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TFABB currently has three training programs for educators in the Toledo District of Belize:
- Training in Reading Diagnostic Testing and Follow-Up Lesson Design for Lower-Primary Teachers;
- Training in Early Childhood Education Methodologies for Early Childhood Teachers; and
- Training in Leadership for Principals.
TFABB’s fourth program involves: Providing Books and Supplies
As the longest-standing nonprofit organization working to improve teaching abilities in Toledo, TFABB fills a crucial training need that the Belizean government cannot yet fully meet. TFABB has provided training workshops for various groups of Toledo educators every year since 1997. Over 50 percent of Toledo’s primary-school teachers are not fully trained; many begin their teaching careers when they graduate from high school at age eighteen.
Currently TFABB offers training workshops to three groups of educators: primary-school teachers, early-childhood teachers, and primary-school principals. Together, these three groups of educators directly impact the education of the Toledo district’s 7,300 preschool and primary-school (K-8) students.
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 some of Toledo’s teachers. While there are now government-led summer training opportunities for Toledo’s primary-school teachers, there are still at least two groups of Toledo educators whose training needs are still not being met locally. TFABB will continue providing training workshops for all of Toledo’s early-childhood teachers and primary-school principals until these needs can be met locally.
TFABB’s volunteer training corps from the U.S. is made up of experienced preschool teachers, K-8 teachers, professional teacher trainers, principals, and university professors—most with over 20 years of teaching experience and many with more than ten years of experience as trainers in our Belizean training program. And because we are all volunteers, with no office or staff expenses, all donations and funds have always gone straight to the projects in Belize.
Training in Diagnostic Reading Testing and Follow-Up Lesson Design for Lower-Primary Teachers
Since 2013, TFABB has been training a large subset of Toledo’s teachers in a specialized reading diagnostic assessment and then showing teachers how to tailor their teaching to meet the needs of every child in their classrooms. Belize’s National Literacy Coordinator in the capital and the Toledo District Ministry officials asked TFABB to lead the program in Toledo, since the national office does not have the resources to travel to that remote region.
The assessment, called the MICO diagnostic reading test, is designed for speakers of Caribbean English. It is an excellent tool for identifying children who are falling behind in reading, especially for catching those in the early grades. It is also a great way to document student progress across a school year and across grade levels.
TFABB began using the MICO test in its three model schools in 2009. The Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) stationed in those schools tested each child three times a year and then worked in small groups with those children reading below grade level. Throughout the year, the PCVs involved the teachers in the testing and follow up, so that they could learn how to carry on the testing after the PCVs left. By the end of the year, the volunteers brought the majority of children in the school up to grade level. For example, at the beginning of the 2010-11 school year, 37 of 156 kids were reading below grade level in Silver Creek School. The teachers and PCV gave extra support to the children in need, and in June, only two children in the whole school were below grade level!
TFABB is currently providing MICO-related training to teachers in over of Toledo’s 50 primary schools. In those schools, TFABB works with teachers in the first four grades (the equivalents of kindergarten through third grade in the U.S.).
Showing teachers how to give and interpret the diagnostic test is the first part of the program. A much larger part of our effort is helping them tailor their teaching methods and styles to address not just the struggling readers but the advanced readers as well. Belizean teachers usually address the whole class and are not used to teaching in small groups. Based on our experience in our model schools, we are encouraging the MICO trainees to try out small reading groups and other ways of working with their broad spectrum of readers (such as one-on-one conferencing).
Training in Early Childhood Education (ECE) Methodologies for Early Childhood Teachers
Increasing access to high-quality, early-childhood education is important for all children worldwide. Lack of access to preschool traditionally played a role in the many obstacles facing Toledo’s older children, including their struggles to learn English, keep up with their national counterparts in testing, and indeed avoid dropping out of primary school altogether due to the repetition of grades.
In the last decade, the Belizean government has made a concerted push to bring preschool to all children, including a new national preschool curriculum. The number of preschools in Toledo has jumped from three to nearly 30, with a plan to add more each year. We are optimistic that each of the district’s 40 villages will one day have a preschool to help prepare their children for success in primary school and beyond.
TFABB first offered training for early childhood teachers in 2007, when the Belizean government began its effort to open preschools in Toledo’s rural villages for the first time. TFABB’s ECE trainings involve preschool teachers as well as early-primary teachers (equivalent to kindergarten and first grade in the U.S.). This inclusion allows TFABB to model the smooth continuum of literacy and other skills that should develop between the ages of three and six, along with the teacher skills needed to assure that continuum.
TFABB’s ECE training workshops address all aspects of child development including: social, emotional, cognitive, and physical. Within cognitive development, TFABB focuses on language arts to provide a connection to our focus on language arts training for lower-primary teachers. Workshop participants often have the opportunity to experience a model classroom and learn classroom management strategies. TFABB also provides several relevant books and supplies for the trainees.
During our ECE workshops we include several experienced Belizean teachers as “coaches” and trainers for their peers. These coaches co-present the workshops with TFABB’s visiting U.S. trainers. We have had good success with this “coaching” model in our primary teacher and principal training programs since 2006.
Training in Instructional Leadership for Principals
TFABB began training specifically for Toledo’s 50 primary-school principals in 2005. For many of these administrators, TFABB instructional leadership trainings are the only opportunity they have for professional development as principals. Most of Toledo’s principals face an additional obstacle that U.S. principals do not face; roughly 45 of Toledo’s 50 principals are also full-time teachers, many in multi-grade classrooms.
As in our ECE trainings, TFABB fosters Belizean Leadership Coaches as part of its principal training program. The local Leadership Coaches are very experienced Toledo principals who have partnered with TFABB in numerous capacities over the last two decades. While U.S. and Belizean trainers partner to present the summer training workshops, the Belizean Leadership Coaches typically provide one-day, follow-up training for their peers in the fall and spring.
Providing Books and Supplies:
Back in 1997, when we held our first training workshop, lack of supplies, paper, and teaching materials was a big obstacle for the teachers we worked with. This was an ongoing source of frustration to everyone, and was primarily the result of insufficient funds and transportation infrastructure. Providing the necessary teaching supplies and educational books to support the skills developed in our teacher-training workshops has been an important part of TFABB's mission. Since inception, we have purchased and donated over $100,000 worth of requested teaching supplies, materials, and books to the schools of Toledo. The true value of the books and supplies we have purchased over the last two decades has really been at least $200,000, since we have generally received a 50 percent discount on all of our purchases. Additionally, we have shipped many hundreds of boxes of donated supplies and books gathered in book drives (books gathered from teachers and others in St. Louis, Northern California, Buffalo, Houston, Shelbyville, TN, and many other places). We estimate that we have sent over 30,000 used books to foster the development of libraries in Toledo’s 50 schools.
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