Barbara Culatta Returns from Guatemala

Dr. Barbara Culatta instructs a child in Guatemala .Dr. Barbara Culatta instructs a child in Guatemala.

Associate Dean Barbara Culatta recently returned from her seventh trip to Guatemala as a representative of BYU and the Rose Foundation. Her purpose included continued support of three schools as they work to improve literacy instruction through implementing ALEER--a Spanish version of the English curriculum called SEEL (Systematic and Engaging Early Literacy). This year's visit also resulted in plans for one Guatemalan principal to come to BYU.

Beginning in September, Principal Shayla Gijalva Figueroa will spend 6-8 weeks at BYU learning more about SEEL and helping McKay School faculty become more sensitive to the issues involved with implementing SEEL principles in a Latin culture. "The way they teach reading is different than the way we teach reading," explained Culatta. "All the work we do with [Shayla] will be posted onto the Web for use by educators worldwide."

Dr. Culatta was introduced to the Rose Foundation while working with Richard Aslett, a teacher at Timpanogos Elementary and member of the Rose Education Foundation. Aslett was impressed by Dr. Culatta's love for education and invited her to share her experience with the organization. Dr. Culatta accepted the invitation and has since become an influential figure in the program. She visits Guatemala annually, with BYU and the McKay School of Education supporting her trips. Other literacy professors from the McKay School have also joined Dr. Culatta in this work. Last year she was also accompanied by two students: Nathan Richardson of Communication Disorders and Aurora Torejon of Educational Leadership.

"The way they teach reading is different than the way we teach reading."

In addition to supporting three Guatemalan schools, The Rose Foundation sponsors an international educational conference. As a speaker and presenter at the 2008 conference Dr. Culatta reflected on its impact. "By sponsoring the conference the Rose Foundation supports their own teachers' professional development. But they also give professional development opportunities to other teachers." The purpose of the conference as well as other literacy activities sponsored by the Rose Foundation is to bring quality education to indigenous Mayan students-empowering these young people to enter professions that have traditionally been out of reach-thus enabling them to support their families.

Visiting schools and training teachers and principals in classroom settings are Dr. Culatta's favorite activities in Guatemala. She especially likes to work in classrooms or schools where the educators "have caught the vision." Speaking of one such classroom, Dr. Culatta was excited to see changes. "I think there was a big difference between what the children are learning in that classroom compared with other classrooms I visited."

In addition to the benefits to Guatemala's teachers and students, Dr. Culatta finds benefits from these experiences for her own scholarly activities. She explains that through the years she has quit expecting "instant adoptions" and developed an attitude of give and take-where she accepts what teachers already do to teach literacy-and counsels them to adjust in ways that make them more effective. This process, Culatta adds, reactivates her interest in her own research, as well facilitates experiences where she adds to her knowledge pool.

However, most important to Dr. Culatta is the individual lives she impacts. "I think it's exciting to think that you are making a contribution."

14 August 2008