Dakota State University students walking around campus

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Majors & Degrees

DSU students collect 1,100 pounds of books

April 20, 2016

When a group of Dakota State University elementary education students set out to collect books to help create libraries for elementary classrooms in rural Belize during their spring break service-learning trip; little did they know how popular their endeavor would become. The 11 DSU students originally had a goal of collecting about 50 pounds of books each, or around 550 pounds total of gently-used books for the Victorious Nazarene Primary School in San Jose Succotz, Belize. Instead, 1,100 pounds of donated books were gathered and transported for the creation of one, large library the whole school could use.

To help raise funds for the shipping of the books, the DSU students held a traveling bake sale around the DSU campus. They rolled their cart of goodies around campus and asked for financial support for the trip, and were able to raise enough funds to pay for most of the shipping costs.

The idea of creating the libraries came about when Sue Filler, a Dakota State University adjunct professor in the College of Education, asked the Victorious Primary school, “What are your needs?” The answer focused on help with English scores on the students’ national exams. In Belize, the students speak Spanish, Mayan or Creole at home, but in school and for business, English is the chosen language. Therefore, the children come to school knowing little to no English. In Filler’s previous visits to the school, she saw how sparse the book selection for the Belize students happened to be. She also knew what an expanded selection of books would mean towards the goal of improving their English literacy scores.

Along with transporting the books to Belize, the DSU group also took on the task of creating the library, from painting the walls and bookshelves to setting up the library itself to complete the service portion of their trip.

For the learning side of the trip, the DSU student taught reading, writing, phonetics, math and science. Specifically, they focused on topics including sun safety, plants, states of matter, the water cycle and simple machines. DSU faculty, including Dr. Crystal Pauli and Dr. Vicki Sterling, provided all-day professional development on instructional strategies to improve English literacy for Belize teachers. Not only did the DSU students learn about how the educational system in the rural Belize school, they also learned about the culture of the students and the surrounding community.

During their stay, the DSU group attended la Ruta Maya Canoe Race down the river. It is a four-day event and is the biggest annual sporting event in Belize. The group enjoyed cave tubing on rivers in Central Belize, zip-lining in the rainforest, and night-time hiking through the rainforest to look at the various plants and animals. They also visited Black Rock Mountain, where a local artisan showed them how to harvest slate suitable for carving. Later in the day, he showed the group the many steps to creating a Belizean carved slate.

One of the most memorable events was when a local businessman hosted a family and friends BBQ on the Mopan River. During the day, the group drove up river and tubed for over an hour, had a traditional meal, played volleyball, and in the evening an entertaining group of Howler monkeys visited.

Other activities they participated in included a three-hour Nazarene Church service; a visit to Xunantunich, the local Mayan Ruins; and shopping at the local open market for fruits and vegetables.

The DSU students will present "Service-Learning to Belize Showcase" on Thursday, April 21, at 4:30 p.m. in the Kennedy Center room 104. The public is welcome to attend.