As hard working graduate students, we get so caught up in our fieldwork placements and trips to the library that we give ourselves a tunnel vision of sorts. We study hard, read, and observe teachers and schools around New York City, losing ourselves in coursework and the experience. While it is good to submerse yourself, it is also important to be aware of the bubble effect. We often talked about it in my undergrad and I hear the term at my current placement as well – that feeling that there is more out there to experience but you feel stuck in your own bubble. There are ways that Bank Street offers a wonderful way to get out of that bubble and supplement your teaching career with their study abroad programs.
When I studied abroad in college, I took several courses and spent a semester in Australia. It was quite a commitment in terms of time and funding. How could I do this again in Graduate School? As Joy Lundeen Ellebbane, director of Bank Street’s study abroad program explains, the programs are “not semester-long programs. They are geared toward working teachers.” For example, the two week-long Costa Rica trip in August is setup so you can go during school vacations. As Joy points out, another advantage to working teachers is that the programs are open to more than just Bank Street Students. “You can go if you’re not at Bank Street – the program is open to all. What we get is a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, making the group diverse and discussion richer.” Applicants can cover some or all of the cost with staff development funds or PTA scholarships from their schools. “It’s not a vacation, but it is a great way to build experience as a teacher.”
Joy spoke with me about three of Bank Street’s programs: Costa Rica, Argentina, and, offered next spring, Morocco.
She described the type of learning graduate school students experience as similar to how classes at Bank Street are structured: “Teachers there model science concepts and teaching concepts as well. The experience of it is important.” This is certainly true of classes here. We often break into jigsaws to discuss readings, activate schema before beginning a new concept, and even take movement breaks – all good things to do with your own students.
“Many teachers have units on the rainforest but think to themselves: How do I teach my students about it?” The experience in Costa Rica provides teachers rich interaction with both science and social studies curriculums. Most importantly is that this is a meaningful experience, which will be fuel for your future lessons about the rainforest and the people who interact with it.
Brandy Kerns (‘12) reflects on her experience in Monteverde:
“I appreciated the fact that on every step of my journey through Monteverde, I could ask questions and seek out a deeper understanding from people who really knew and cared what they were talking about. I realized that it is important, in my practice as a pre-k teacher, working with children as young as 4 years old, to encourage my students to think about protecting our Earth and consider our impact on the natural environment. By lighting that fire early in their minds, I hope my children realize that they are already scientists who must ask questions, explore their environment and test their own hypotheses when they are curious about the way things work in the world around them. I want my students to know that even though they are small, they can already make a difference and make decisions to help our world. They have the power to teach others what they know, as well!”
The program is 2-3 credits of science.
Certainly, any study abroad program has a social studies angle to it. Meeting new people and seeing a new culture is an important part of the experience. The Argentina trip interestingly enough focuses on math in Bariloche and Buenos Aires. I asked Joy “why math in Argentina?” She explained how “educators in Bariloche have been studying the teaching of math.” They formed the Grupo Patagónico de Didáctica de la Matematica (GPDM), which has a highly visual and contextual approach to math. “Graduate students on Bank Street’s trip do lots of observation of classrooms, and have conversations about best practices and assessing.” This program is also great for Dual-Language program students, but is also valuable and understandable to those with limited Spanish speaking skills.
Lastly we spoke about the Morocco trip, offered next spring. This 1-2 credit experience offers great insight into multicultural education. Graduate students will see the “education systems of a highly multicultural society.” The people of Morocco speak many languages, including Spanish, French, and Arabic. Graduate students will meet with educators and discuss how the idea of national identity and best teaching practices are accomplished, while also honoring all of the many diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds of the students. There can be some wildly different teaching practices observed on the trip, which can “help graduate students to get out of a certain mindset, and think outside of the box.”
One such moment Joy described was an observation by a past program participant wherein a teacher introduced a single student as “the highest achieving” in the class, in front of all of the other students. While we would not do this in a progressive classroom in the U.S., in Morocco the rest of the boy’s classmates seemed just as proud of him as the teacher. In a different cultural context, these children are proud to have such a successful child in their midst – he belongs to their group and that reflects on them all. It just wasn’t perceived as a competition between the children as it would be here in the U.S.
Clearly, these experiences are valuable and thought-provoking for educators, and they are yet another way that Bank Street provides rich and meaningful programs for its graduate students. The deadline is approaching to apply to these upcoming study abroad opportunities, so please check out the website here for more information.There are also other study abroad opportunities to consider! Poke around on the very informative website above, or contact Joy with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.