Bound for Belize

Several Central Alberta teachers will be heading to Belize this summer to help train principals and teachers in the country.

From left to right Belize chief education officer Chris Aird

From left to right Belize chief education officer Chris Aird

Several Central Alberta teachers will be heading to Belize this summer to help train principals and teachers in the country.

The trip has become a regular excursion for Lynne Paradis, associate superintendent — learning services with the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division.

She has been one of the educators from across Alberta who have been working on the Belize Literacy Program, which is sponsored by Rotary Clubs in District 5370, with support from the Red Deer Rotary Club, the Red Deer Centennial Rotary Club and other Rotary Clubs and schools across the province.

Paradis is lead facilitator and planning director for the program and she recently returned from a trip to Belize where she spoke to government officials and church leaders in the country about the training and the trip planned for 26 Albertan educators in August. Paradis will be accompanied by three other educators with the Catholic School Division: Brenda MacDonald, Margaretrose Willms, and Denise Koffin.

Compared to classrooms in Red Deer, many of those in Belize are small and cramped spaces with few resources. The concern isn’t just about getting books or computers for the schools, but keeping the power and water on in many cases.

Only 50 per cent of teachers have training. The school dropout rate is high and the literacy rate is low in the country.

Around 80 per cent of the schools in Belize are run by different church denominations, so Paradis’s role recently was getting input and support from church leaders for the program to train principals and teachers, who will share what they’ve learned with others in their districts.

The project started four years ago, with more than 20 educators from Alberta going to Belize each summer to work with teachers.

In more recent years, the focus has been on working with the Belizean government and principals in each district to make sure the training suits their needs and that similar training is given throughout the country.

“Initially (Albertan) teachers would come and work with (Belizean) teachers and that was OK, but you weren’t getting widespread change because those teachers would go back to their isolated schools or villages,” Paradis said. “Teachers are important at making change at the student level, but principals weren’t part of the training and the government, although on paper they signed on, they didn’t have an active role and they didn’t have any ownership of it.”

Paradis said it has been about getting the government, church leaders and principals involved and creating a program that is sustainable for the principals and teachers there, so that they become coaches to share what they have learned with other educators. The program is trying to improve teacher training and student achievement, as well as increase literacy rates in the country and stem school dropout rates.

“Now (teachers) are being trained on how to go back to their schools and train other teachers. They now have a role beyond being a classroom teacher,” Paradis said. “The potential of that growing positively is tremendous if you can sustain it.”

sobrien@bprda.wpengine.com