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Rowan graduate students presenting at International Literacy Conference.

The Central American nation of Guatemala is thousands of miles from the classrooms of South Jersey but educationally it is a world apart.

An ancient nation bordered on one side by the Caribbean and the other the Pacific Ocean, Guatemala has pockets of wealth - much of it concentrated in the cities - and great swaths of poor in the hilly, agrarian countryside.

In February, ten graduate students in Rowan's College of Education will travel to Guatemala in a multi-purpose trip in which they'll spend time in rural classrooms, share American teaching practices with Guatemalan teachers, and present at the International Literacy Conference in Guatemala City.

"The experience of getting away from what we know education to be will be the most important part of the trip," said Dr. Midge Madden, Reading Department Chair in the CoE and advisor for the trip.

Dr. Madden noted that in many Guatemalan schools, especially the rural, poorly funded ones, teachers typically have no college education and do not generally employ standard, widely accepted teaching practices, like they do in the U.S. Students generally learn by rote -- seeing or hearing something and committing it to memory, not through proven pedagogical technique.

"The students so want to learn," she said. "It's very inspiring."

Dr. Madden, along with Rowan Professor Emeritus Dr. Jane Sullivan, has conducted teaching workshops in Guatemala since 1997. In 2008 she brought five Rowan graduate students to Guatemala for the Literacy Conference and has arranged to take ten more to the conference this year.

The students are all in their final year of the Co-Teach MST program, a five-year course of study in which they earn a Bachelor of Arts in American Studies and Elementary Education. The fifth year students also will earn New Jersey endorsements in reading and special education as well as a Master in Science of Teaching degree.

Joining Madden and Sullivan on the trip will be Dr. Stacey Leftwich, Dr. Valarie Lee, Ms. Eileen Stutzbach and students Sara Alves, Jennifer Cady, Jennifer Campagnola, Lisa Cioffi, Daniel Cohen, Lindsey Giannatonio, Laurel Hartmann, Rebecca Goldberg, Caley Spahn, and Lauren Stevens.

The students' presentation at the conference will be a dramatic rendering of the book "The Most Beautiful Place in the World," a Spanish children's book set in Panajachel, Guatemala.

Though it's still several months away, students this week said they've saved for the trip, planned for it and the excitement surrounding it is building.

"I'm most looking forward to being in the Mayan schools and being immersed in their culture," said Laurel Hartmann, 22, of Cranford.

Said Dan Cohen, 23, of West Orange, "I want to be a teacher. I'm looking forward to meeting teachers from another country."

In preparation for the trip, students and faculty members are raising money and collecting Spanish language elementary-age books to bring with them. To donate, or to learn more about how you can help, contact Dr. Madden.

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