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University of Iowa News Release


June 29, 2007

Gifted Students From Yucatán, Mexico To Visit UI Through New Partnership

A group of gifted middle school students from Mexico will visit the University of Iowa Saturday, June 30 through Sunday, July 8, as part of a unique learning and cultural immersion program sponsored by the UI's Connie Belin and Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted and Talent Development.

In partnership with the Independent University of Yucatán, the Belin-Blank Center developed the Yucatán Scholars Program, which features a rich array of educational and cultural experiences including classes led by the director of the world-renowned International Writing Program, attending a minor league baseball game, and viewing a Joffrey Ballet performance.

The Yucatán Scholars Program will bring 14 gifted students to interact with U.S. students in gifted programs who are participating in the Blank Summer Institute, a program that draws middle school students from across Iowa. The Mexican students, six boys and eight girls, range in ages from 12 to 15. All are from the state of Yucatán, with the exception of two girls who come from a gifted program in the state of Sinaloa.

"My hope is that it will not only be an academic experience for them, but something more in line with a study abroad-type experience," said Jan Warren, Belin-Blank Center student program administrator. "We want them to experience life here in Iowa City, form friendships with gifted students from the U.S., and engage in learning both inside the classroom and out."

Warren said that they also wanted to share "what it means to be at Iowa, from our tremendous academic resources to our well-earned reputation of hospitality. These students will be our guests for only a short time, and we hope to provide them with an experience that they will never forget."

During the week, students will attend UI classes on a variety of topics including archaeology and occupational and environmental health. The level of English proficiency will vary greatly from student to student, although all have had at least some formal training in English, Warren said. Some of the academic sessions will be taught in Spanish, and others will be in English with translations offered.

A student from Yucatán will get to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Kernels game on Sunday, July 1. University and Iowa City officials will participate in opening and closing banquets, and the students will also participate in an evening of Wacky Olympics, a picnic, and fireworks on the Fourth of July.

The students will also visit the Amana Colonies and view butter making, the furniture factory and woolen mills, and demonstrations by a blacksmith and tinsmith.

Nicholas Colangelo, director of the Belin-Blank Center, said this is the center's first program to bring in internationally gifted young students to the UI.

"Gifted education is essentially nonexistent in Mexico, and this program with Yucatán is the initiative that can get things started," Colangelo said. "They are planning on forming a gifted center modeled on the Belin-Blank Center."

Not only is this program unique to the UI, but there aren't many others like it across the nation, Colangelo said.

"The Belin-Blank Center has made a major commitment to its international emphasis, and it is one of our new strategic goals," Colangelo said. "Over the years, we have had a number of international educators visit the center or take professional development training, and a number of other staff and I have presented in other countries."

Colangelo said that the students will have the opportunity to be involved in courses as well as experience different facets of U.S. culture since they will be here during the Fourth of July.

"They will also get exposure to advanced academic and artistic experiences that they would not have seen in Merida," the capital city of Yucatán, Colangelo said. "The hope is that this experience will motivate them to use their abilities in high school and aim high and go to a university either in Mexico or perhaps at the University of Iowa."

The program came to fruition after Colangelo made a trip to Yucatán to meet with several administrative heads who were interested in initiating a gifted program in Yucatan and also having some gifted students attend a summer program at Belin-Blank Center. The coordinator of Yucatán Scholars Program in Merida is Pedro Sanchez Escobedo, a UI alumnus who earned his doctorate from the College of Education and is now a faculty member in education at the university in Yucatán.

Colangelo said the Yucatán administrators are also interested in receiving teacher training. Two Belin-Blank staff members will travel to Merida for training, possibly as soon as this fall.

The Belin-Blank Center is contributing toward the funding for the program with additional support coming from a number of private and public sources in Yucatán. There is a partial fee for each student dependent on ability to pay.

"There is nothing more rewarding than giving young people of exceptional ability and motivation the chance to spread their wings," Colangelo said. "Everything about this summer program will be new for these 14 students. In addition they will get to know U.S. students, and I think realize that the excitement of learning is a stronger bond than any differences in languages and culture."

The UI College of Education's Connie Belin and Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development is part of the UI College of Education. For more information on the Belin-Blank Center, visit

For more information on the Yucatán Scholars Program or a complete schedule of events, contact Jan Warren at 319-530-8560.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This program provides many good photo opportunities including a student throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the Kernels game at approximately 1 p.m. Sunday, July 1 at Veteran's Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids as well as Amana tours, picnics, pottery making, dances and more. Contact Jan Warren at 319-530-8560 to arrange an interview or for a complete schedule.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

PROGRAM CONTACT: Jan Warren, 319-530-8560,

MEDIA CONTACT: Lois J. Gray, University News Services, 319-384-0077,