Teachers Kristen Cardona of Killingworth and Marina Outwater of Prospect recently returned from Oaxaca, Mexico, where they participated in a month-long summer institute of learning for educators. The two Connecticut teachers were among 30 educators selected nationwide to participate in the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for School Teachers to learn more about Mesoamerican culture.
The July fellowship in southern Mexico gave Cardona and Outwater the opportunity to increase their knowledge of Mesoamerican culture by delving into indigenous beliefs and their histories through readings, lectures, and experiential learning. The program promoted connections between teaching and research in the humanities, allowing teachers to get a hands-on experience that they will share and incorporate into their lesson plans with their students.
Cardona is a foreign language and literature teacher at Killingworth Elementary School, and Outwater is a seventh grade Language Arts and Reading teacher at Long River Middle School in Prospect. They both studied Mesoamerican Cultures and their Histories: Spotlight on Oaxaca, and focused on archeology, history, linguistics, art, and cinema during the four-week session.
“This professional development program was truly life changing,” Cardona said. “Each week I would think had been the best week, only to find the next week equally engaging. Not only were the professors and material thrilling, but it was also a magnificent feeling to be in a peer group of teaching excellence.”
Outwater agreed, “Oaxaca is such a historically and culturally interesting city, and I learned more than I could ever imagine from the engaging, scholarly lectures and field trips. This institute fueled my passion for teaching a topic such as Mesoamerica in depth through the use of current research and primary resources.”
Cardona and Outwater were also able to see the local teachers’ union in action in Oaxaca, as the educators held a march and occupy movement in the town center to support children and education. The teachers were also protesting their working conditions and the lack of necessary resources, including textbooks and other supplies needed for learning, and called on the government to provide more education funding. Oaxaca is an extremely poor area, and more than 20 percent of the population is illiterate and nearly half of the children over 15 years old have not completed primary school.
Cardona and Outwater spoke with the teachers who camped out for more than a week to bring attention to the needs of the children in Oaxaca.
“It was very inspiring to see such dedicated teachers and such an awareness of the necessity of unions,” Cardona said. “The situation was very heated; the Mexican teachers were concerned about police harassment or possible arrest. Nevertheless the teachers continued to camp out, hold union meetings, display signs, blockade roads, and stand united in their fight to improve education for their students.”
Cardona continued, “The teachers are extremely passionate about the societal changes they are fighting for and the need for change. Although their problems are more urgent, due to extreme poverty, the teachers in Oaxaca face problems similar to those we have in the U.S.: poverty, government regulations, lack of funding, standardized testing, and privatization.”
Both educators said their experiences will help them improve their teaching and lessons, and they encourage their colleagues to participate in this or other highly effective summer institutes that provide professional development for teachers.
Each year, NEH offers 22 seminars to support enrichment opportunities for teachers to study with experts in humanities disciplines. The teachers received a stipend to cover their travel, study, and living expenses. For more information visit http://blogs.uoregon.edu/mesoinstitute/ or http://www.neh.gov/divisions/education/summer-programs.