Crystal Wildman is realizing a dream this week.
"I've always wanted to teach in countries where they don't have the resources we have in Colorado," said Wildman, an early childhood teacher at Mountain Vista Elementary. "There's such a need. Even though we have struggles here in America, it's still so much better than what other children have and sometimes we forget that."
Wildman took a week of vacation and is paying her own way to Belize, Central America, where she is the first early childhood educator to be part of the Belize Education Project, a nonprofit organization based in Colorado. The group works to fulfill its mission of improving literacy and education in Belize by providing books and supplies, scholarships for students and continuing education for teachers. Wildman is one of 20 Colorado teachers and administrators who are spending a week working at three high-needs schools in Belize, a country where most children don't attend school after eighth grade.
"I'm a little nervous," Wildman admitted before leaving on the trip of a lifetime. "I don't know what to expect. The classrooms are different, they have dirt floors, the children wear uniforms."
But she is also excited about the possibilities.
"Kids are kids, they love to learn, they love to play," Wildman said. "Seeing the kids – all kids – excited to learn, that crosses cultures. I want to be a part of helping them learn."
The focus will be on literacy.
"We have great literacy and writing programs to help get our students where they need to be ... I want to be able to instill early literacy and writing skills and help teachers so maybe they'll be more successful."
"We have great literacy and writing programs to help get our students where they need to be," Wildman said. "I want to be able to instill early literacy and writing skills and help teachers so maybe they'll be more successful."
She says the Colorado contingent will share ideas, strategies and best practices with their Belizean counterparts. They will also leave them with tangible resources.
"We're bringing down tons of school supplies!" Wildman said.
Wildman's colleagues here in Colorado are proud of her.
"We are thrilled with this opportunity for Crystal to work in an underprivileged environment where the literacy rate is so low," said LeAnne Troutman, Early Childhood Education Student Achievement Coordinator for Cherry Creek Schools. "Her strong leadership skills as well as an extensive knowledge of best practices will greatly benefit the students of Belize. During her stay her team will be conducting professional development on appropriate literacy and pre-writing activities for the Belize teachers, as well as working with the parents to learn to read or practice reading with them.
"Crystal is exemplifying the values of the Cherry Creek School District by engaging students and parents in the educational process and fostering a love of lifelong learning," Troutman added. "We feel fortunate to have such a strong member of Early Childhood represent us in Belize!"