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School of Education Continues Collaboration with Partner Schools in Belize


In the summer of 2023, faculty, staff, and doctoral students from Saint Louis University's School of Education traveled to Belize to continue collaborating with partner Catholic Jesuit schools, St. John’s Junior College and St. Martin de Porres. 

The first SLU team journeyed in June and in August to St. John’s to begin creating and integrating a special education program throughout the region. The second team traveled to St. Martin de Porres in early August to provide a professional development workshop for local teachers focusing on math and active learning. With the dedication and hard work of everyone involved in these programs, the hope is to continue improving upon the current educational policies surrounding special education, along with overall aid in the ongoing education of teachers in Belize.

Background of the Partnership

In 2014, Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis, who has since retired, contacted a group of professors at the SLU School of Education to discuss the possibility of supporting Belize’s educational system, which was highly underrepresented in early childhood education and special education.

Assistant Professor Jessica Leonard, Ph.D. was one of the leaders of the inaugural team that was sent by SLU to Belize to spend several days observing children and listening to their stories, which eventually led to an understanding and a commitment to a partnership.  

The Partnership Continues

In June, Leonard led a team to Belize to continue collaborating; she is pleased that the partnership has continued for almost 10 years.

Currently, Belize has no formal secondary schooling for students with special needs. Most teachers in Belize have associate degrees, with little focus on higher education programs with a special education element. In collaboration with St. John’s Junior College, project members seek to create a Belizean inclusive study certification to bring special education into the common Belizean classroom.

Jeannine Butler, Ed.D.
Jeannine Butler, Ed.D.

Jeannine Butler, Ed.D., assistant professor in teacher education, joined the team of committed teachers gathered to collaborate about the best ways to customize SLU special education courses to the culture and curriculum of Belize. These Belizean educators traveled for hours on public buses to add their voices and knowledge to the conversation. Butler expressed her surprise at how passionate and involved they were with this new program.

“I am amazed at the importance that they place on the true partnership collaboration, and the will they have to see something through to its completion,” said Butler.

Debra Goldstein and Karissa Sywulka
Debra Goldstein and Karissa Sywulka

Debra Goldstein, a doctoral student in the School of Education, experienced a similar realization as she worked with SLU’s partner school, St. Martin de Porres. In early August, Goldstein led a team that provided a four-day professional development workshop: Real Math Strategies for the Belizean Classroom. The workshop provided professional development hours to participating individuals.  

"Despite the heat and lack of resources, every day the teachers brought amazing energy and innovation, creating engaging mathematics lessons for students," Goldstein said. "We have checked in with the teachers recently, and they are using some of the strategies from the workshop with great success."

With a special focus on honoring all languages and backgrounds of potential students, the educators displayed great teamwork and cooperation to make the best of limited resources, such as the lack of internet and projectors. Karissa Sywulka, director of STL Teaching Fellows and doctoral student in the School of Education, joined Goldstein’s team. Sywulka especially appreciated the opportunity to practice culturally responsive teaching as she continues her journey at SLU. 

Also in June, Professor Christa Jackson, Ph.D., led a professional development session on STEM at St. John's College. 

The strong and engaged relationship between SLU and these affiliated Belizean institutions continues to improve educational policy and ongoing learning throughout the entire region. These trips are the culmination of 10 years of work and, at the same time, just the beginning. 

The work that we have done here this summer is going to change a country.” 

Alice Peralta, president of St. John’s College


For more information about Saint Louis University’s School of Education, visit our website or call 314-977-3292.