After we finished our lattes and sprite, we headed back to our hotel and were able to get into our unit. Sweet relief washed over us all and we rallied to head back to dinner and meet some other friends.
We went to a restaurant named Wish Willy’s and it was fantastic. We recalled our story with our friends, shared laughs, seafood, and lime juice!
One friend and I grabbed a taxi to head home shortly after dinner, today was a long and emotional one.
The transportation here on Caye Caulker is all by foot or golf cart. The taxi ride by golf cart was similar to being in a tuk tuk in India or motortaxi in Peru; an exciting break from busitos, cars, and buses!
Today ended up a win—I can’t wait to see what happens tomorrow!
Today figuratively, as Americas, and literally as LRTT Fellows, marked freedom for us. Our team of teachers spent the day together celebrating the fourth of July and each other. We played a spirited game of trivia which was created by two of our very own teacher fellows, we walked the .33 mile to the corner store one last time and I skyped with my family as they gathered together back home to enjoy time together. I broke down. I miss my family. This is the part of every expedition where I ache for my biological family. I have spoken of this on every expedition I have completed. There is always a day where my own little family back home strokes a chord and I yearn to be with them. That day was today. While I have made a special family here in Belize—I also have a very special family at home with whom I am sacrificing time. It’s difficult, but there is no solution. Expeditions are a necessary part of my life. Without them, I would not be me but the same rings true for my family at home. I could not exist without them either. It’s a difficult life, but I know that what I am doing when I am with each of my families is incredibly important and integral to what makes me who I am and drives my passion to save the world.
Today I cry for my family back home. In a few days, I’ll cry because I am leaving the family I have here…
Today was a big day. The last day of conference sessions and our farewell ceremony with our partner teachers here in Belize. We knew the day would come when we had to part ways with our new friends here, but we did not know it would happen so soon. After presenting about cooperative learning structures to an animated and enthusiastic group of teachers, we headed to a conference hall to participate in a closing ceremony. I was selected to speak at the ceremony and could not wait. I delivered words from my heart and that spoke through my passion and hopefully to the hearts of all of the educators from America and Belize present today. I have included the video of my speech for you to view. Fair warning though, the first sentence is cut off a bit—it starts like this: Educators have the most important job in the entire world…the rest you will have to listen to for yourself!
This ceremony marks the end of our work in partnership with our new Belizean family. The end of planning professional development to meet the needs and wishes of our new friends, and the end of meeting them at school to learn together. It was a sad moment for us all but we left empowered and refreshed; ready to take our classrooms by storm once again.
Conference Day 2 was just as exciting as Day 1 but what made me most excited to day was what followed the conference sessions. On my first day in Belize, I met Raj, the owner of an Indian restaurant in the marketplace. Ever since, I have wanted to go back and visit him. Today was the day! I also brought two friends with me who did not have the opportunity previously and it was amazing. We ordered chai lattes and mango lassies—but Raj came to our table with a buffet of dishes to try too. He also painted our faces with the colors of life and insisted we take pictures with him! Such a generous, loving, and energetic man; I am so appreciative to have met him and been able to visit twice.
Conference Day 1 arrived and we conquered it with our partner teachers by our sides! Each course had two sessions today and overall we were met with excited partner teachers from all four schools. It was incredibly exciting to work with teachers from all four schools because to date, we were in our home school silos.
Between sessions, we enjoyed ice cream from a local corner store. I have neglected to tell you that every day that I have spent with teachers here in Belize, I have also spent a few moments at this ice cream shop. It is locally owned and the family who owns it, lives in the connecting home. In fact, our time spent here enjoying our ice cream treats was spent with the family sharing stories; incredibly special.
I do not know how I will return to teaching without a corner ice cream shop to pass a little time in the middle of the day…
Today was Lauren, one of our Team Leaders, birthday and one of the teacher Fellows’ first official day as an administrator. Shortly before heading to Belize she was notified that she had been offered the position as principal at a local middle school in Tennessee. What a wonderful day of celebration!
Today was spent putting the finishing touches on conference presentations for the week. With my Monday and Tuesday sessions on backward instructional design completed, I focused on Cooperative Learning Structures with a new presentation team. We quickly came up with a plan and I created the interactive materials I wanted to use!
Since visiting Unique previously, I have wanted to go back to take full advantage of their menu and some time away from base camp. As myself and a small group of friends set out on the mile and a half walk, it began to rain. Not just any rain, but a downpour. Nothing was going to stop us though—this was our plan for the day and rain would not stop us!
As we made our way, the rain just seemed to get heavier with each step. One member of the brigade asked if we should just stop and go to a closer store instead but we did not. We had our sights on Unique, no matter the weather! By the time we were about halfway, the rain ceased. At close to 90% to our destination, a busito pulled over in front of us and waved us up. We did not intend or need a taxi, so we attempted to wave the stopped vehicle off insisting that we complete our journey by foot. The busito driver insisted we take the ride and as we got closer, we recognized him! He was one of our daily school drivers and as it turns out, one of our Team Leaders sent him to get us since it was raining. At this point, we could not refuse the ride so we hopped aboard just to find out how close we were!
Our enjoyed our meal and even topped it off with cheesecake as our dessert and were back on our journey home, by foot. There was no busito save this time and we were glad. We wanted to make the journey and we totally did! High fives all around!
We ended our free day with a quick run through of PD sessions and naps in the hammocks. Pretty sure this is one of the best ways to spend a Sunday!
Today was the day! We visited the second highest Mayan ruins site in Belize and I learned an incredible amount about the Mayan Empire. The drive to the site was thrilling as I watched the landscape change from city like to mostly jungle-like. I loved watching as mostly dirt roads and cleared space for domestic life began to shift adding in elevation and greenery. While the roads remained of dirt, the landscape was more natural, untouched, and absolutely beautiful. To visit Xunantunich, you must take a short ferry across a river. The ferry itself is about a three-minute ride, but what makes it special is that it is hand cranked. There is literally a person who cranks a wheel and the ferry itself travels along a cable to the other side. The river is about 1000 feet wide and filled with fish and turtles. The trees have snakelike plants that curve along the branches. From afar, I literally thought they were beautiful, bright green snakes but upon closer observation, sadly they were not. I heard a friend state that she saw bats in the trees but I did not see them, I was preoccupied with the fascinating, snake-like plants. I was also intently scanning the limestone banks for fossils of sea creatures while I have read this area was underwater before the last climate change event.
Shortly after arriving at the archeological site of Xunantunich, we learned it’s actual Mayan pronunciation and origin story. Shu-nan-toon-itch has had several names throughout history based upon who found and examined it throughout history. It’s final name, the one we know and use today being Xunantunich. This name came from a legend that long ago, the appearance of a lady in the stone was seen in the construction and therefore Xunantunich (stone lady) is the name that has been accepted through the test of time. Early excavations of the area utilized dynamite which destroyed much of the construction and erasing a lot of the knowledge it held, but the 1% we do know is fascinating.
