“We understand what is happening in Belize and we want to give back” — this is the stated motivation of Dr. Lorna Bennett and Louisa Sanchez, former Belizean teachers, who plan to establish the Bennett/Sanchez Diagnostic Teaching Centre in Belize.
Both women have been living in Canada for over 40 years, but their passion for improvement in the Belizean education system did not fade during their absence from the country. Their hope to see all students have the opportunity to learn has brought them back home to contribute to learning development for children who have different types of learning disabilities.
Bennett said that the first step in helping a child to learn is to understand what is causing the problem.
“We have to understand why that behavior is happening,” she said. “We will be opening a school and addressing the needs of children with learning problems. We will assess the child and figure out what their needs are. What are they learning, what are their strengths, and what are their weaknesses. And then once we know that, we will set up a program and hire a tutor to work with the program we have set up,” she explained.
Bennett, who holds a PhD in psychology, taught for 13 years in Belize before moving to Canada, where she is now a learning assistant teacher. She is also the author of two books that help children with learning disabilities. Sanchez has a Master’s degree in leadership and special education. She is a retired teacher and is presently a school trustee in Canada.
Both women have served as teachers and principals in Belizean institutions. The experiences they gained from their years of service in the country, coupled with their experiences in the Canadian education system, have given them a better understanding of what factors contribute to the learning incapability of children in school.
One of those factors is language barriers. Both Bennett and Sanchez agreed that the language spoken in the homes of Belizean families affects the capacity of children to learn in the classroom.
“There’s a lot of Spanish that is spoken but English is spoken in the classroom,” said Sanchez. “Dialects are spoken at home but English is spoken in the classroom. What’s happening in many instances is that parents do not understand and when the children come in, they’re not getting it. So that’s one of the things we would like to address,” she stated.
Sanchez said there is a program called English as a Second Dialect (ESD) and they hope to incorporate that program into the services they will offer at the learning center. The program will focus on helping children become more familiar and comfortable with hearing and speaking English.
Another factor, Bennett said, is the pride of the parents. She said that many times parents have too much pride to admit that their child has a problem and needs special attention. A part of the program will be geared at including the parents in what will be done with the children. Doing so will ensure that the parents have an understanding of what areas their child needs to focus on and how they can help.
The memory capacity of a person is also another contributing factor to learning difficulties, the women said. Bennett explained that everyone’s memory works differently.
She said that many times she has met students whose parents call them lazy because they do not remember specific material. But she said it’s not a matter of being lazy, but we all remember things in different ways.
The institution will be a private, non-profit venture. We were told that the Minister of Education has given his approval for the initiative.
“We want to give back what they gave to us,” Sanchez said. “We had our schooling here and we want to give them back. Because of them we were able to go and further our education. We wanna thank them for the education they gave to us, so we in turn have that opportunity to give.”
Bennett said that she knows that many of the skills and insights she has deployed in her career are based on what she got from Belize.
The plans are still in the preliminary stage, but the two were in Belize to find a location to establish the center. They have already recruited trained persons who will tend to specific needs of the children who have difficulties in various areas, including cognitive, visual, auditory, oral, and social skills deficits.
Participants in the program will be observed and assessed and a program will be developed to cater to their specific needs. The children will be allowed to visit the center at least three times a week for tutoring and evaluation.
The center will not be only for after-school assistance. It’s a more focused program, so students do not have to wait until after school to attend.