New Endeavors in Education

Christy Snoke first fell in love with Belize when she visited our SOLT mission in Benque Viejo del Carmen as a chaperone with St. Michael’s Parish Youth Group from Findlay, Ohio, 8 years ago. She always knew that one day she would return to Belize to do something important. Now she lives in Belize City working with SOLT at Divine Mercy Parish in starting Mother of Mercy Montessori. Below is an interview with Christy about her experience in helping start Mother of Mercy Montessori.

How many children attend Mother of Mercy?

Currently we have 12 children enrolled in our program.

When did the program open?

Mother of Mercy is licensed as a daycare. I tell everyone, I run a Montessori daycare or school in the same fashion- Montessori style.  Our opening Mass and day was September 12, 2017.

Why did you start the program?

There were several reasons we started the program.  There is a greater history in the Divine Mercy parish than I know of, but there has been a plan for an early childhood center at Divine Mercy for many years now.  The property and building have been there, prayer warriors praying as God lined up the time and individuals necessary to make it a reality.

There has been a desire to have an authentically Catholic early childhood development program that can build a “Civilization of Love” within the Belizean culture.

In a providential meeting with a SOLT sister in Benque Viejo del Carmen in June 2010, right before I started my Montessori journey, we discussed her vision for Montessori and the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd in Belize.  From that moment forward, I knew that one day God would align people to start a program.

How did you start the center?

In November of 2016, parishioners of Divine Mercy and I gathered to discuss Montessori and how it could enhance and build upon the beautiful Belizean culture.  Several talented Belizeans pulled together their gifts and skills to gather the necessary tools to begin the program.  Within in a short few months, we had applications submitted for the program, materials purchased, caregivers lined up, generous sponsors and some interested families.  By the beginning of March 2017, we were on our way!

Do any volunteers assist with the program?

We have volunteers assisting with the program.  Sr. Stella Maris is one of our lovely caregivers. Ms. Therese is a retired preschool teacher who contributes beautifully to the cultural element of the program.  We now have Janine Chicas, a dear parent, as the lead caregiver.  Martita, another parent, has assisted with cleaning, making aprons, etc.  All of the families are required to volunteer each year.  We also had St. John’s Junior College education department come for a day to volunteer their time building a sandbox, playing with the children and other tasks around our center.  We’ve had Guiselle and Nina, high school students volunteer on their holiday break.  Indira Chavarria assisted in purchasing snack and drinking water on a weekly basis

We have many volunteers assisting with the program, including SOLT members and the laity. Our volunteers are retired teachers, parents, and friends from all walks of life who clean, make aprons, provide food, and create cultural elements for our classroom. All of the families are required to volunteer each year.  We also had St. John’s Junior College education department come for a day to volunteer their time building a sandbox, playing with the children and other tasks around our center.

Have you seen any difference in the community or in the children already?

On a relational level, we have built some great relationships with our families.  I’m so happy to be able to walk alongside them as they raise up the next generation of adults.  We’ve been able to provide meals for a few children who otherwise may not be able to eat regularly.  Children come eagerly to our community and leave joyfully.  Their parents say they wished they had had this program sooner for their children.  Their children are more willing to be independent and help at home and with the family.

More and more people are interested in our program.  We value relationship, authenticity, provide opportunities for children to engage in a whole person developmental program.  People want to know why we are so different from other programs and are excited to invest in a system that can bring real change in their community.

Why is the program Montessori?

Montessori creates an environment that focuses on the individual needs of the child within the greater context of society.  We focus on individuals, but the whole of those individuals and the whole of the community.  We look upon the child as a gift, regarded with the upmost dignity.  We allow them to explore in a safe microcosm of the larger society, to use their curiosity to learn about the world they live in. We value independence, spontaneous learning, the development of freedom and discipline, respect, culture, etc.

The children learn to manipulate concepts concretely in order to move to thinking more abstractly.  They use their hands to train their minds.  They become good at doing things, develop a deep desire and love for learning, find intrinsic value in their personal efforts that aren’t based off of external rewards and punishments.  Children become contributing members of society through purpose-filled work.

What are the children like?

The children a fun, quirky, have very different personalities from one another, loving, joyful, compassionate, enjoy purposeful work, lovers of beauty, etc. Trust had to be established before there could be mutual respect/respect for the caregivers. They are tender and compassionate.  They are relational. They love to say hi to Jesus, their Good Shepherd.

Order and routine, and the ability to repeat and master activities are important for children to learn and grow.  These children find great joy in being able to repeat and master the work they encounter everyday at Montessori. They are like any other children.  We all have universal human tendencies, regardless if we are from Asia or North America.  

Are you looking for volunteers at Mother of Mercy Montessori?

I think that could be great if volunteers came to be assistants. Ideally, it is better to have someone stick around for longer in order to create stability (like volunteers in Benque who decide to stay for an additional year or two). However, we would need to discuss with Fr. Scott and the board and then determine housing, food, etc. so the volunteer(s) can have a place to live close to the church so they can be a part of the community. Belize City is entirely different than Benque. It’s beautiful but our volunteer program is not yet as developed for volunteering long term.