Global Education: GSE Students Engage in Service Learning in Yucatan

February 12, 2018

In January of this year, GSE students in the elementary, ESL, dance, and Spanish teacher education programs visited Mexico over winter break as part of the Community-Based Education in Yucatán program. Participants deepened their learning about community engagement at the Unidad Académica Bachillerato con Interacción Comunitaria (UABIC).  This high school in Mérida which is part of the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán (UADY) has the unique focus of engaging all students in service learning opportunities.  The UADY established the high school in an under-resourced part of town with the objective that while in high school, students engage in various service projects focused on meeting needs in the local community.

The UABIC high school students, supported by their principal Guillermo Arturo Contreras Gil and their English teachers, provided the GSE students with a presentation describing their community service projects. The projects focus on adult education, tutoring, care of stray animals, family gardens, and more. “The mission of the school inspired us as it puts a funds of knowledge approach into action. This approach encouraged us to identify the sources of knowledge and resources in the community,” said Delfina Picchio, GSE student in the five-year Ed.M. in Language Education with ESL certification program.

While at the UABIC, GSE students were busy. They prepared eight Conversation Cafés where they practiced English with the high school students in informal settings. They connected students from the UABIC with students in Spanish classes at Highland Park High School via a video and letter exchange program. UABIC students crafted video responses to messages from Highland Park, including an introduction to a variety of Mexican music genres and a description of traditional Yucatecan dishes, such as papadzules and panuchos.  The relationship between UABIC and Highland Park High School, now in its fourth year, offers opportunities for students in each country to use their new language skills with a peer audience.

“The experience gained in Mexico encourages the development of intercultural competence, insights into Mexican cultures, languages, and heritage, and a better understanding of immigration experiences in the United States. The goal is that this transfers into the future teaching practices and the dispositions of GSE students,” stated GSE Director of Local-Global Partnerships, Dr. Mary Curran. “Transformational learning occurs when people from different cultural backgrounds engage together in meaningful activity and are supported with guided reflection on the experience.”

UABIC principal Contreras Gil will share information about the school’s focus on community service at the seventh annual Teaching the World Forum to be held at Rutgers on April 21, 2018.  Registration information for the conference is available here.

For information about the Community-Based Education in Yucatán Program, please contact Dr. Mary Curran at

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