Experiential Learning Treasure

Belize schoolchildren flex their creative and critical writing muscles, guided by UAlbany students

Snapshots from UAlbany students' recent experiential learning trip, clockwise from upper left: a visit to the Xunantunich archaeological site; in front of the Santa Elena Primary School; ready for tubing; and families listen to their children's stories at a final celebration.

ALBANY, NY (Jan. 31, 2019) — Nine UAlbany juniors and seniors experienced some of the cultural, historical, and ecological wonders of Belize in January. More importantly, they helped transmit wonders of learning and self-expression to classes of Belize schoolchildren.

The UAlbany students from a variety of majors, led by Cheryl Dozier, associate professor in Literacy Teaching and Learning, engaged in the 16-day in-school experiential learning project Cross-Cultural Exploration of Teaching & Learning, offered through the Center for International Education and Global Strategy’s study abroad program. Dozier has led the project all of its five years.

The UAlbany students worked with learners from the Santa Elena Primary School and Immaculate Conception RC Primary School, both located in western Belize’s Cayo district. The learners, from the U.S. equivalent of grades 3-7, photographed a favorite feature, such as hair, eyes, legs, feet and heart, and then wrote about why that feature was their top choice. The writers were inspired by the text The Best Part of Me by Wendy Ewald.

Students also photographed and wrote about a favorite place in the community, which included such spots a local park, a classroom, a church, the Mopan River, local stores and even a bus stop.

Associate Professor Cheryl Dozier

Project leader: Associate Professor Cheryl Dozier of Literacy Teaching & Learning. 

“While this trip was only a little over two weeks long, we were completely engaged in the Belizean culture through the adventure and academic-packed schedule,” said Aleah Adams, a UAlbany junior. “The experience shifted our perspective on education and gave us a worldview on how it is to be an educator while also a learner. We stepped out of our comfort zones, broke personal barriers, and grew in ways we never thought we ever could."

The Belize children also penned letters to their principals recommending changes for their schools, such as fixing doors, windows and the fences, providing more sports equipment for younger kids, adding a bike parking lot to the school compound and having families help paint the school to add more color to the learning environment.

In their time away from work, the UAlbany students engaged in organized group activities and excursions to such places as the Maya archaeological site Xunantunich, the ceremonial Actun Tunichil Muknal cave, the Iguana Sanctuary — where they learned about iguana conservation —and the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center. The also took time to zipline across the rainforest canopy, explore cave systems while cave tubing, and snorkeled with sharks and rays.

The UAlbany stay in the schools concluded with a family celebration, where families were able to hear their children’s writing pieces.

Co-leader for this trip was Kate Chiseri, assistant director of the Office of Health Promotion at Emory University. Co-Leader the previous four years was Joy Stephens, a doctoral student in Literacy Teaching & Learning.

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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany-SUNY offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, businesseducation, public health,health sciences, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare and sociology, taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.