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New school year, new literacy programme placement in Belize

The volunteer Teaching Project  in Belize is growing, with the expansion of our literacy programme. Since September 2016, Projects Abroad volunteers have worked closely with the children from Holy Cross Anglican School and based on the successful programme, literacy classes will expand into a second placement - New Horizons Primary School - just in time for the new school year, beginning September 2017.

Free remedial English lessons are given to students between the ages of four and 15 years old who struggle to read and write. A wide range of literacy skills are taught in the literacy programme, from the basics of ABC’s to reading comprehension. In just one year, four students have already graduated from the programme, 12 students have graduated from one level to another (there are four levels in total), 85% have improved significantly (mastered two or more sections in their respective level), and 98% of students have improved (mastered at least one section in their level). A total of 60 students have benefitted from remedial lessons since its launch.

Back to basics A literacy student works on an assignment

“A typical session would involve completing some worksheets and reading and playing word games”, explained Projects Abroad Teaching volunteer Maddy Cumbes. “During my placement I developed some new literacy activities such as a lower and upper case up matching game, prefix and suffix puzzle matching game, individual alphabet jigsaws and sandboxes for a sensory way to practice writing letters.”

Through one-on-one sessions, volunteers observe, assist and record each child’s progress. The focused attention allows children to develop at their own pace in a fun and educational environment. “One child in particular shaped my whole experience; he was 10 years old, had never been to school before, came from a Spanish-speaking home and did not know his alphabet,” says Maddy.

“It was a slow start as he was timid at first, and it took a couple of weeks for him to build up enough trust in me to open up and really embrace our lessons. We went through each letter of the alphabet individually, and set him more frequent goals, to give him motivation and a sense of accomplishment each time he met a target. We also made his own ‘Alphabet Tree’ - each time he mastered a letter he could add it to the tree!” Two months later, Maddy’s young student completed Level One of the programme, after mastering the English alphabet. 

A-Z of the literacy programme	A child progresses on the Literacy Programme in Belize by learning the English alphabet

Susan Barkhouse, a Canadian living in Belize since 2013, is the creative mind behind the literacy programme. “I volunteered to read with students at the local Belizean Primary School and the reading program wasn’t meeting the needs of the students,” she says. “I therefore created and developed a comprehensive literacy programme to allow the students to increase their literacy skills.”

With the help of Projects Abroad volunteers and local volunteers, she has been able to develop materials and workshops aimed at increasing the literacy levels of the students involved in the programme. “The program tutors students in reading and comprehension skills and it’s designed to deliver supplemental education with the use of interchangeable volunteers, while the students continue their learning progression without interruption,” explains Susan.   

Susan and teachers complete an assessment in the placements, and children in need of remedial classes join the programme. As part of their teaching work, Projects Abroad volunteers meet the children and work at each child’s pace, completing worksheets, games and activities. Kristin Marin, Projects Abroad Belize’s Country Director explains: “Volunteers have the option to join this project full-time, or they mix it into their standard Teaching Project whereby they are placed in classrooms with teachers in the mornings and do the literacy sessions in the afternoons.”

In general, children in the remedial classes have responded well to the programme and the volunteer involvement. “The student is very responsive to the volunteer, due to the positive learning environment created within the program,” says Susan. “The child bonds with the program, and not individual volunteers. The students [also] respond well to the content, as it is student-based learning. It is set up in a way that the student learns how to learn,” she says.

“Without volunteers there would be no literacy programme”Volunteer working with a students during the literacy programme in Belize

“Without volunteers, there would be no literacy programme. With only one volunteer, we can significantly increase the chances for a student to excel later on in life and not remain marginalized,” says Kristin.  

For Maddy, the sentiment is the same. “I cannot stress enough how important volunteers are in the literacy programme. Aside from aiding the children to become literate and put them in a better position to start High School, the volunteers provide stability in the children’s lives that they are often lacking. Even if the face changes, the student can rely on seeing a volunteer twice a week and being with someone with whom they can have fun and learn.”

Find out how you can get involved in our Teaching Project  and support the literacy programme in Belize

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