As previously stated in another post, I traveled to Belize over my winter break. While there, I was able to teach in a local school for a week. The purpose of this trip was to have a practical experience teaching in a school outside of the country. This trip was life changing and opened my eyes to the many amazing opportunities there are out in the world.
During the fall semester, the other college students going on the trip and I attended a class about this Service Trip. This class met once a week and discussed such topics as the history and culture of Belize, and what to expect teaching in the schools there. We were paired up with another student and developed five lesson plans to implement in our future classroom in Belize. Interestingly, we would not find out what age level or teacher we would be working with in Belize until our first day of school. This class gave us insight into the background of the country and the culture and how to utilize this information to better relate to the students in our classroom.
I was able to co-teach with one of my great friends, Cassie. She is an Education major so I relied heavily on her to help me develop lesson plans. She encouraged everyday and gave me advice on teaching an entire class. The night before our first day of school, I was nervous and excited. The students who went on the trip previously told us to treat everyday like a blessing because of how loving and genuine the children would be. This was something I did everyday because it truly was a blessing to meet all of the children and create bonds with them.
On the first day, Cassie and I dressed in our matching shirts that we had for the trip. All of the college students on the trip were divided into three schools, so not all of us were at the same school. Two of the schools were equivalent to an American Elementary school and the third was one of the only Special Education Schools in Belize. All of these schools were Catholic Schools and the children participated in regular, daily prayer and had matching uniforms.
Driving up to my school, children in their uniforms walked with their parents into the gated school. Outside of the school there were vendors that sold snacks and food for the children and teachers to eat during their lunch breaks. It was so different from American schools as a vendor would never be allowed outside a school. We were greeted by the crossing guard as we walked into the school. The school had a big metal awning in the middle of the courtyard with many tables around it. The schoolhouse was all on one side of the courtyard and on the opposite side was the cafeteria, a small shack.
The small group of college students and I first went to the Principal’s Office to find out what classroom we would be in. The principal took us up to the Standard Two Floor which would be the same as a Second Grade classroom in America. There the four Standard Two Teachers stepped out of their classrooms and the principal directed us to a Teacher. Cassie and I were extremely lucky as we had one of the best teachers and one of the nicest person I have ever met. Her name was Leslie and she instantly made us feel comfortable and encouraged us to be as hands on as we could. The children were so thrilled to see us and excited for the week ahead. I instantly feel in love with these children the moment I saw them.
The first day was mostly observing the teacher and classroom as well as developing a schedule for our lessons that Cassie and I created. We were able to teach four of the lessons we originally developed upon arrival. A typical school day consisted of different lessons, about an hour for each, and then three fifteen minute breaks where the children would play outside and get snacks from the venders. These fifteen minute breaks allowed us to bond with the children, playing games and talking. The children around the school were friendly and loved giving many hugs.
I was fortunate enough to teach dance while at the school for my class and another class. Although gym is offered, the teacher is responsible for teaching gym only once a week. I was eager to teach dance again as I’ve taught dance before. This was the perfect opportunity to do so. I taught the students in Belize one of my favorite dances that I choreographed for a dance class a couple of years ago. The children were quick to learn this dance and their enthusiasm made it all the more fun. The week consisted of Cassie and I teaching the children and having fun while doing so!
The night before the last day, some of my friends and I made friendship bracelets for our students so that they would always have a piece of us with them. After giving the bracelets to our students, Cassie and I gathered our students in a circle and held hands. We sent around pulses representing the words “I love you” so the students knew how special they were to us. After this, their teacher lead them in a prayer blessing us and the time we all had together. In this moment while the children were saying their prayers, I realized how blessed I was to have the opportunity to meet these children and get to know them. The last day of school was one of the hardest days of my life. Saying goodbye to the children who admired and truly loved us was devastating. Many of the children began to cry as we said our goodbyes and I hugged each and every one of my students.
The Belize Service Project was one of the best things I have ever done in my life. I am happy to have been able to have this experience and meet these loving children who will always have a special place in my heart. I hope to visit and keep the connections with the students and teacher that opened their hearts to me. Forever I will remember their faces, names, and the time we spent together. Most of all I will take with me in any future job the knowledge I gained while teaching in Belize. Thank you Ms. Leslie’s class for the never-ending smiles and laughs, I will never forget you.
Hannah Marie Tree