Teachers for a Better Belize
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Our Prior Results

Over the last two decades we believe we have reached more than 1,000 teachers, now affecting over 7,300 children every year. To help get kids reading and writing, we’ve needed to get a lot of books into their hands. We’ve purchased & donated over $200,000 worth of books and teaching supplies and have sent an estimated 30,000 used books & supplies collected through book drives in the U.S. Each of the 50 primary schools in the Toledo district now has a sizeable book collection thanks to TFABB. And during 2006-09 we trained and fostered 28 local teachers as trainers for their peers, to co-present with visiting North American trainers and to lead trainings on their own.

TFABB's Teacher-Training Programs in Earlier years

Summer Workshops for primary-school teachers: 1997-2009

TFABB’s original work centered around one-week summer training workshops for Toledo’s primary-school (or K-8) teachers. From a modest beginning in 1997 training 20 teachers, TFABB’s August teacher-training workshops continued to grow and reached a record 278 participants in the summer of 2008.

The annual August workshop took place in the village of Big Falls from 1997-2004, and then moved to the town of Punta Gorda from 2006-2009. In the early years in Big Falls, TFABB provided training in language arts, math, science and other primary-school subjects. At the suggestion of Toledo’s teachers, when the workshop moved to Punta Gorda in 2006, TFABB began to focus its workshops solely on language arts. The teachers and TFABB agreed that solidifying their students’ grasp of language arts was the highest priority in a district where every child speaks a language other than English at home. (All schooling in Belize is in English.)

When TFABB first began its work in 1997, Toledo’s teachers had no other professional development opportunities available in their district. There were no training workshops much less full-time study opportunities in Toledo (beyond high school). The teachers and the administrative officials came to see the TFABB summer workshop as the main training event for the teachers each year, and TFABB came to work closely with the Ministry of Education, local supervisors, and principals to plan the workshop every August. Indeed, in 2000 Belize’s Permanent Secretary of Education made a rare trip from the capital to Toledo to observe the workshop and proclaimed it a model for the other five regions of Belize.


Training Local Teachers at Trainers: 2006-2009

In July 2006, TFABB began a three-year pilot program aiming to formalize its team approach and to solidify a core of local trainers, called "Literacy Coaches." This project ended in August 2009, by which point 28 Toledo teachers had taken part in the program and become TFABB Literacy Coaches. This project marked the first model in Belize of training local teachers as trainers and also of providing one-day, follow-up training sessions during the school year.

Generally speaking, this effort aimed to widen and deepen educational leadership and training ability in the Toledo district of Belize with the goal of further enhancing teacher knowledge and skills—and thus student success—district-wide. More specifically, the three-year program to foster local literacy coaches had two main goals:

The annual activities of the three-year program included:

  1. A July training workshop for the literacy coaches led by North American volunteer trainers;
  2. The annual, week-long August training workshop for Toledo’s other 280 primary-school teachers led by the literacy coaches partnered with North American volunteer trainers; and
  3. Two to three one-day, follow-up trainings during the school year, led by the local literacy coaches for the 280 other teachers in Toledo.

The 28 individuals who served in the TFABB literacy-coaching program during the three-year project now form a resource pool of well-practiced trainers for the Toledo district. The coaches had the opportunity to lead and co-lead many training sessions, during both the two to three in-service days each year and during the five-day TFABB summer workshops. They led or co-led anywhere from 7 to 22 days of training, again depending on the number of years they served in the program. Indeed, the Ministry of Education’s district representative indicated during discussions in 2009 that he was looking forward to calling upon these well-prepared individuals to help meet the district’s training needs for many years to come. This three-year program marked the first-time that TFABB organized trainings that were fully led by Belizeans. Because our North American volunteers did not have to travel to be involved in every training, TFABB was able to put on trainings for less cost.

TFABB’s in-service days offered a professional development opportunity that was unprecedented in Toledo; the three training days held during the 2006-07 school year marked the very first time that all teachers in the district gathered for training sessions during the school year. With seven in-service trainings held over the three-year program, TFABB’s local coaches increased TFABB’s training days by nearly 50 percent over TFABB’s pre-2006 totals (from five days per year up to seven or eight days a year). The in-service days provided invaluable time for teachers to check in, share, and troubleshoot while they were in the thick of the school year. The increase in training days also heightened a culture and an expectation of professional growth in the local teaching profession.

The Toledo district saw language arts scores improve during the Literacy Coach project period. The small percentage of Belizean children who want to go to high school take the Primary School Exam (PSE). Toledo traditionally scores fifth or sixth of the six districts and several percentage points below the national average. This scenario held true in language arts scores for the three years before TFABB began the coaches’ program. In May 2008—two years into our literacy coaches’ program—Toledo nearly matched the national average and came in fourth out of six for language arts. A first!! Also, Toledo’s language arts scores were higher than the district’s math score, which is unusual in a district of second-language learners. The Ministry and other local managers made much ado of these gains when they spoke at various TFABB training events over the following year. Toledo is usually seen as the "hopeless" district by officials in the capital, some of whom have never visited the district’s rural schools because of the difficult travel logistics (e.g., lack of roads). Because they usually feel like the forgotten district, it is easy to understand why Toledo’s educators took such pride in moving up to fourth place for the first time. It is hard to say that TFABB’s programs in Toledo could claim all of the honors for this exciting improvement, but the new mix of using local trainers, adding more training days, and focusing solely on language arts since 2006 certainly did not hurt.

