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Belize Educators in Denver International Airport posing for a picture

    International Partnership Brings Belize Educators to Colorado Classrooms

    During the first week in April, 10 educators from Belize, comprised of six teachers and four principals, traveled to the United States to teach in Colorado classrooms.

    During the first week in April, 10 educators from Belize, comprised of six teachers and four principals, traveled to the United States to teach in Colorado classrooms. Less than six months prior to this, the roles were reversed and around 20 educators from the U.S. went to teach in classrooms in Belize including three UNC professors; School of Teacher Education Assistant Professors Jean Kirshner, Ph.D., and Christine Kyser, Ed.D., and Professor Suzette Youngs, Ph.D. Two recent UNC alumnae also joined the trip.  

    “I was inspired by the creativity, passion and skill of Dr. Youngs and Dr. Kyser as they connected with educators and students in Belize,” Kirshner said. “It reaffirmed what I have observed for a long time. Despite differences in culture, climate and life experiences, when a group of passionate educators come together in the context of the classroom, incredible things unfold. I truly have no words to describe the energy and the power found in the classrooms of Belize last October.”

    Three UNC professors standing in Belize

    From the left: UNC Professors Jean Kirshner, Suzette Youngs and Christine Kyser in Belize.

    Kirshner posing with students in Belize

    UNC Professor Jean Kirshner with students in Belize.

    Kyser with students in Belize

    UNC Professor Kyser with students in Belize.

    Kirshner created this experience of switching classrooms with international partners in 2007 when she co-founded the Belize Education Project, a non-profit organization that helps improve literacy and education in the Cayo District of Belize. Kirshner was a first-grade teacher at the time, prior to becoming a professor at UNC and traveled to Santa Elena, where she felt a connection through a common vision of literacy with a principal there. This sparked the idea that a true collaboration would enhance the lives of everyone involved.  

    “Certainly, instructional strategies and approaches to reaching young learners continue to evolve and grow through our work with Belizean educators,” Kirshner said. “However, the most significant part of our work has been in the profound and enduring connections we have made with our global colleagues. In our 15 years of work shoulder to shoulder in classrooms on both sides of the borders, we have come to see each other as deeply committed allies.” 

    With the COVID-19 pandemic halting travel for many, this will be the first time since 2019 that educators from Belize will be coming to Colorado bringing with them new cultures and insights to share with the students, including a few cooking lessons. They will be located in Parker and Highlands Ranch schools, including Mammoth-Heights, Wildcat Mountain and Prairie Crossing Elementaries.

    Yurelie Casanov with students in Colorado

    Belize educator, Yurelie Casanov, with a Colorado student.

    Evelia Garcia with a student in Colorado

    Belize educator Evelia Garcia with a student in Colorado.

    Belize educator Yurelie Casanov experiencing snow for the first time

    Belize educator, Yurelie Casanov, experiencing snow in Colorado for the first time.

    “It is a human impulse to make connections with each other. The students on the Colorado plains and in the jungles of Belize are no exception,” Kirshner said. “While there is excitement in an international guest arriving in the classroom, the real excitement is in unpacking what that teacher has brought from theirstudents in a distant classroom.” 

    For example, Kirshner says the students in Belize created lessons for the students in Colorado on the blue morpho butterfly, the Belizean flag and the black orchid. In return, the Colorado students created lessons for the Belize students on snow, mittens and the Colorado flag.  

    “We are clear the next generation will need to work within an ever increasingly complex, globalized, connected, transcultural world. We believe this joyful experience of connecting and interacting with their global peers sets them up to do just that,” Kirshner said. 

    Since creating the Belize Education Project, Kirshner has written a book on her experience, Decolonizing Transcultural Teacher Education Through Participatory Action Research, where she discusses the importance of shared dialogue in transnational teacher education. She hopes this will expand other people’s interest in multicultural education to continue professional development globally.  

    Kirshner plans to continue bringing a group of U.S. educators to Belize in October and Belize educators to the U.S. in April for many years to come.  

    – written by Sydney Kern

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