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DCSD students take the lead in preparations for Belize Education Project

PARKER –Mammoth Heights Elementary was bustling with activity on Saturday, October 4, as students and staff members worked to sort piles of school supplies in preparation for the annual Belize Education Project (BEP) trip.

“Almost everyone is here. It is pretty cool,” said T.J. Rheem, a sixth-grader at Mammoth Heights Elementary.  “There are a lot of people and a lot of school supplies.”

SEE MORE: Check out our Facebook photo gallery from the BEP Packing Party

In one week, during Fall Break, a group of Douglas County School District (DCSD) teachers will travel to Belize to support literacy efforts in the small, impoverished nation. Every year, each teacher lugs two 50-pound suitcases, brimming with school supplies collected by several DCSD schools.

“For students to give up their Saturday, to come in, and they’re smiling and they are happy, as they pack up the crayons and markers,” said Mammoth Heights Principal Shanna Martin. “They are checking to make sure the glue is good enough to send over. They want the Belize kids and teachers to be prepared and to give them the same environment and community that we provide here.”

While the overall project is driven by a group of DCSD teachers, who work directly with their counterparts in Belize throughout the year, the school supply drive is student-led.

“They are excited. This is something that the students then promote school wide. Our students do not come in and donate supplies because teachers are telling them to or asking them to.  They do it because their peers within the building see the value of it and they are going to classrooms, they are going to students and saying, ‘you should support this cause because it is a great way to support children in another country,’” Martin said.

“I think we often read the words ‘global citizenship’ when we read about education and we look at current research. These kids are living it, interacting with their counterparts in Belize and around the world,” added Shari Griffin, a fourth-grade teacher at Fox Creek Elementary School in Highlands Ranch. “This is student-led. They prepared the boxes, they told kids what we would need, and they collected and packed the suitcases.”

“I am in awe of the compassion I see from students, the excitement that comes from helping others, and the realization that learning is important, no matter where it happens,” Griffin added.

In a few days the Belize children will gratefully accept the donation of the pencils, markers, and glue sticks. While the items may seem standard in most Douglas County schools, they are coveted in Belize classrooms.

“It gives me a good feeling that I can help out kids who don’t have anything,” said Rheem. “It makes you thankful for what you have. When you realize that you’re giving things to kids that are valuable to them, it gives you a good feeling.”

“It’s cool that I can help kids that are my same age and same grade,” Rheem added.

The Belize Education project was originally started by Mammoth Heights first-grade teacher Jean Kirshner seven years ago. During a mission trip to Belize, she saw a need for literacy support and recruited her colleagues to join her.

The project has grown substantially, now including a visit by Colorado teachers to Belize during Fall Break, a visit by Belize teachers to Douglas County schools in the spring, and a partnership between the teachers over the course of the rest of the year.

This year a total of 33 Coloradans, including 27 teachers (from DCSD and surrounding school districts) and six support staff will be making the trip. That is ten more teachers than they’ve been able to bring to Belize previously.

In addition to the great work that is being done to foster literacy in Belize, the teachers say the work and the international partnership has paid dividends here in DCSD schools.

“My teaching has improved,” explained Griffin. “I have learned more about literacy, especially the early literacy. It has opened conversations and opportunities that I would have never had.” 

Learn more about the Belize Education Project and how you can support the work at

October 7, 2014 | By rmbarber | Category: Elementary Education, Schools

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