Read more about the successes of the program to train local teachers as trainers for their peers.


Handing Off Responsibility to Local Government: 2010-Present

TFABB has always been committed to ensuring the long-term sustainability of its programs by fostering the involvement of local educators and managers, and by "handing off" program components when local capacity allows. In keeping with TFABB’s efforts to encourage the Ministry to take more ownership of training events in Toledo, TFABB and the local Ministry office equally split the responsibilities of the 2009 August training workshop. TFABB provided the trainers and all of the logistical support for the lower primary grades (K-2), while the Ministry provided the trainers for the middle and upper primary grades (3-8).

Confident that the local Ministry had developed the capacity to run the summer training workshop for Toledo’s primary-school teachers–alongside the numerous other training opportunities that have become available for these teachers in recent years–in 2010 TFABB completely handed off to the local Ministry office the responsibility for the annual August workshop for Toledo’s primary-school teachers. We had worked ourselves out of a job in this one aspect of our work by helping to foster local capacity, a feat which is the goal of every foreign nonprofit working in a developing country.

As mentioned, when TFABB began its efforts in 1997, no other teacher-training workshops or post-secondary opportunities existed in the district. In the last decade or so, other training opportunities have arisen for Toledo’s teachers. The University of Belize opened a branch campus in Toledo, allowing several teachers each year to receive teacher training through night courses. Also, a large Canadian Teachers’ Union and Rotary program has partnered with the national government of Belize to offer ongoing training in all six districts of Belize, including Toledo. This program adopted TFABB’s summer workshop model, along with TFABB’s model to train local Belizean teachers as trainers for their peers. This large Canadian program is not only replicating and spreading TFABB’s "coaching" model, but it is also using many of TFABB’s trained literacy coaches as trainers in its Toledo summer programs. TFABB’s original pool of 28 literacy coaches continues to hone and spread their skills in various venues and to serve as professional role models in their district!

Solid summer training workshops are still important in a country where less than 50 percent of all K-8 teachers have completed formal training beyond high school. We are thrilled that a larger Government-supported program can now bring the TFABB model of using local trainers for summer workshops to the rest of Belize.

Model-School Program: (2009-2013)

Based on a five-week evaluation and program design effort that a volunteer consultant carried out for TFABB in the summer of 2008, in 2009 TFABB began a new, multi-year program in partnership with the Peace Corps. TFABB’s model-school program included more direct, year-round language arts support to teachers in three under-resourced schools and introduced initiatives to increase awareness about early childhood education in those villages. TFABB supported Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) who lived and worked in each of the villages. TFABB also provided each school with many relevant books and literacy resources.

Evaluations after the first two years of the program showed reading levels improved in the schools. In Silver Creek, for example, 37 of 156 children began the 2010-2011 year reading below grade level. By May, only 2 kids were reading below grade level. Some children improved by three grade levels! The schools also had a record high score on the high school entrance exam, which is administered in April. This means that an individual in each school scored higher than any other individual had ever scored in that school. Read more about the early successes of the model-school program.

School-Related Construction: (2003-2006)

2003: Blue Creek Teachers’ House
TFABB undertook its first school-related construction project in the summer of 2003, when 31 North American volunteers traveled to Toledo to build a teachers’ hostel in rural Blue Creek village. The new house allows teachers posted in Blue Creek to focus on teaching and becoming part of the community, rather than a long and arduous hitchhiking commute from the town of Punta Gorda where they live.

2005-06: Santa Cruz Community Library
Fifteen U.S. volunteers spent their 2005 winter holidays in Santa Cruz, Belize, mixing mortar, sawing rebar, and laying cement blocks to help build a library for use by community members and the village’s primary school. Santa Cruz is a small village of 430 people in a remote part of Toledo, Belize’s poorest district and home to the majority of the country’s indigenous Mayan population. [Read about the volunteer experience]

The U.S. volunteers worked alongside 35 Mayan community members, who donated their time not only that week but also for several weeks before and after to lay the foundation and finish the roof. Such village involvement was especially heartening in a community that suffered from long-standing mistrust between the villagers and school personnel. A new principal, a Peace Corps volunteer, and community leaders worked hard over the prior year to rebuild trust and to unite everyone behind the project.

Increased access to education is crucial in the Toledo district. Before this project, no child from Santa Cruz had ever graduated from high school. TFABB and the local Belizean education authorities are confident that the library—along with the newly rekindled community involvement in and excitement about the school—will play a key role in increasing the number of children in Santa Cruz who finish primary school and go to high school.

Former TFABB Board member Karen Cueni-Tillet and her Belizean husband Karl Tillet led the group. The U.S. volunteers ranged in age from 14 to 78 and traveled from Texas, Washington, California, Florida, South Carolina, and Indiana. One enthusiastic volunteer, Larry Cruse, raised an extra $1,800 when he returned to the U.S., allowing the villagers to build a concrete roof on the library so that it can also serve as the village’s hurricane shelter.

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