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Education students amazed by Belize experience

ole miss students traveled to belize over spring break this past march to work with teachers and students at Holy cross anglican school.

While most college students use their coveted week of Spring Break to soak up the sun, a group of Ole Miss students took the opportunity to travel to Belize, an impoverished Central American country.

This faculty-led trip was for both undergraduate and graduate students in The University of Mississippi’s Teacher Education Program. Deborah Chessin, professor of curriculum and instruction and coordinator of service learning and study abroad, was one of the faculty members who led the trip.

The students stayed on the island of San Pedro and worked with teachers in the elementary school of Holy Cross Anglican School.

“My students were placed in a different classroom based on their interests and worked with the teacher in that classroom every day, Monday through Friday; they helped them with their lesson plans, taught small groups and taught some special lessons themselves,” Chessin said.

Because poverty is prevalent in the country, the students came to realize that many of the supplies, accommodations and opportunities that are available to them at Ole Miss are an inconceivable dream to the staff and students in Belize.

“They don’t have running water, electricity or sewage facilities,” Chessin said. “It’s a very high poverty situation. The teachers there do not have the training that the teachers here have, a lot of them don’t have a college education, and most of them go to a two-year college.”

The school relies heavily on donations and must work with the little it receives.

“There are very few funds for materials, and there is no technology,” Chessin said. “The schools here have great relationships with the community, but they are very dependent on international help.”

One grade level may receive many math textbooks but no science textbooks. Another grade level may not be so lucky.

“The teachers are creative; they have to be,” Chessin said. Four of Chessin’s graduate students were so touched by the experience and grew so fond of the children that they decided to teach at a neighboring school next year.

Chessin said she is not surprised by her students’ attachment to the children.

“It’s hard not to fall in love with them,” she said.

The faculty did not walk into the classrooms with the students to give them the opportunity to have a professional experience with another teacher and develop their own relationships with the kids.

“I would say that my students — all of them — experienced a broadening in their perspective, and that’s really what I wanted them to understand,” Chessin said. “In a classroom, there are going to be so many different kinds of kids. Teaching is difficult because you have to reach each one of those kids, and so the more experiences they can have in diverse situations and diverse cultures, (the more it) helps them when they come back here and teach.”

Laura Young, a graduate student with a major in elementary education, shared her Belize experience.

“They want to go to school,” Young said. “It’s a privilege to be able to go to school. They think it’s the most awesome thing.”

While many students in America dread the thought of an 8 a.m. class, cringe at term papers and fear the horror of finals, the students in Belize embrace school and the rare opportunity to receive an education.

“It just really opened my eyes to how important it is to help other people but to do it in a way that you’re not insulting them,” Young said. “The whole thing to me was to help them see how important school is and how important learning is, and it’ll take you far."

“It was amazing; I want to go back.”