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Alumni Profile: Jaime Belden

Alumni Profile: 2004 Armstrong Graduate Jaime Belden Working to Improve Quality of Education in Latin America
Posted on 08/23/2019
Jaime Belden with teachers in Latin AmericaThe foundation of skills and interests developed while attending Robbinsdale Area Schools has led ‘04 Armstrong alumna Jaime Belden on the path to improve the quality of education children receive in Latin America by working with indigenous and impoverished communities.

After high school, Jaime attended Hamline University in St. Paul, where she majored in Global Studies, with minors in Political Science and Spanish. In college, she studied abroad for a semester near Murcia, Spain. After college, Jaime’s volunteer experiences also inspired her path. She traveled around western Europe, Costa Rica and Nicaragua through a volunteer program.

As part of her volunteer experience in Nicaragua, $10,000 was used to build a three-room school in a neighborhood that didn’t have a school before. “We got to experience kids going to school for the first time in their life. They were so excited that they just ran into the building. These are really smart kids who hadn’t had access to education before -- it was really inspiring,” she said.

For the past six years, Jaime has lived in Nicaragua for nine months each year, working with more than 250 local teachers through her nonprofit, Future Roots Project. “Nicaragua is the poorest Spanish speaking country. The quality of education in Nicaragua is an emergency/crisis situation. Half of the kids who start 1st grade won’t finish 5th grade. The teachers themselves are a product of that system. And I knew we could do better, even with very limited resources,” she said.

So Jaime and a classmate from college, Elizabeth Dahl, started Future Roots Project to address those challenges. The nonprofit provides sustainable ideas, strategies and activities to teachers, giving them the ability to transform their classrooms into environments conducive to learning. They aim to foster a love of education through games, music and reading, all while promoting literacy, critical thinking, creativity and empowerment. One of the strategies they demonstrate to teachers is how to use recycled materials. Another strategy is to have students work in stations in order to maximize the teachers’ scarce resources. Jaime models lessons for teachers, and relishes coming into a school or class at the invitation of the local teacher.

Teachers in Latin America

Jaime’s own educational experience began at Noble Elementary. She was very involved in choir throughout her education in Robbinsdale Area Schools, beginning in 4th grade at Noble. “I was in all district choir and that was really amazing,” she said. “Music was definitely one of the best parts of my education,” Jaime continued.

After Noble, Jaime attended Sandburg Middle School. While at Sandburg, Jaime heard great things about Mr. Buggs, the Spanish teacher, from her friends and fellow students. These stories inspired her to register for Spanish in 7th grade. Her interest in Spanish continued at Armstrong High School, including involvement in Spanish Honor Society. She also connected with exchange students while at Armstrong. “I was friends with students from all over the world,” she said.

Many of her memories from Robbinsdale Area Schools are of her teachers. Jaime enjoyed remembering how Mr. Buggs would ride his bike from St. Paul to Sandburg. She has also kept in touch with Mr. Stevenson, her 8th grade social studies teacher. “I got along so well with all of my teachers. I want to let them know that I am so grateful, and they prepared me (for what I’m doing now),” she said.

For example, her many years in choir has reached over into her current work. One of the methods Future Roots Project uses is to show teachers how to be successful with limited resources, including teaching through music. “I get up in front of 80 teachers and sing songs - it’s how my choir experience has helped,” she said.

“It has been a fulfilling experience to see the project grow exponentially starting with one teacher in one school, to working with all the schools in the community, to training all the preschool teachers in the state and finally now working with 250 teachers in three different states of Nicaragua!” This year, the nonprofit is expanding to include 100 Guatemalan rural teachers; Jaime will also live in Guatemala this school year.

Student in Latin America

Jaime continues her connection with Robbinsdale Area Schools and tutors several Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion students when she is home. Her grandfather, Calvert Belden, was also a teacher and Cross Country coach at Cooper High School. He is a member of the Robbinsdale Area Retired Educators (RARE) group and makes arrangements for Jaime to speak with RARE members. The RARE group, she said, offers her lots of emotional support and also donates essential supplies for students.

In the summer, the nonprofit has a team of 10 lead teachers who continue to provide support to the local educators, which allows Jaime to fundraise for Future Roots Project. “Teachers in Nicaragua are in such a bad economic situation. They don’t have smart-phones, which is how we connect with local teachers throughout the year,” she said. As such, she is organizing a used cell phone drive. If you would like to donate your old or unused cell phone to Future Roots Project, donations of factory reset phones can be dropped off at the Robbinsdale Area Schools central office (4148 Winnetka Ave N, New Hope), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 4 pm, until Monday, September 30, 2019.

District 281 wishes Jaime all the best as she embarks for Guatemala on August 27. If you’d like to learn more about Future Roots Project, please visit their website at http://futurerootsproject.com/ or email Jaime directly at belden@futurerootsproject.com.

Jaime Belden