The Mayans originate from Asia and took about 100,000 years to get to the Bering Strait and 10,000 more years to pass over the ice bridge into the Americas. They were nomads, following food in order to survive, living off the land, and leaving very little impact on their surroundings. Based on this knowledge, archaeologists and paleontologists are nearly certain that the Aztec, Maya, Inca, Navajo, and even Eskimos are from the same initial peoples, their exact dispersal and present-day affiliations being influences on where they eventually settled in the Americas.
As they began splitting up and claiming different settlement areas, they began tracking smaller food sources, creating villages but not cities. The Mayans, in particular, mastered agriculture and began using limestone for construction which was previously underwater. They also used bright red and orange-pink paint to decorate their buildings.
In the Preclassic Era, they began creating permanent housing and settlements. Because they were permanently inhabiting specific areas, they no longer had the variety of food sources and began shrinking in size due to a lack of nutrients, or change in the nutrient content of their food sources. This evidence is found in skeletons which have shortened bone marrow content. The Mayans began a trading system at this time as well but it lasted a short amount of time. During the Classic Period, the Mayans began to form alliances with civilizations around them, a new trading system involving river systems, and a universal language.
Moving into the Post Classic Era, the Mayans began to abandon their cities because of a lack of rain at the time. They also destroyed a large amount of the trees in their space which depleted the soil of nutrients, affecting their ability to sustain life and the sheer amount of people that inhabited the Empire; this would ultimately lead to the civilization’s demise which consequently is used in the present day as a mini-study for current global climate change issues.
Have we learned from the Mayans?
The largest building within the complex is named El Castillo, or the castle. It was created over 240 years and is not hollow. It has not yet been excavated so it’s actual use is yet to be known for certain.
To the left of El Castillo stands 3 pyramid like construction called the Eastern Triads. They have also not yet been excavated but the contents are believed to be either riches and/or tombs, possibly a combination.
It turns out that excavation of historical sites is affordable for the preservation of them is not which includes security of the site from looters and uninvited guests that may disrupt progress which explains why the site has very little excavation completed other than dynamite techniques from 1920. Thankfully, we have learned from that destructive practice.
Xunantunich was a satellite city for Guatemala meaning it was not a permanent settlement area although evidence of at least one family living here has been found through artifacts of pottery and food remnants.
This is also where Columbus proved that the world was not flat. Surprisingly enough, the Maya believed the world was flat and worshipped the four corners that were held up. Each corner has a representative creature/god and colors which are seen in art found on site.
On El Castillo, there is a deliberate pathway that crosses and connects two Mayan cities. Along the stretch, artifacts of beads of many designs, colors, and creative patterns have been found suggesting this might have been a parade route of some sort for festivals.
When you reach the top of Xunantunich, you can see clear to Guatemala and along the opposite horizon, facing north, many hills which are all ancient Mayan cities. Absolutely stunning to be there and to see what made a large portion of the empire.
Archaeologists chose to reproduce the art found on the walls of Xunantunich with plaster reproductions in order to preserve the art itself which is underneath and to help visitors visualize what the decorations looked like in its heyday. I love the forethought here to preserve by reproducing the depiction on top. While it is certainly fascinating to see the actual creations in person, I find it far more important that the originals are kept safe from weathering events and human interaction.
After scaling the structures which are allowed to be climbed, we headed back to the ferry and into San Ignacio for the afternoon.
The day was long but full of exploration and learning. Tomorrow will be all about planning for conferences. I have decided to offer an additional, optional course on Wednesday for teachers on Cooperative Learning Structures. Another educational strategy about which I am passionate. Let’s face it though—there are very few things in the world of education that I am NOT passionate about. What it really boils down to is making a lasting, positive impression on students—and whatever that entails gets me fired up and ready to share and learn!
Until tomorrow, friends.
Today began with a double workout; I led what we now refer to as “bootcamp” followed by zumba led by another teacher on this expedition. It was a great way to kick off the day and begin intense planning for our conference sessions next week.
My topic for next week is backward instructional design which I am passionate about! My portion of the sessions is walking teachers through the logistics of what this actually looks like behind the scenes. This is going to require me to choose a learning outcome from their set of standards and literally plan a unit as if I were to deliver it. I am excited to dig in and do this but I know it will be a lot of work.
Just after my PD team and I divvied up tasks, storms rolled in with heavy rain. It was exciting to be outside, in a hammock, under an overhang during this time. It is hot and humid here and therefore, storms and rain each day are always a possibility. We are also heading into rainy season here in Belize so we might as well get used to it! The good news is the rain and storms pass quickly and the sun returns meaning if you have a safe, open yet covered area to stay, you can be outside while the weather shifts. At base camp there are two areas that have overhead coverings with hammocks and picnic tables underneath. In a hammock is one of my favorite places to wait out the weather and sneak in a quick nap in the great outdoors which is exactly what I did as the rains poured from the sky.
Shortly after the rains ended, we headed out to a social hosted by my school’s principal here in Belmopan. It was great to see and socialize with our partner teachers in a non-school setting. We had great food, dancing, and conversation. I am so glad we shared this time with our teachers—it was a great segway between the school year ending and our conference which will begin Monday morning.
Tomorrow we visit Mayan ruins and I look forward to getting a peek into the Mayan culture, history, and influence on modern day Belize and Central America.
Today began and went as usual, workout, breakfast, classroom observations, professional development session. Today’s professional development session built upon yesterday where we introduced small group instruction and provided baseline information on how to get started and plan this type of rotation. Today, based on our teachers’ feedback from yesterday, went more in depth. We divided them into two small groups of 3-4 teachers so they could rotate from “How to create groups and identify skills for small group instruction” and “how to create and teach students how to rotate through centers”.
Today felt different. Our partner teachers didn’t seem ready; they needed to talk. It’s the end of the year, stressful enough, but today just did not seem right. They aren’t feeling heard, they aren’t feeling supported, and they aren’t feeling motivated to take on these new ideas although yesterday, this is literally what they asked for—more information and time to work on this with us.
Sometimes people just need to talk, you know? Our job today was to listen and that is what we did. No agenda, it went out the window; just like lesson plans when you know your class needs something other than what you planned to accomplish that day. They spoke about not having supplies, support, or feeling as if what they did was of any value. They spoke of frustrations with colleagues, students, parents, administration, lack of time, and support…the list goes on. These are shared frustrations, universal among educators around the world, I assure you. They just needed to be heard, acknowledged, and understood. Our contribution today was that of listening and validating concerns. We have the same concerns in our own schools, we have the same frustrations, and the same need to be heard by someone, anyone. The grass isn’t greener in other locations, they are just different shades.
