For nearly a decade, Mercer University’s McDonald Center for the Advancement of Global Education has been working with schoolteachers and leaders in the Dominican Republic to improve education in the country.
Its ongoing efforts include in-country support and training, virtual assistance from abroad, and hosting Dominican educators on the Mercer campus.
“Thanks to a generous gift by Tom and Ramona McDonald, the McDonald Center for the Advancement of Global Education was established in 2015 to impact teaching and learning in the Dominican Republic and beyond,” said Dr. Penny Elkins, senior vice president for enrollment management at Mercer. “The tremendous gains in teacher and leader engagement in that region from the program’s inception to its current state are simply remarkable.”
In August, the center held its annual Summer Conference on Teaching and Learning in the Dominican Republic to further train educators on the “Mercer modules” of instructional planning, delivery and assessment, said Dr. Navella Jean Walker, director of the project and assistant professor of clinical practice.
For the first time, representatives from the country’s Ministry of Education attended the center’s conference. While the ministry has been aware of the center’s work since the beginning, its conference attendance was significant.
“Having the Ministry of Education involved is a way to sustain and accelerate and expand the Mercer modules throughout the country with the goal of increasing student achievement through instructional leadership and researched best practices,” Dr. Walker said.
Tom McDonald, who along with his wife funded the McDonald Center for the Advancement of Global Education, said the education ministry’s involvement is a sign of progress in the Dominican Republic.
“That’s a major step forward from my standpoint,” he said. “Being in concert and working with them so that the project is coordinated means it can be expanded much better and quicker.”
So far, the center has impacted hundreds of teachers and thousands of students, McDonald said.
“The more educated people are, the better chance they have to live a more productive life, a life they can better enjoy. It is also good for the country,” he said. “This is an island nation that has to attract industry to have jobs there. So, if you have educated people, they have a chance to attract other industries, which is good not only for the people but for the country.”
Initially, the project in the Dominican Republic involved teachers and leaders from public and private schools in Region 5, which consists of the San Pedro de Macorís area, as well as Eastern Central University. This year, those from schools in Region 12, in the area of Higuey, also were included.
About 100 participants attended this year’s conference, which was led by four from the College of Education; Mellanie Robinson, an assistant professor at Dalton State College; and Corrine Williams, a math content expert from Texas. The Mercerians were Dr. Walker; Dr. Cynthia Anderson, retired assistant professor; Dr. Elaine Thurmond, assistant professor of clinical practice; and Lottie Harris, a former College of Education student and retired teacher.
“These teachers in the Dominican Republic have had an opportunity to really work with the Mercer modules and see how they can work, as well as plan, with their school leaders,” Dr. Walker said. “And so, they go back to their schools with a collaborative team, with everybody talking the same language that was used at the conference. They can go back to their school and implement it.”
As an instructor at this summer’s conference, Harris presented engaging instructional strategies, such as math games, to the teachers.
“Teachers really want to help their kids, and they really want strategies to help their students,” Harris said. “I demonstrated how to use them, how to implement them, and how to get their kids to use those strategies when they’re working with them. And if it doesn’t work, I showed them different alternatives that they could do with them.”
Dr. Anderson has worked with the center since its second year. Visiting schools and classrooms has been a vital part of the center’s work.
During such visits, the center “conducts walk-throughs in the school buildings, facilitates on-site professional learning, observes in classrooms, and works with school leaders,” Dr. Anderson said.
“We have opportunities to intermingle with the students — to get down and dirty on the floor with kindergarteners while also engaging in Socratic seminars with high school students.”
Until recently, the Dominican Republic did not have a formalized national assessment program to measure student achievement. Last spring, third grade students across the country completed a national test with results to be used as benchmarks to support plans for improvement in student achievement.
Representatives from Mercer plan to facilitate professional learning with school leaders on data analysis and use in making decisions for instructional delivery and support, Dr. Anderson said.
The focus of the center’s work in the Dominican Republic now is sustainability. Key to sustainability is identifying the participants in professional learning sessions, equipping them with the knowledge and skills to redeliver their learning to others across the country, and designing systems to monitor and support the work.
The ideal goal is for Mercer to step back and let leaders, teachers and supporters in the Dominican Republic take the lead on enhancing student achievement.
“The consistent, frequent interaction and professional learning opportunities that Mercer’s faculty provide continue to grow in scope and influence, as evidenced by the recent enhanced partnership with the Ministry of Education,” Dr. Elkins said. “This will significantly forward the McDonalds’ vision to create sustainable improvements in teaching, leading and student learning outcomes in the region.”