Marymount Group Takes Student-Inspired Trip to Panama

After working with severely disabled children at a Costa Rican orphanage as part of a Marymount University service trip, Maria Paredes wanted her peers to do the same thing at a school where she volunteered in her native Panama.

    “I knew it would mean a lot to that school,” she said. “I knew I had to get MU there to help those kids.”

    So she shared her idea.

    “Students have a big voice at Marymount,” said Dr. Clara Hauth, an assistant professor of special education. “If they tell us they want something to happen, we say, ‘Let’s talk about a way to make that happen.’ That’s one of my favorite things about being here. Students feel comfortable bringing ideas to faculty. If we’re going to do something, we’re going to do it together.”

    They did just that, and came up with a plan to make such a trip as part of MU’s Global Classroom Series, with help from Dr. Lisa Turissini, chair of the Department of Education, Dr. Lois Stover, dean of the School of Education and Human Services, and Victor Betancourt, executive director of the Center for Global Education.

    As a result, a group from Marymount was in Panama from July 8 to 17, where they worked with students and teachers at the Instituto Preparatorio Pedagogicio in Panama City. Led by Hauth and Dr. Jennifer Gray, an assistant professor of education, the group included eight students, a mix of undergraduates and graduate students. They administered academic assessment tests to the school’s students and provided professional development for teachers, mostly focused on classroom management and intervention strategies for students with autism.

    “A trip like this not only gives you the opportunity to share with the teachers there some of the things you’ve learned, but also to learn from them and bring that back,” Hauth said. “When you’re exposed to other ways of doing things, your toolbox expands.”

    She said the experience of working in international settings translates to teaching in the greater Washington, D.C., area, where so many schools serve diverse populations.

    “We all don’t think the same way,” Hauth said. “What we’re trying to do at Marymount is stress that there are multiple ways of doing things, and you have to select the right way for your classroom. Kids can’t learn if they’re not comfortable and don’t feel they’re valued.”    

    MU plans to continue to provide classroom support to the Panamanian school, with MU pre-service teachers collaborating with teachers in Panama. Hauth hopes MU can send student teachers to Panama and have Panamanian teachers study in Arlington. “Quite a few of our students speak Spanish, so it will be nice to have that option,” she said. 

    Currently, Marymount education majors can student teach in Italy, New Zealand and Uganda. They complete nearly 400 hours of field experience in their coursework before they go into student teaching, which adds another 300 hours to their experience.

    “It’s a big deal,” Hauth said. “By the time they’re done here, they’ve been in the classroom almost 700 hours.”

    Marymount’s special education graduates have a 100 percent job placement rate.

    Paredes, who will earn her degree in 2018, was inspired to go into the field because of a younger cousin who is blind. She saw all the things her aunt went through back in Panama to ensure that her daughter, now in fourth grade, received an education. She also knew that not every Panamanian family has the opportunity for their special needs child to receive an education.

    “It made me want to work to change that,” Paredes said, so she started volunteering at the school. She hopes to teach at Instituto Preparatorio Pedagogicio, which has 10 classrooms and 100 students. “Someday I would love to open my own school,” she added.

    It’s a big idea, but she’s at a place where big ideas are encouraged.

    “That’s one of the things I like the most about Marymount,” Paredes said. “It’s not every school where you can go to your teacher and give ideas. I felt that I was really being listened to and am really, really grateful for Dr. Hauth and everyone else involved.”


Photo 1

Marymount education majors in Panama City, Panama, as part of MU’s Global Classroom SeriesFrom left: Collin Bazemore, Sulianys Hernandez, Dr. Jennifer Gray, Maria Paredes, Bette Stobo, Audrey Cate, Emily Scheuer, Sheri McGuire and Robyn Weatherholtz

Photo 2

Marymount University students Audrey Cate, Sulianys Hernandez and Bette Stobo work with a student at the Instituto Preparatorio Pedagogicio in Panama City.

Photo 3

Instituto Preparatorio Pedagogicio Director Dr. Eneida Ferrar, along with Marymount Professors Dr. Clara Hauth and Dr. Jennifer Gray, provide professional development activities for Marymount University students and the teachers at IPP.

Photo 4

A cultural dinner in Panama with Marymount University students.