One of my personal goals since I first met my two partner teachers here in Belize was to be a listening ear, a sounding board, someone that if nothing else, they could depend on to listen to their needs, thoughts, aspirations, concerns, anything. Today, I was able to really do that.
We were able to talk a bit about small group instruction, but that was secondary to the needs of our teachers. That’s really what it’s about—filling needs. I can confidently say that we did just that.
Hello again! Today began with workout 6 of the expedition and a record number of friends joining in the morning sweatfest! Another half day of observations at school followed by professional development. Today was all about small group instruction; how to group students, what to do with students once they are in groups, and how to maintain this type of highly individualized instruction long term. Our partner teachers have been asking about small group instructional strategies especially for math and reading. From our observations, we also decided that this would be a great complement to what they currently deliver in their classroom settings.
As we presented about small group instruction logistics, questions poured in and we were ready to help and troubleshoot! Our teachers were hesitant to commit, but we could tell that they were thinking of how to make it work for them which is a great start. Based on their questions, we have decided one more day specifically on how this works and how you plan for this type of instruction would be helpful. Tomorrow, we will dive deeper into these topics and help teachers begin to plan implementation or even help create materials for small group instruction or center rotations.
Another day began with a workout I led, which is the best way to begin, in my opinion! I did not intend to lead workouts each morning but while I have been here, I have had friends along with me, which definitely makes working out a little less tedious!
Breakfast was followed by classroom observations for half a day and our professional development session with primary level teachers from our school, Garden City. The mood in the room was definitely that of apprehension, and who could blame our cooperating teachers? It is the end of the school year, they are just completing end of year testing, and they now have guests in their classroom—that is a recipe for…apprehension.
It was not long though before they felt comfortable sharing. We acknowledged their struggle as educators while we all just barely completed our own school years, and shared that if we were in their position, this would be a bit awkward timing wise. Educators share an incredible bond, which crosses cultures, countries, and languages. It was a fantastic moment to share together, which also created familiarity and a sense of camaraderie as we began our professional development journey as a team. Today was all about mindset and determining whether ours were fixed or growth. We began with a brief overview of what this is and the research supporting the idea that your mind can be fixed or growth; the good news being that you do have control over this and that most people are a combination of both depending on the situation at hand. We were tackling this through the lens of our classroom and building lifelong learners and critical thinkers rather than computers that memorize material, regurgitate it for a test then dump. Or worse yet (in my opinion), label students or ourselves as not good at something rather than committing to resilience and determination to practice and develop skills. One of the best and relatable examples is math. People tend to have polarizing feelings about math; they love it (are good at it) or hate it (are bad at it). The growth mindset contends that being good or not at something is a fixed mindset; rather anyone can become skilled at something if they practice it. This is incredibly important as educators—we are tasked with developing future citizens of the world. How can we possibly tell someone in our care they are not good at something and encourage them to just give up? That’s what happened to me in third grade when it came to math and science—and that teacher couldn’t have been further from wrong but it stunted my development for 20 years. Educators have an impact daily, we have to choose whether it will be positive and encourage growth or negative and stunts a person's growth. Our professional development really revolved around the words we choose especially when redirecting students or when students come to us for help. Simple changes to everyday phrases we use can make a big difference in how our students view themselves and grow independent (or not). My part of this session was to really dig deep here, what are things we commonly say and are they fixed or growth mindset? Honestly, I had a difficult time here preparing while I had to really reflect and become vulnerable in front of my team and in country partnering teachers. Here are some of the things that I came up with: “You can’t do it that way” “Just keep trying” “It’s okay not everyone is good at…” Although these may seem harmless, they are not encouraging students to persevere and work on skills that are difficult in the present. What I presented were these alternatives: “Let’s find other ways to solve….” Or “How many other ways can we accomplish this…” “That feeling of this being difficult right now is really your brain growing, let’s keep growing, and see what we can do!” “When you first learn a new skill, it will be difficult but that just shows you that you can something new to learn and you are growing your brain!”
Thinking differently about our words, phrases, and coaching is an important part of our development as educators. Reflecting and preparing this professional development session with my team helped ME grow. It kind of feels like cheating a bit—I am supposed to be here to help develop others, but I think in doing so, I will also be learning a lot.
Following our professional development session, we returned to base camp and met the Chief Education Officer of the Ministry Of Education in Belize as well as the manager of government schools. It is clear they both have a passion or education and improving their current systems here in Belize. They are a vital partner in that work and it was refreshing to hear about their views and commitment to improvement. Oftentimes as educators, we get frustrated and upset with administrators who do not seem to remember the classroom or have our students’ best interests in mind when making decisions. Interacting with these two leaders made me see a different perspective as well. I bet there are many teachers that doubt the motives and decisions made here in Belize, but I do believe their Ministry Officials are committed to improvement and want nothing more than the best for students here.
Until tomorrow, friends.
Today is the first Sunday here at camp in Belize and technically a “day off” from the education work here. In reality, we had a bit of things to wrap up before observing our teachers tomorrow and delivering the first round of professional development based on observations and time spent talking with our teachers but this would wait until later in the day.
I began the day with yoga led by one of the team leaders. My muscles are tired and needed a break from the workouts I had been leading all week and yoga gave me time to reflect, meditate, and refocus my mission here in Belize.
Following yoga, our entire team enjoyed breakfast together and some began laundry. As I mentioned earlier, we had a bit more work to do, but an entire day during which to accomplish that goal.
Here in Belize, most of the country takes Sundays as a day of rest while 73% of the country is comprised of practicing Christians, 40% being Catholic. Sunday is a day of rest, a day for family, and a day to be in your church. Most businesses are closed and the few that may be open will not be open for business until the afternoon. This is a fascinating part of Belizean culture that was new to me. I knew the statistic but I was interested to see it so prominent in practice. For example, many South American countries have high Catholic populations but few are considered practicing, attending Sunday mass. Here, it seems, from my observations thus far that not only are a high number considered Christian, but also actively practicing. It was especially evident in our schools and in speaking with educators; Christianity is an embedded part of their lives and a beautiful part of the culture.
