A Teacher’s Summer Break in Belize
Coming from a family of educators, it's no surprise that Walden University Education Specialist (EdS) student Jennifer Walden ended up as a fourth-grade language arts teacher. It’s her journey, however, that sets her apart from her kin.
Walden’s grandmother, mother, and many other family members all dedicated themselves to educating young minds. Unlike her family, Walden considers herself a non-traditional teacher because she enjoyed 15 years as a broadcasting professional before making her way to the field of education. Walden loved working as a radio DJ but saw her field was drastically changing.
“I used to be more involved, but, toward the end, I would just record a show and leave,” says Walden. “I didn’t even have to be there for the show to run, which became boring. It wasn’t an art to me anymore.”
Although she left the business, she didn’t give up on it entirely. Walden decided to start teaching broadcasting classes at a local university. Because she enjoyed her time in the classroom, she researched other opportunities, which led her to teaching children’s swim classes at the local YMCA. It was during one of her swim lessons that she realized she wanted to become a full-time teacher.
A single mom at the time, Walden went back to University of Cincinnati and earned her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education.
“I wanted a master’s degree too, but I was already working full time, so that’s how I found Walden University,” says Walden. “It worked so well with my lifestyle, allowing me to do everything I needed while earning my MS in Education, with a specialization in Integrating Technology into the Classroom. When I decided to pursue an Education Specialist degree in Reading, Literacy, and Assessment, Walden was my first choice.”
For her, Walden University has also been an inspiration to effect positive social change.
“For some time, I’ve wondered how I can get out of my classroom to make a difference, and I’m finally doing it,” she says. “It’s hard to go into a school and make a difference with the students in such a short amount of time, but I know if I can help other educators—even just one—I will have positively impacted current and future students.”
Walden is one of 25 primary school educators from around the world embarking on a three-week trip to Belize this summer as part of a fellowship with Limited Resource Teacher Training (LRTT). The organization has impacted more than 3,750 teachers in 10 countries since 2012, but most of that work has taken place in Africa and India.
“This will be their first fellowship in Central America and the Caribbean, and, though the government is on board with making education more of a priority, we still face many challenges,” explains Walden. “Not only is technology extremely limited, but one-third of students drop out of school before the age of 14 to work in agriculture to support their families. As a result, many are living in extreme poverty. I have always believed the best way to rise out of poverty is to get an education and always continue to learn.”
The goal in Belize is to help kids remain in school by observing how local educators are teaching literacy and giving them effective strategies to create more engaging lessons. Additionally, Walden is hoping to take best practices she's learned from the LRTT fellowship experience back to her school and set up a pen pal correspondence between her students in Ohio and those in Belize.
“On a personal level, my other goal is to show my children that being adventurous can be purposeful,” she says. “I want them to see me doing something I believe in because I think it’s important. I also want them to realize that if they see something that needs changing, they should feel empowered to dig in and do it.”
Though she will be missing Walden University’s summer commencement for this trip, she’s looking forward to walking at the winter ceremony.
“One thing I have learned—and live by—is that quality professional development is an essential component to academic success for students,” she says. “I’m grateful to be able to pay it forward whenever and wherever I can thanks to the love and support of my husband and kids.”
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