June 12, 2014
Justin Vilbig

University Builds Partnership to Improve Education in Belize

Team in Belize
Bonnie Wilson, John James, Chris Collins, S.J., and Joy Voss were all part of the team who traveled to Belize to meet with education officials. Submitted photo

A team of Saint Louis University representatives traveled to Belize in May as part of an effort to explore a broad, sustained relationship with the nation and its people. The initiative, named "SLU-Belize" seeks to develop a partnership with St. Martin de Porres grade school, a Jesuit school and parish in Belize City.

Administrators at St. Martin, seeking ways to help keep their children safe and succeed in school, contacted members of the SLU community, who then went to Belize to assess the situation.

Representatives from the College of Education and Public Service, John Cook School of Business, College of Arts and Sciences, Division of Mission and Ministry and Student Development met with several Belizean groups and organizations to explore ways that SLU can help to improve the education for students. Children at the school face daunting obstacles to their academic success, including insufficient learning materials and social pressures from the local gangs.

"Though this initiative is still in its early stages, it has already been a tremendous grace for all of us, I think, to collaborate together with such a common sense of purpose desiring to serve those in the greatest need for the greater glory of God," said Chris Collins, S.J., assistant professor of theological studies.

St. Martin students listen to a drum performance in their classroom in Belize City.
Children from St. Martins take part in the after-school program 'Drum Not Guns,' where they learn principles of non-violence and build on what they learn in the classroom. Submitted photo

While in Belize, the SLU team discussed ways to improve the academic performance and quality of life for children attending the school with administrators and teachers from St. Martins School, the general manager of Catholic-Public Schools, officials from the Ministry of Education, elementary school administrators, staff from St. Johns College — a Jesuit high school and junior college, the Jesuit Rector of Belize, the Auxiliary Bishop of Belize and community nonprofits.

From these conversations came many new ideas of how to address systemic issues of educational and social injustice. These lessons apply specifically to Belize, but appear broadly applicable to the St. Louis community.

"There are a large number of very simple things that we can do for and with the Catholic-public schools of Belize, that in turn would make a huge difference in the lives of these kids and the country of Belize," said John James, Ph.D., associate professor of education and director of the Institute for Catholic Education. "We just need to figure out how to fund some of these initiatives."

While there are multiple next steps for SLU-Belize, immediate future plans include a summit Aug. 4-8 at the Center for Global Citizenship. During the summit, at least a dozen members of Belizean groups, including St. Martins, St. Johns College, Belize's General Manager of Catholic-Public Schools, the Jesuit Rector of Belize and the Auxiliary Bishop of Belize, will be present to discuss myriad partnership opportunities. An agenda of the week's activity will be released shortly. Additionally, a service immersion trip is being planned for the end of the year, from Dec. 29 through Jan. 9, that will be open to all students.

Higher purpose. Greater good.
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