|Education Student from Bethlehem Earns UST MEd|
Commencement is a rite of passage for graduates – a time for assessing the past and focusing on the future. For Khalil Handal, who traveled from the West Bank to Houston, walking across the stage to receive a master’s degree in education is another step in his multicultural journey – an educational journey that bridged distance with hope.
Handal is one of four students who earned a unique Master of Education degree born from a partnership with the University of St. Thomas and the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist’s Holy Child Program for Traumatized Children in Beit Sahour (Shepherd’s Field). UST School of Education faculty traveled to Bethlehem to teach graduate education courses onsite while the remainder of the curriculum was completed online. The program was offered to Holy Child staff and other educators.
“This project is an international outreach opportunity for the University of St. Thomas that provides a fundamental humanitarian service to children and educators in a war-torn region of the world,” said Dr. Robert LeBlanc, dean of UST’s School of Education.
The Holy Child Program was founded in 1997 at the pleading of several parents of small children who were suffering from various symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress. Parents sought help from the Franciscan Sisters, who ran a family counseling center in Bethlehem. The Holy Child Program provides therapy for children ages 4 to 16, and the school’s overwhelming success has subsequently attracted many local educators seeking training and advice. When donors offered to fund graduate education for the staff on the condition that the program then become a training center for other Palestinian educators, UST Professor Sister Paula Jean Miller, FSE, approached the UST School of Education to explore distance learning options, since the wall of separation precludes education outside of the Bethlehem area where most West Bank Christians live.
“These are the first international master degrees at the Franciscan Sister’s Holy Child Program,” said LeBlanc. “This is such an overwhelming compliment on their part to have accomplished this master degree. Rebecca and I traveled to Bethlehem in 2007. Rebecca is a private-practice psychologist, so she offered counseling services and I taught a course. Rebecca and I enjoyed working with them when we visited the Holy Child Program and we greatly appreciated their hospitality.”
Since the University signed on as a partner, UST education Professors Sister Marie Faubert, CSJ, and Dr. Emiliano Gonzalez have been dedicated to the program. Sister Faubert made one trip to Bethlehem and taught three online courses, and Gonzales taught one course onsite in Bethlehem. They will watch Handal walk across the stage at UST’s Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, May 16. It was their dream to have these international students attend commencement. Anonymous donors funded Handal’s trip to the United States. Only Handal was able to obtain a visa for travel. Gonzales will host Handal in his home during his visit.
“I feel blessed that Khalil Handal is able to represent the students from the Palestine Authority who are finishing their Master of Education degrees from the University of St. Thomas in 2009,” Sr. Faubert said. “These students have worked very hard since 2005 in both face-to-face classes and online classes.”
Even though the other three graduating students – Iskander Khoury, Roel Bael and Sister Naomi Zimmermann, FSE, – won’t visit campus, their presence and the work of the Holy Child Program will be known here thanks to the generosity of Drs. Robert and Rebecca LeBlanc. To commemorate their accomplishment in completing a MEd, the LeBlancs donated four bricks that will be inscribed on the University Seal Plaza. The students decided to combine their four pavers into one block to accommodate the following inscription: Holy Child Program Bethlehem “Building Foundations of Peace through the Child” Skander Khoury, Khalil Handal, Roel Bael and Sister Naomi Zimmermann, FSE.”
Shown from left to right: Dr. Emiliano Gozalez, associate professor of education, Sister Marie Faubert, CSJ, Khalil Handel and Dean of the School of Education Dr. Robert LeBlanc.