Palmer and Her Students Part of Secretary of State’s Guatemala Visit
College of Education associate professor Deborah Palmer and her students, who are in Guatemala for a study abroad course, participated in a June 6 event hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry at Casa Herrera in Antigua.
This was Kerry’s first trip to Latin America since taking office, and he was there to attend the Organization of American States’ annual general assembly. The two-day meeting he’s attending is scheduled to address issues like counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism and human rights.
The event at Casa Herrera was part of the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Initiative by the U.S. State Department. The purpose of the initiative is to increase international study in Latin America and the Caribbean, and foster region-wide prosperity through greater international exchange of students.
Casa Herrera, which is one of the original houses of colonial Antigua, is a research, conference and teaching facility operated by UT Austin’s Department of Art and Art History in collaboration with Fundacion Pantaleon. International scholars and students who teach and learn about the varied and inter-related disciplines that contribute to the study of Pre-Columbian art, archaeology, history and culture attend Casa Herrera.
The U.S. Embassy has brought in around 100 children from Guatemala City and surrounding areas of Antigua to study English as part of a scholarship program. During Kerry’s visit, these children were part of a small ceremony and were visited by Kerry as they participated in activities in each of the Casa Herrera classrooms.
During his visit Kerry was accompanied by members of the U.S. Embassy and representatives from UT Austin including Jack Risley, chairman of the Department of Art and Art History; David Stuart, director of UT’s Mesoamerica Center and a professor of art history; and Palmer and her students.
Palmer is teaching a Summer I, faculty-led, Cultural Diversity in Education course in Antigua called Sociocultural Influences on Learning. The class is designed to demonstrate to students, firsthand, how cultural, social, economic and linguistic differences influence the way that people learn.
“I have 18 UT students – 16 undergraduates and two graduate students – participating in this six-week program,” said Palmer, who’s in the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction. “Some of the students are part of UTeach and the College of Education’s EC-6 program and others are from outside our college. While here in Antigua, they develop ESL lessons, teach English twice a week at a preschool serving Guatemalan two- to six-year-olds and take my class as well as a Spanish class at a language school here. They live with Guatemalan host families, so there are many opportunities for immersion in the Mayan culture.”
Palmer holds her classes at Casa Herrera and there also are UT staff on site – Milady Casco and Rene Ozaeta. Other study abroad courses take place in Casa Herrera as well.
“For Secretary of State Kerry’s visit, Casa Herrera offered space for the U.S. Embassy and for meetings and events surrounding the visit,” said Palmer. “For one of the events – the one in which I and my students participated – 100 Guatemalan high school students were bused in from all over the country.
“These high school students are taking part in an ESL program sponsored by the U.S. Embassy. Kerry visited Casa Herrera classes in which the high school students were learning English from Guatemalan ESL teachers, and my students acted as teaching assistants, helping out in those classes. It was pretty exciting.”
Palmer said that during Kerry’s visit she and her students also assisted with the nuts-and-bolts of physically arranging spaces in Casa Herrera to accommodate the visitors. Additionally, they prepared the Guatemalan high school students for the visit, warming them up and helping them feel more relaxed and at home at Casa Herrera.
“My students wore UT T-shirts, so it was clear where we were from and who we represented,” said Palmer. “We did lend a hand and were very proud to be part of the occasion, but the event really was about these high school students and the wonderful program they’re in. Secretary of State Kerry was kind enough to give my students a ‘shout out,’ thanked them for their efforts and for working to learn Spanish and teach English and just build strong cultural bridges. I know that meant a lot to my group.”