In the afternoon, a group of us here at camp took the short walk to the corner store named “Franco’s” for a snack and scenery break. Franco’s carries everything from ice cream, soda, school supplies, pet food, electrical tape, and frozen chicken breast. It has nearly anything you might possibly need, including a picnic area out front to enjoy snacks and beverages you purchase. That is exactly what we did. While enjoying our snacks and each other’s company, we met a local who came to sit along a post that held an awning over our heads. He looked exhausted, hungry, and thirsty. He asked me if I spoke Spanish to which I naively replied, “si”. He began telling me that he was homeless, had no money, and was thirsty and hungry. We had leftover pizza that I offered and he reminded me that he had no money. I told him it was okay and he took the offering. I took my empty juice bottle and filled it with water for him and he took it, gulped it down and I refilled it realizing he was most likely dehydrated from the heat. He continued to engage in conversation and something was not sitting well so I told my friends we needed to get going. We walked a short distance away so that people could finish their snacks before we made the trek back to camp. As we waited, the man approached us again and reached for the snacks some of my friends were finishing. With a quick exchange of glances, we made the decision to continue walking home; beginning to fear for our safety. The man stumbled along the walkway and it was hard to tell if he was exhausted from the heat, perhaps had a mental illness, possibly intoxicated or a combination of all of these. The good news was that was the end of the episode. I cannot help but think about his situation. Had I made the right decisions in helping and ultimately abandoning him? What should I have done? I will never know but I do feel that the decisions I made in the moment were the best I could have made. I wish the man well in the future.
Following this episode, my professional development team began the finishing touches on our assignment. We had planned to deliver a professional development session revolving around Growth Mindset made famous by Carol Dweck. Through our observations here, we feel that teachers are not feeling at their best or supported. This is understandable being the end of the school year, during testing time, and with report cards on the horizon. We felt that a session about evaluating how we approach teaching, students, colleagues, and ultimately life would be a great introductory session!
Tomorrow we will find out first hand what they are thinking, feeling, and hopefully motivate them a little about their importance, significance, and relevance in the lives of their students. They are amazing teachers—they might just not know it…yet ;)
If you know about growth mindset…you well catch on to that nerdy teacher pun!
Until tomorrow, friends!
Yoga this morning was on point, just what I needed after a week of leading workout sessions, my muscles and were ready for a change of pace and a little bit of mindfulness. Team Leader, Eddie, was our Yogi and I enjoyed every minute of our session.
After yoga, 4 friends and I headed to the Belize Zoo. This zoo had me at “native species only”. The thought of a zoo being home not only to native species only, but a rescue facility as well piqued my interest. Before I knew it, I was boarding the bed of a pickup truck and headed en route for the 30 minute drive. We did not know what we were in for in this truck bed journey, but I can tell you it was nothing short of thrilling. For starters, being in the bed of a truck is something I have not done in at least 25 years, let alone in a foreign country, along dirt roads, and to a location I have yet to visit. After boarding, getting as comfortable as a truck bed can possibly be, I began applying sun block and bug repellant for the day. I underestimated the wind speed and spent most of this part of the journey with one eye closed. My friends and I were thrilled to experience this together and happily took selfies and videos to document the journey. A few minutes in to the ride, we had an unexpected thrill; a rain shower. Not just any rain shower though, this was a rainy season in Belize rain shower. Each drop felt like a small needle penetrating my skin. Just when I thought I was in need of relief, the rain fell more intensely and I was not sure I was strong enough to endure it. My eyes squeezed shut, my lips pursed, and my mind repeating “it’s almost over, hang in there”. Thankfully, what was probably about 3 minutes, but felt like an hour was over soon and we all laughed almost uncontrollably at what just happened. At about that moment, we made it to the zoo, our truck pulled over and we hopped out. As if that ordeal was not comical enough on its own, I looked down at my clothing to see that the left side of my body was soaked, but my right was bone dry. As we headed into the zoo, we had a very important decision to make—to invest in a jaguar encounter or not…when in Belize, right? We splurged for it and before we knew it, found ourselves in a short metal cage with a jaguar circling us. This would be the perfect scene for training people to take blood pressure readings—although they would be off the charts. The five of us interlocked arms, brushed legs, and used words to comfort each other as we prepared to receive a jaguar kiss. This is where you stand with your forehead pressed to the top of the cage as a jaguar licks you. This is what we volunteered (and paid) to do…at this moment, we all second-guessed this decision. Junior Buddy, the jaguar, was born in captivity to a mother who was rescued after being identified “a threat” to locals. You see, if a jaguar is too close to human settlements, it is deemed a threat. Whether you agree with this label of not, it is a reality here in Belize. Thankfully, Junior Buddy’s mother was not killed and he was born here at the Belize Zoo. While maintaining a mostly “wild” lifestyle, he has grown up here and is accustomed to human interaction to a certain extent. He is not a “show” cat by any means, but he does enjoy raw chicken and will lick your forehead if he knows raw chicken follows the behavior. The encounter was thrilling, terrifying, and exciting all at the same time. His tongue felt like the most coarse sandpaper you have ever felt. I almost expected our foreheads to have a red mark from the kiss or even missing skin like you would see if this were a Tom and Jerry animated episode. It was over quickly and almost unbelievable that it happened at all. It was the perfect way to begin the zoo excursion! Being Belize and a zoo with only native species, I felt quite at home. The jungle is my wheelhouse! For the most part, I could identify the animals, behaviors, and identify gender—my friends were most appreciative OR they humored me. Either way, it was a great feeling. We saw ocelots, puma, margays, howler monkeys, toucan, parrots, macaws, tapirs, and so on. We took a break for lunch and headed back in to see the last of the animals we missed that morning, before heading back to camp for the night. As if the trek to the zoo wasn’t exciting enough, the journey home proved just as thrilling. We knew we would need to rely on public transportation, but what we did not know was just how exciting it would prove to be. Our first task was to hail a public bus. This is similar to hailing a cab, if you have ever had the pleasure, but imagine for a moment that you are in a foreign country, on a dirt road, covered in a sweat film, and ready to head home for the day. Any and everything that resembles a bus, garners your arm up and waving, you just never know which will be a bus and will have space for you to join. I am unsure about the amount of time that passed, but at least 4 buses passed us by and we began posing for pictures to pass the time. As we waited we also ran through how this journey home would work. After we hail a bus and board, we will ride into Belmopan to a market we visited on previous days. From there, we would need to catch a Busito to take us to a stop near our base camp. This is actually a simple process but when first considering the steps, can be overwhelming. It’s okay, we are all together and worst case, will call a cab to get us to camp.
The next bus to come on the horizon honked its horn when it saw our hands in the air. This is it, we all thought and the bus DID stop and pick us up. It was a schoolbus painted white and kept just well enough to function as a mass transit vehicle. Most seats were graffiti filled, peeling, torn, and little more than a frame with tattered foam spilling out of busted seams. We had to travel to the very back and split up to sit with strangers. This was quite the experience; a nearly full bus with people from all walks of life. My seat partner was fast asleep and I was honestly afraid she would wake up and not be okay with me sitting there. In a few stops, a seat freed up across the aisle and I moved. A few stops after that point, she awoke and was none the wiser that she had a seat partner for a brief portion of the trip. She actually exited the bus shortly after that moment when she awoke and unloaded bags and a large plastic bucket with a lid from underneath the bus. As I watched her exit and barely cross the street with her belongings, my mind began to wonder what was in the bags and bucket—were these items to sell in order to make a living? Had she just completed the shopping for her family? Were the bags all of her belongings? What was her story?
