Teacher Training without Borders

Nicaraguan Teachers

Ivan Sevilla, Migdalia Betanco and Fredy Ruiz (left to right) perform during UNC's 16 de Septiembre celebration. The three Nicaraguans are part of a group of 20 teachers and administrators from rural areas of Central American and the Dominican Republic involved in a specialized professional development program at the University of Northern Colorado. Photo by Barry LaPoint

For a group of 20 teachers and school administrators from rural areas in Central America and the Dominican Republic, a professional development program at the University of Northern Colorado goes far beyond helping them improve their teaching techniques.

That's because the teachers sometimes teach in facilities without electricity or plumbing. Some of them don't even have a classroom to teach in; their classes meet outside, which can be a problem during the rainy season.

The 20 are part of the Cooperative Association of States for Scholarships program, an initiative funded by the United States Agency for International Development and coordinated by Georgetown University, to improve the academic skills and practices of teachers in rural areas in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and the Dominican Republic.

UNC is one of four U.S. colleges selected to offer the highly specialized program. At UNC the CASS program operates as part of the School of Teacher Education with the support of $168,000 in USAID funding and collaboration with the Hispanics Studies Program, Extended Studies, Housing and Residence Life and the Sponsored Programs and Academic Research Center. The program is in its second year at UNC and has been funded for next year.

"Teachers and administrators in rural areas of these countries frequently struggle with a lack of supplies, electricity and bathroom and classroom facilities," said Professor Madeline Milian, who directs the program at UNC. "So, in addition to learning subject content and teaching techniques, they learn how to identify funding resources, write grants and organize community projects to help improve infrastructure and supply basic needs."

The program incorporates classroom instruction, practicum experiences at local K-12 schools, mentorship opportunities with teachers and administrators, and volunteer activities with local community agencies such as Head Start and United Way. Participants also work on their English speaking and reading skills. Some of them had never used a computer before starting the program, so technology also is included in the curriculum.

The six-month-long program gives the participants ample time to become part of the campus community, Milian said, noting that although they were the only residents of Lawrenson Hall when the program started in July, once students began returning for fall semester, they soon had many new friends.

The visitors recently entertained some of those new friends and other members of the campus community with songs and dances from their countries at the Cesar Chavez Cultural Center's annual 16 de Septiembre celebration, which this year also commemorated Hispanic Heritage Month.

CASS participants will return to their countries in December with new understandings of teaching techniques, enhanced academic skills, materials to use in providing professional development for their colleagues and action plans to implement in their schools and communities to assist in the improvement of services offered to children and their families.

Sandra Guerra, an English teacher from El Salvador, is already looking forward to sharing what she's learning in the program.

"I'm learning new techniques and information that I can show my colleagues how to teach better and do a better job for our students," Guerra said. "It was also wonderful to share experiences with and learn from teachers from our neighboring countries."

Miriam Feliciano, a fifth-grade teacher from Guatemala, echoed Guerra's sentiments.

"In addition to learning many new things to share, I've also learned to be humble because I now know that there is still a lot to learn," she said.

Milian noted that the group's time at UNC will pay big dividends.

"We figured out that as a group, they serve about 10,000 students," Milian said. "The impact of the program is far-reaching."

- Gary Dutmers