Though this is a long-standing trip for the Office of Social Justice, it is always filled with new experiences--different people to meet and different perspectives to see as we try to deepen our understanding of both Belize and the various cultural and social systems at play in this beautiful country. Yesterday while we waited out the storm in Blue Creek, many of us enjoyed the opportunity to speak with the Vice Principal of Aguacate RC school and, seeing the interest so many of us had in the education system, he invited us to his school to observe classes and speak with more students. We gladly took him up on this opportunity.
 
Classroom in Belize
 
Upon arrival in Aguacate, we split into three groups and went to different classes.  Because their new school is currently being built, the temporary classrooms are scattered throughout the village. Infant 1 and 2 (grades K and 1 in the U.S. system) used the community health post, Standard 1 and 2 (grades 3 and 4) in the church building, and Standard 5 and 6 (grades 7 and 8) in the traditional school room. Some group members went to the Infant 1 and 2 class and got the chance to help with reading and music while those who went to Standard 1 and 2 got to listen to stories that the students had written. Having worked in a middle school before coming to the Mount, I was eager to stay with the Standard 5 and 6 students and see what they were learning. I walked into a very vibrant classroom--friends talking, some studying and reading, but I was caught by surprise when the whole class stopped what they were doing, and turned to me to greet me with a loud “morning, sir!” This immediately took me back to the time I spent working at Broughal Middle School where I would be greeted with “hey mister!”
 
As the years winds down for them, today was filled with tests and quizzes; I was there for just four hours, but it that time, they took tests in religion, language arts, math and science! This gave me the great chance to talk 1-on-1 with their teacher, as well as take their tests to see how I would do in Standard 6 in Aguacate. I learned a lot yesterday--first, I still don’t know how to use a protractor very well, nor do I know the parts of a circle (apparently ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ are not parts of a circle). Second, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without the peanut butter is just jelly on bread. Third, despite environmental differences the challenges that many teachers face in Belize parallel those in the states. Limited resources, absent parents, overcrowded classrooms and the stress of standardized assessments can greatly hinder an educator’s success in the class. Finally, educators around the world are agents of a relentless pursuit of justice for their students; empowering them to overcome odd within a system that all too often works against them. When I asked their teacher, Pablo, what his ultimate goal is as an educator, he said “students will choose to be what they want, but I want to help them be the best at whatever they choose.” I think, ultimately, this should be the goal of education, and one that I will carry with me back to the states.