A loud banging on the side of the bus took me from this mind travel, a passenger had forgotten his bag onboard and was banging to get our attention. Another passenger quickly grabbed the bag and handed it to him through an open window just as the conductor of sorts opened the back door and boarded from the rear. What was the meaning of this? Had he exited the front when the banging happened? Was something amiss with the bus or someone on board?
He quickly moved through the aisle back to the front. Everything must be fine. A few stops later he returned to my seat and collected fare money—we would soon reach the bus station and begin the final leg of our journey via busito at the market.
Upon arriving to the station, we had the option to disembark out of the back of the bus which we gladly did, reliving our elementary school days.
To catch the busito, you go to a parking lot adjacent to the bus terminal and find the one that will take you to a stop close to your destination. In our case, we were looking for one labeled “Camalote”. We were the first five to claim seat and we would need to wait until the busito was full before leaving. This happened within minutes and we were off. Along the way, we passed hopeful passengers at stops on the side of the road but unfortunately we had no space. One couple, however, was desperate to make it to a wedding on time and opted to board and stand. They were dressed to the nines, and the woman’s hair was beautifully crafted just for the occasion. Within two stops, however, a family of 4 exited and the couple took a seat. It turns out, this couple was headed to a church on the same street as our base camp-we exited together at the corner of our street and the major highway. We wished them a wonderful night and finished our walk to camp.
We rejoined our group for pizza, popcorn, and a movie.
Tomorrow we will make sure the final touches are ready for our professional development session on Monday and hopefully get a jump start on Tuesday and Wednesdays sessions!
Friday began with another great roundup of morning cardio and body weight training with some of my teacher cohort here in Belize. I have been leading morning workouts since we started and the weekends will be lead by someone else and will give us a break from the intensity of my workouts with some yoga and mindfulness time. I can’t wait!
During my observations today and conversations with my partner teachers, I began to feel their anxiety for end of year responsibilities. I know them well, just a few weeks ago, I too was closing out a school year and every year it comes with its own set of stressors. Some are familiar, they occur every year but each year also holds unpredictable changes and surprises that threaten our very sanity. My teachers are experiencing that now and on top of it, they have me observing and attempting to coach them within their classrooms. This is not the ideal time to work with teachers, no matter how great your expertise and intentions. One of my goals while here is to be an ear for my teaching partners. Today, I just let them talk, get it all out there. Knowing what’s on their minds is one step in the direction of being of the most help to them—this also helps me frame professional development for them. It also built a stronger connection and relationship with trust. I am not here to make things more difficult, I am here to help and strengthen the teaching profession here in Belize and personally, for my teacher cohort and myself. In these first few days, I have already learned a lot and I am hopeful that I can return the favor for my students. One great part about all of this is that I am not alone. I have a cohort of 6 other amazing teachers within my own school with whom to collaborate in this expedition.
I pride myself on being almost always optimistic and the biggest cheerleader for others that you could ever wish for; I’m a hype girl. Everyone is amazing and worthy of the hype I provide and sometimes that’s exactly what they need to have the confidence to take on tasks, we all need hype at one time or another. In this time of the school year, hyping others is almost necessary each day in order to tackle end of year tasks and surprises thrown our way as educators. Today, I spent my day observing, modeling lessons and short activities, sorting papers, remediating smalls groups, and anything, really, that my teachers needed in order to find success, positivity, and confidence to take on the day. My teacher partners are amazing educators and I am grateful to be in their classrooms, co-teaching, coaching, and learning with them.
After a half day with my teachers, the rest of the day was spent planning the first PD session for next week. We decided that we would focus on growth mindset which we feel that every educator regardless of student age, content, and years experience can benefit from.
Tonight, our team of educator fellows enjoyed dinner in Belmopan at Caladium. We enjoyed delicious food, stories from our schools and plans for next week with our teachers! I had the pleasure of sitting with Aja and Lauren. Aja is a passionate PeaceWork representative, our in country partners with this expedition in education. She heads to Ghana tomorrow to work with a village where she currently has ongoing projects. She will also visit three other sites as well and I am sad to see her go. Lauren is a Team Leader on this expedition and a stellar environmental advocate. Aja, Lauren, and I have made plans to collaborate on my expedition to the Peruvian Amazon later this summer and next year! Super exciting!
I must head to bed, my friends--tomorrow morning's yoga session will be here before I know it!
Today began with another 6am workout with my teacher cohort and it was the largest turnout so far! Nearly three-quarters of our team was there and I was excited to begin another day with a great workout and some team building to boot! Today was day two of teacher observations and I was ready to see more! In a few days, I will be leading professional development based on the needs of the school and individual teachers, I was eager to see more and really be able to get to know my two teachers a little better. One challenge with education in the United States (perhaps the entire world) is professional respect. This can be interpreted in so many ways—colleague to colleague, administration to teachers, faculty to staff, faculty to parents…but I think one thing rings true—we, as educators want to be heard. This is an incredibly difficult job and often feels isolated from the rest of the world, even within individual schools. There are countless stressors and oftentimes, we just need to talk, we need to get it out, we need to be heard. This is especially in time of the school year when mandated testing occurs, which brings me to this expedition. We are in the midst of testing time and you can feel stress and frustration from teachers and students. I think this is a universal truth in education. I am hoping that in my time here if I can provide nothing more to teachers, it is an ear to listen. What are they feeling? What are they thinking? When do they feel at their best? When and what makes them feel less than their best?
