The brainchild of the Morgridge College's Cynthia Hazel, an assistant professor in the Child, Family and School Psychology Program, Project Ecuador mixes classroom and service learning with a three-week journey to South America. The course includes four academic seminars during fall quarter and one following the trip in winter quarter. Students volunteer for 10 hours in Denver schools and 50 hours in Ecuadorian schools.
Open to all graduate students regardless of their prior travel, academic or work experience, the course allows students to contrast the theory and practice of education in the U.S. and in Ecuador. Students pay special attention to the concepts of globalization, colonization and sustainability, Hazel explains.
Project Ecuador grew out of Hazel's own travel experiences and her long-term interest in how U.S. schools work with Latino children and their families.
On two previous trips to Ecuador, she met with education professionals and began learning about how the education system works there. As she absorbed information, it occurred to her that DU graduate students would benefit from a comparable experience. They would see firsthand how another democracy addresses its education challenges and perhaps identify some practices that would work well in U.S. schools, particularly in schools with Latino populations. For example, Hazel says, students may study how English as a foreign language is taught in Ecuador, with an eye toward a knowledge transfer that could enhance U.S. programs.
Just as important, Hazel adds, students will have the possibility for a transformative experience, a chance to savor another culture. "I think the hard part," she says, "is having your eyes opened and realizing your own assumptions and realizing other people?s perspectives."
Hazel considers Ecuador an ideal location for the kind of learning she hopes to promote. First, it's a democracy and so can offer experiences that lend themselves to comparisons. Second, the people welcome international visitors. "Ecuador is not, at least not yet, overrun with tourists and visitors. They're very interested and willing to share their culture with us. People make time to stop and talk to you."