At Ambergris Caye Elementary School (ACES) in San Pedro, Belize, children are the future and education is the gateway to success.
Belize is a developing country with a booming tourism industry thanks to beautiful resorts and beaches. However, many locals, including children, struggle with the dangers of gangs, human trafficking and labor inequities.
As a response to the need for better education, ACES was created eight years ago. The pre-K-8 school works closely with families to foster successful learning at school and at home. It is also one of the few schools in Belize to accept students with special education needs.
Through the connection and generous donation of two University of Wisconsin Oshkosh alumni, the UW Oshkosh College of Education and Human Services (COEHS) will partner with ACES for the next decade—helping the small school take even bigger steps in using education to create sustainable change in the community.
It is not uncommon for single mothers, including many teachers at ACES, to try raising children in very difficult economic circumstances. In addition, the Ministry of Education in Belize continues to establish higher standards for teachers to obtain a teaching license, including the requirement to earn a bachelor’s degree.
“In a country where entry-level teachers earn less than $200 per week, going back to school to get a bachelor’s seems nearly impossible,” Denice Ryan, ACES administrator, said.
The partnership will make what seems like an impossible dream a reality. In spring 2016, COEHS started offering distance education courses in special education twice a week to a group of ACES teachers looking to add to their associate degree and improve their teaching to meet the needs of a wider range of students.
“The individuals in the program are already teachers, so what they learn one day can be taken into the classroom the next day. Learning, understanding and implementation happen instantaneously—what a perfect scenario!” Ryan said.
“The Department of Special and Early Childhood Education is a leader in disability rights and advocacy since it first began,” said Stacey Skoning, UW Oshkosh special and early childhood education department chair. “Working with the teachers in Belize allows our faculty to continue to extend their impact globally—shaping how individuals with disabilities are perceived in other parts of the world.”
Central American culture tends to allow boys better access to the educational process than girls or children with disabilities when finances become an issue.
“This partnership also opens up opportunities for our students to learn about global perspectives on disability and on the perceptions of childhood in other cultures,” Skoning said.
During the January 2017 interim, eight UW Oshkosh education students will take a course on international education, with a field experience component abroad. The students will start in the classroom at UW Oshkosh learning about life and culture of Belize. Then they will travel to San Pedro for a week. There UWO students will be paired with ACES teachers—and reciprocal learning about similarities and differences of education around the world will take place. The course allows COEHS students to earn credits toward the Global Scholars Program.
“The impact will stimulate growth, which will establish a higher level of learning in this little island town, San Pedro, Belize,” Ryan said.