Stress is inevitable, it is a constant, something we know will never leave, but I think that we can help educators, schools, and ultimately students if we listen. Truly listen to concerns, feelings, and ideas. Feeling heard is a game changer in the world of education and I contend, in the world, period. Today as I observed my Standard I classroom placement, a tree frog was delicately balanced on wiring above the heads of students and near one of the doorways. If you can imagine, this was a bit of a distraction, but my teaching partner and I granted the frog some attention and it made a difference in student’s attention to task. Sometimes, little things like this make all the difference in the room, the climate, and relationships with students. During testing time, students are anxious and antsy, and if we are being truthful, so are the educators involved. This simple distraction had the power to frustrate us or provide a little break from stress and a little stretching of observation skills and fuel for our curiosity! We watched as the anxious frog scaled the wire, taking note of its feet and their ability to cling. We watched as its gullet pulsed quickly in and out. After observing, taking pictures, and taking a few moments to think about what the frog might be thinking and feeling, we were able to return to our regularly scheduled programming—testing. This felt a little different though, a little calmer, and students actually a bit energized to take on the test itself! After testing and a short break for a snack, we had a bit of time before lunch. I took the students outside to create hats, anklets, bracelets, and crowns out of sturdy, overgrown grass on campus. This required a few skills, observation: to find the best grass for the task, measurement: to ensure what you made would indeed fit the location for which you created it, creativity: to think of HOW you would create your object, and resilience: to stick with the task until you were successful. This task was not easy by any means and in planning it, I wanted students to work on their resilience in particular. My teacher partner was game to try it out—he had expressed before that he was worried he was too easy on his students and even “babied” them a bit. As we worked outside, students did indeed attempt to give up quickly and asked both of us to just make items for them. We stayed strong though and worked on our coaching skills with students. This all is a part of our larger goal, which is to foster the growth mindset within the school and this class in particular. We wanted students to have voice and choice in the activity, so we allowed them to create what they wanted but we would not be doing any of the tasks for them, in fact, we were creating alongside them. It can be extremely challenging to coach students to success rather than being a crutch for them to lean on and ultimately complete a task for them, especially when you first begin transforming your pedagogy in this way. I am so incredibly proud of my teaching partner, this was very much outside of his comfort zone and students in his class are very much accustomed to immediately asking for assistance rather than beginning or attempting tasks first. In the end, each student was able to successfully create something and we had a mini parade to show off our creations in the form of a limbo line. Not only did students have the opportunity to share their work, but they also had a little kinesthetic challenge in maneuvering under a limbo line I created from the grass as well.
The students and I have begun to bond, evidenced by the gaggle of students who played a game of “cover Teacher Becky’s eyes and have her guess who it is” that took up about 3o minutes of our lunchtime. It was exciting and morphed into “cover her eyes and someone else squeezes her face into silly expressions”, you definitely want to take a look at the pictures below!
After this day of observation, I have a few ideas to begin planning professional development for next week which is exciting. I still have a day of observation tomorrow and Monday before delivering these sessions which will allow me time to really talk and reflect with my teacher partners before diving in next week!
The afternoon was spent preliminarily planning topics for PD at my school with other teacher Fellows and Team Leaders. We looked at trends in the classrooms we have observed and compared notes from our teachers’ reflections as well.
Tonight, my roommates and I enjoyed a little relaxation with facial masks and giggles for days. We decided the facemasks ranged from looking comical to downright scary on our faces and chose to invite some friends to our room to see their reactions. They were nothing short of what we expected—partial laughs and partially terrified facial expressions. Our work here is complete. We wrapped up our night washing our faces and entertaining each other from our bunks with stories.
Day 2 at Camp began with a larger group at my morning workout session. This was incredibly exciting, about half of our team joined in the sweat session!
Following our workout, we enjoyed breakfast together and set out for our first day of in-country teacher observations. I was incredibly excited to see what classrooms in Belize look and feel like from the inside. I am paired with two teachers here, one with Infant II and one with Standard II. Grade levels here in Belize are slightly different than the United States and are more based on age rather than traditional grade K-5 system that we are accustomed to in the United States.
Infant I: Kindergarten Infant II: grade 1 Standard I: second grade Standard II: third grade Standard III: fourth grade Standard IV: fifth grade Standard V: sixth grade Standard VI: seventh grade Standard VII: eighth grade
Generally, students finish their schooling at Standard VII and begin their journey in the workforce. Some students will continue through high school then off to university but numbers are drastically reduced.
Unfortunately, this week is an assessment week here in Belize so the amount of teaching, drastically reduced. I did, however, spend a lot of time with students. As my teachers facilitated exams, I spent time with students searching for bugs around the schoolyard. You can take the science teacher out of the laboratory, but you cannot take the science out of the teacher. We found a yellow caterpillar with puffs of white hair in a grassy area. I learned quickly that children in Belize do not observe living things, their first reaction is to destroy it. My goal was to have these students observe the caterpillar's behavior and find out the best place for it to live and be released. I found myself playing referee most of the time as student after student attempted to squash the caterpillar by hand or foot. That’s when I noticed that any time an ant, spider, or any other bug was present, its life was in danger of being ended.
A lot of what I do as an educator and explorer depends on observations of living things. Bare bones, using your eyes, a field notebook, and pencil to observe and record—these students aren’t used to this type of instruction and it would take a lot to get them used to it. I did not give up here, but I knew that it would be completely new and take a lot of effort for them to really observe rather than instinctually try to touch or even worse, kill the caterpillar.
One student asked if we could build a small area for it to live and so the fieldwork blossomed into an exciting challenge. Students began asking me what to do and how to do it, but another ingrained part of my teaching philosophy is to provide students the opportunity to drive instruction and learn by discovering. I would not be telling them what to do, build, or even materials to use unless they were on the brink of something dangerous. In the end, we had three different living areas created with different combinations of grasses, rocks, and flowers. We set the caterpillar on the ground near the habitats we created and observed its movements. The struggle now was that everyone wanted to touch or move the caterpillar, but I will take that over them attempting to hurt it. I honestly did not know whether it was poisonous or venomous and it was extremely important in these moments that we not experiment with the possibilities.
During this time together, it became very clear to me that all students are the same at a foundational level. They have unbelievable curiosity that when tapped into within the world of education is a powerful learning tool. There are many ways to teach content and skills, I believe that authentic and application based experiences are the bee’s knees. Sorry, not sorry for the science teacher pun.
Students were excited to take care of this caterpillar and even argued over who would be the guardian at any given moment. That’s when one student shared that they had a plant that sleeps and grabbed my arm to show me. I had no idea in that moment what was about to happen but the entire class began cheering and running with me to the side of our building with excitement. They began crouching down and touching the grass and I rushed to see what was happening. As they touched a specific plant, it then would collapse its leaves inward and “go to sleep”.
I enjoyed watching the curiosity and excitement of these scientists, especially as their year is wrapping up and they are working through end of year assessments. Today Standard I was working on their Reading assessment, which requires one on one time with their teacher. Standard III-VI were working on Math assessments and I was able to do some item analysis on these exams while I graded them.
