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DSU students to participate in Belize service-learning trip

February 1, 2016

When someone mentions spring break, you may think of droves of college students heading south for sun, fun and adventure. For 11 Dakota State University students, that is exactly what they intend to do, however, it’s not exactly what you might think. During the 2016 spring break, the next generation of DSU elementary teachers will take their classroom learning to Belize for a service-learning trip of a lifetime.

The DSU College of Education students and faculty will spend two weeks at Victorious Nazarene Primary School in San Jose Succotz, Belize. The DSU class, known as ED 492: Study Abroad: Service-Learning in Belize, will focus their efforts on the Pre-K through 8th grade students at the elementary school. During the service-learning trip, the DSU students and faculty will focus on not only classroom learning, but also hands-on service projects. This year, one of their goals is to implement a small library in each classroom and expand a larger elementary library with donated, gently-used books. They hope to have the books and bookcases in the classrooms by the end of their service trip. Service-learning is not only in relation to the gain of knowledge in the classroom, it also pertains to giving back to their global community while gaining leadership skills in the process.

The DSU students and faculty are making the trek in two shifts. The first five elementary education students, who are currently in their student teaching semester, and DSU Adjunct Professor, Susan Filler, leave a week before spring break starts in February. The remaining students and faculty, including Dr. Crystal Pauli and Dr. Vicki Sterling, will fly to Belize the following week.

One focus of this trip is to build English fluency in reading and writing at the elementary level. To accomplish this, they will implement the use of technology in their classes. The Belize elementary school has access to internet service, so the DSU students will utilize Google Hangouts as a communication tool to connect their Belize classrooms to their South Dakota student teaching classrooms. In fact, the father of one of the student teachers is also a teacher in a Minnesota elementary school. His elementary school class donated gently used books to add to the Belize elementary school’s library. The students in Minnesota and Belize will have the opportunity to connect online as well.

The group will stay in an open-air bunkhouse on the campus of the school. The amenities include potable running water and flushing toilets, but no access to hot water. Interestingly, the water is stored on the roof of the buildings. During the length of their stay, their diet will consist of rice, beans, chicken and tortillas, along with local fruits and vegetables. On the elementary school campus, cattle are often tied out on leashes and free range chickens can be found everywhere.

Belize is a small country, in fact, the Central American country would fit into the state of South Dakota nine times. That being the case, it is surprisingly the location of some significant natural resources. For instance, the largest Mayan ruins in the world, Xunantunich, greets scores of tourists every year. It is also the location of the Mopan River where an annual boat race takes place in the spring. Also, the small limestone coral island of Caye Caulker, found off the coast of Belize, is accessible by high-speed water taxi or small plane and is a popular destination for backpackers and tourists.

The DSU students and faculty have a goal of providing the Nazarene Primary School 700 pounds of gently-used reading books for grades K-8. If area residents are interested in donating books or towards the cost of transporting the books, please contact Sue Filler at susan.filler@sdstate.edu, or drop off your donation at the DSU College of Education located in the Kennedy Center. They are also having a Schwan's fundraiser to help cover the cost of the trip.