At lunch time, a great commotion began and I heard my name being yelled across the schoolyard. "Teacher Becky, Teacher Becky, come quick!" I had no idea what was about to happen, but I am glad I ran quickly. There were a small group of boys with a rather large praying mantis in a bottle. I immediately took pictures and helped talk them through how to handle it appropriately. They explained to me that they saved it from being stoned by a few boys at the cafeteria area and I thanked them for doing what they did. One thing that is painfully obvious to me here, as I mentioned previously is that the initial reaction of locals in response to wildlife is to kill it, especially if it is a bug or perceived pest of any kind. We allowed it to climb into nearby vegetation and took a few moments to observe its behavior which was incredibly fascinating. In order to save it from a new students who came up and took a swing at the plant the praying mantis was on, I allowed it to climb onto my arm. Later this summer, I will be working with Brazilian entomologists in the Peruvian amazon and we will specifically focus on praying mantis species. I have been studying praying mantis biology and behaviors in order to prepare, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to practice what I knew and hopefully make a little lesson for students out of the situation. A few brave students reached out their hand and asked to handle the mantis. Ages ranged from 7-12 and had a mix of male and females, I was excited to be among these students for this experience. One student, in particular, allowed the mantis to scale his arm, shoulder, and head before feeling a little uncomfortable. I told them about what the praying mantis would need to survive and once each student handled it who was interested, we chose a space to free it. Another wonderful encounter with students, and hopefully a little nugget of environmental stewardship passed on to them.
Being able to spend time at schools, with students, and within the inner workings of assessment and planning has reaffirmed my affinity for the world of education. I know that this is where I am meant to be, teaching, with students, coaching educators, but most importantly continuing to learn from others in order to improve my own craft.
I am looking forward to learning more about the educational system and how teachers here interact and plan for instruction. Soon, I will use that knowledge to plan professional development opportunities for them—I am just hoping that I have something to share with them!
Today, I met a group of colleagues to workout at 6 am and it was awesome! The weather here is similar to Virginia Beach, VA or Miami, FL where it may be hot and humid most of the day, the mornings are cooler and the air less dense. It was definitely a good call to workout first thing in the morning! I led the group in a chant inspired by The November Project. The November Project is a group that works out together weekly at specific times and the beginning of each time together, you begin with a “bounce and chant”. During this time you jump up and down and repeat a chant led by the workout leader of the day. It’s one of the awesome parts of working out with the November Project and I wanted my workout to incorporate that type of feel. We had a group of 5 today and it was great. My goal is to have everyone or most of the team here each morning to get our day started, here’s to day one!
After the workout, we shared breakfast together, another great meal prepared by Terrance. We venture to visit four local schools today, the schools we will call home for the next three weeks. Before visiting, I was informed my school would be Garden City Primary, our first stop! All of the schools were slightly different but mostly very similar. Each school had a set uniform (even teachers!), open campus, and no windows that closed. Actually, each window had large shutters, but they were open. They lacked glass enclosures. Each classroom had two doorways as entry and exit points. Each school was constructed of concrete block which were painted in school colors, complete with a unique crest designating its core values. Furniture was sturdy wood construction and mostly combination chair and desk seating. Due to the open air campus set up and breeziness of Belmopan, adhering visual aids within the classroom was tricky as was keeping books, papers, and pencils steady in one location. Each room had a system, some students and teachers used their water bottles as weights, rocks, desk organizers, anything with a bit of weight, really—in order to hold their supplies in place or at least within a small area. The breezes are very welcome as the climate here is tropical; hot and humid, but they caused their own unique set of challenges.
My favorite school was Garden City Primary, but I may be a bit biased; I will be spending a lot of time there! Students in Belize are just like students in the United States—behaviors, curiosity, everything! One thing though, that sets these students apart from those that I know is their willingness to connect. Even though we spent just a few moments at each school, they were all eager to greet us, tell us about their class and even share hugs! As I observed and poked into different classrooms, my eye welled up with tears of excitement. In those moments, I knew what I might have always known, but it was made incredibly clear; I love the world of education and this is where I am meant to be. I am an educator through and through and I cannot wait to get in the classroom here to observe, coach, and most importantly, learn.
After visiting schools, we made our way to the local market which was home to textiles, clothing, shoes, souvenirs and everything in between. Interestingly, there is a substantial Mennonite community here in Belize who generally live in secluded areas but venture to the market to sell their products! A small group of us needed to visit an ATM and so ventured to find it. Along the way, we visited a small restaurant area where we met Raj who owns an Indian restaurant. From the moment we said “hello” you could tell that Raj was full of life. A smile covered his friendly face and he immediately remembered our team leader, Shawnette. She had been in Belize last year and made a connection with Raj at that time. When she saw his restaurant, she knew she needed to bring us to meet him. Raj greeted us with such delight and immediately insisted that he make us chai tea. We politely declined but unbeknownst to us, we would shortly enjoy the fruits of his distraction techniques. As we explained that we were in a hurry to get to the ATM, he magnetized us with his life story and recent wedding to a beautiful woman from Nepal in November. All the while, we scurried around his kitchen, preparing us our tea. He told us stories of the art and décor of his restaurant and before we knew it, our faces were painted in traditional Indian colors of life. It was nothing short of magical. I loved seeing Raj’s face light up as he told of his home country, his restaurant, his culture, and his wife who would join him here in Belize in August. I can only imagine the love, happiness, and passion he emits whilst spending time with his family. I hope that I get the chance to spend time with Raj again while here in Belize, I bet his food is amazing. Speaking of food, he allowed us to take our chai tea to go in his glass mugs whereas we seriously were in a hurry after this beautiful distraction. That chai tea, though. It was heavenly. After reluctantly leaving Raj, we visited the ATM and were on our way to meet the rest of our group in the market. It was time to head back to camp for lunch and an afternoon together. When we arrived back to camp and enjoyed another delicious meal, prepared by Terrance, we learned that the 6 members of our team that were stranded in Miami last night would be here soon. I couldn’t wait to meet them and make them feel welcome. I cannot imagine how tired they would be and I wanted them to know we were anxiously awaiting their arrival! Paige, room 11’s missing roommate, would be among the crowd and we especially wanted her to feel welcome in our boisterous room. AJ, from Tennessee, and I brought her to our room and showed her around campus.
Shortly after her arrival, we shared dinner together as a complete team and some quality laughs while pretending we would actually go to bed at a decent hour that night.
Tomorrow morning I will be leading exercise time again followed by our first classroom observations. I will meet my teachers and I look forward to learning with and from them!
This morning, I began my journey to Belize and thankfully it was quite uneventful. As I headed to the airport, messages in our group text for this expedition began coming in speaking about delays and cancellations specifically in Miami, Florida and Houston, Texas. I was worried nearly my entire journey, that my fate would keep me from the planned itinerary.
For me, it was straightforward and as planned, for which I am incredibly thankful. My seatmates on both planes were great company and we had great conversations about our plans and destinations. It was not until we began filling out the customs and immigration forms in preparation for our arrival In Belize that I began to feel anxious.
I am no stranger to international travel and these forms, but every time, without fail, they make my heart race. I have a great fear of getting in trouble although I know that there is nothing I am doing wrong. Oftentimes, customs officials get a good chuckle from me as I am painfully honest with my claims. For example, the form asks if you are bringing food, even if packaged into the country. Well, I did pack snacks, they are organic pressed, raw fruit—which in my head also count as bringing fruit into the country, so for both of these inquiries, I circled yes. It also asked me to estimate the value of my belongings, here we go…
Fast forward to exiting the plane and waiting in a very long and slow moving line to the checkpoint. Again, I know I have nothing to worry about, I am doing nothing wrong, but my heart is beating almost out of my chest. What keeps me sane and excited is knowing that on the other side of this are my team leaders for this expedition and I will soon be at work! The line was long and as I waited, another plane landed, doubling the line behind me. At least my section of the line was indoors, some passengers from the new plane were in the heat and humidity as they waited. As my time began at the checkpoint, I handed my passport and papers to the attendant, she took about 3 seconds to stamp my passport and send me on my way. Okay, I thought, it’s time to meet my leaders! Not so fast. As it turns out, this was merely checkpoint 1—I spotted my luggage and another long and slow moving line ahead. THIS was it. This was what I was anxious about, questioning about my answers, the contents of my luggage and my reasons for being in Belize. That’s another part of the process that consistently causes my anxiety. As a teacher, this is my summer break, but this expedition is not in any way a vacation, but what is it considered? Business? Pleasure? Something else? I always find it necessary to explain my answers and that is not what the agents are really looking for at all. Last year, in Galapagos, one of the agents pulled me out of the customs line to be questioned and when I told her that I had bought souvenirs and the value of them that I paid, she literally chuckled, took my papers and sent me on my way. Although I know that is the end result always, I still have a healthy fear of the process. As I waited in the line that seemed to not move at all, two agents recognized the wait time and opened two additional lines, I was near them so I ventured into the new area. When it was my turn for questioning, the agent began a conversation with statements and questions like: “Are you from Belize?” “Your eyes are Belizean, are you sure you aren’t a local?” “Why are you here?” “What snacks did you bring?” “Are they good?” “What did you pack that is estimated to be worth $XXX?” “Are you leaving anything behind?” “Where are you staying?” “For how long?” “What are you planning to take back with you?” “Where are you from?” “What are you doing while you are here?” “Do you need a taxi?”
It almost felt like a weird speed dating scenario and I could not wait until it was over. I could literally see the door to exit the airport and I knew that within meters, I would be with my Team Leaders.
At the end of the spitfire interview, the agent said, “Have a great time, Sweetie,” to which I responded thank you and quickly advanced to the exit door. It was time to finally meet the team in person!
We boarded trucks with our luggage courtesy of the Belize Ministry of Education. While here, a major portion of the expedition is working with teachers here in country. Training and Professional Development opportunities for educators in Belize, and probably any country, are very different from the United States. Our goal here is to work together to learn and grow. Honestly, I feel that I will be the greater benefactor in this partnership, learning more from in country teachers than I could ever possibly teach them.
The team enjoyed lunch by the water in Belize City and took obligatory photos with a large set of colorful letters that spell out BELIZE on the shore. The next leg of the journey was via school bus and lasted about an hour. I watched as the landscape changed dramatically from city like dirt roads to a two lane paved highway. Along the paved road were alternating controlled burn areas and natural jungle vegetation. Houses and building were constructed mainly of concrete blocks or wood with aluminum roofing. Roadside vegetable and fruit stands were sprinkled randomly like left over confetti after a party is partially cleaned up. Most locals walked along the highway or perhaps rode bikes or motorbikes. Some hailed buses from the side of the road, hoping that our bus was public transportation they could board for 1-3 Belizean Dollars. So many questions cluttered my mind, mostly about land use. What is the history of clearing land using this controlled burning technique? What’s the future look like for development? How has this changed over time? How is land clearing monitored or controlled—or is it? So many more circle my consciousness like raptors stalking prey at dusk. I look forward to speaking to locals about it and learning all that I can.
As we drew nearer to Belmopan, the capital city of Belize, landscape began to be more developed, more concrete buildings, people walking along the highway with dirt side streets, and billboard advertising local businesses, political parties, and local initiatives began to appear. There were also a series of traffic circles to direct automobiles in the correct direction for destinations in and near Belmopan. Driving here in Belize is similar to that of South America and Europe, and even large metropolitan cities like Washington D.C. and New York City. Automobiles are close, break abruptly and you feel a little like being on a throw back wooden roller coaster.
Our home for the next three weeks is Camalote Camp, accommodations specifically for groups travelling in and through Belize. Our rooms sleep 8 with camp style bunk beds and the 5-acre campus is home to coconut and mango trees as well as screened in porch areas with hammocks.
Our evening concluded with a welcome from Heather, the Camalote Camp Director, a delicious meal cooked by Terrance, and friendly conversation with Vanessa, a summer intern here.
Full of excitement, we went to bed but not immediately to sleep. You know when you find a group of people that you just can’t get enough of, the conversations are fluid, the laughter, boisterous? That’s this group, especially Room 11, our group of 8 women who, I can already tell, have so much to share together.
I leave you now, exhausted but elated to begin this expedition here in Belize. I have committed to running morning exercise classes for our entire team, just one more thing to look forward to tomorrow!
Tomorrow, my friends, I take to the sky on expedition to Belize. I just finished packing and this expedition is now real to me. There is something about the final zip of luggage that suddenly makes the voyage ahead a "thing". I have also checked in to my flight, double (actually about 1000x) checked the schedule of my 3-week expedition to ensure that I have packed what I will need and can mentally prepare for my immersion into the culture and educational world of Belmopan Belize.
I look forward to meeting locals and exploring the city as well as schools; honestly, I am not sure which one is more exciting, it's possible there is no deciding. While I am investigating the educational world of Belmopan, I will have the opportunity to create relationships with local teachers and work with them in their institutions. In the US, I have been an instructional coach previously and look forward to the experience in a new country. In the world of education, there are few more rewarding professional development opportunities than to coach be coached by others in real time within the classroom. Honestly, I am certain I will learn more from in-country teachers than I could possibly teach them. It is all very exciting! While not in classrooms and schools, I will be venturing out into the city to study and be a part of the Belizean culture--I am also hoping to meet with a scientist while there who works with manatees-stay tuned!
I can't wait to bring you all along on this expedition--tell me in the comments what you want to know--what should I be on the lookout for? What are YOU wondering about Belize?
For three weeks, I will be in Belize working with in country teachers within the educational system, observing, coaching, mentoring, and learning! Outside of school time, I will explore Belmopan; culture, history, and citizen science, oh my! I will also visit ancient ruins of the Maya and seek to collect stories from this region of Belize. A little culture, a little science, and a little education all in one expedition, I can't wait to bring you all along with me!
2019 LRTT Fellow https://www.lrtt.org/
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